A healthy Danielle Leavitt is dangerous to other runners throughout the Shore Conference and the state.
A healthy Leavitt heading into her senior cross country season has to be considered even more dangerous.
“She was running really well last year and just had one of those stretches of bad luck,” said Lacey coach Chuck Edens. “If she stays healthy, she has as much ability as anyone. She’s definitely capable of winning the Meet of Champions.”
Because of an illness that sent her to the emergency room the night before last year’s NJSIAA Group III meet, her strength and stamina just weren’t what they would have been otherwise. And although Leavitt started the Group III race the next morning, she didn’t finish and missed a shot at last year’s overall state crown.
“I was feeling awful, and by the second mile I had to drop out,” Leavitt said. “But I’m really pumped up and motivated for this season. I feel a lot stronger right now than I did at this time last year, and my mindset is that I’m going after as many titles as I can get. My biggest obstacle is not to put too much pressure on myself so that I psych myself out of a race.
“I’m going to work hard, try to stay healthy and do my best in every race.”
Which isn’t good news for the rest of the conference and state, considering Leavitt has been the top female runner in the Ocean County, Shore Conference and South Jersey Group III championship meets each of the last two seasons — her only two seasons of cross country thus far. She didn’t run cross country as a freshman.
“Having the experience of running these courses, especially Holmdel, and knowing who I’ll be up against definitely is going to help me this season,” she said. “Holmdel is one of my favorite courses, too, because it’s really challenging and strengthens your character. You find out a lot about yourself on that course.”
Come November, Leavitt wants to find herself amid the state’s best.
“The goals this season are to finish healthy, help my team win an Ocean County title and place top-six at the Meet of Champions,” she said. “Finishing strong this season is very important to me, and this is the year in which most of the pressure is on. I want to turn that pressure into something really positive.”
But Leavitt is not alone in the Shore Conference. Plenty of other girls will be vying for top spots in the county, conference and state meets.
At St. John Vianney, seniors Courtney Thompson, last year’s Asbury Park Press Runner of the Year, and Tara Connelly, who beat her teammate in the Non-Public A group meet, will push Leavitt to her limit, as will Holmdel junior Marin Warner, Middletown South senior Christiana Rutkowski, Red Bank Catholic junior Eryn Mills, Pinelands junior Lauren Zodl and Karah O’Halloran at Toms River North, the team which may be the one to beat in Ocean County.
“The conference has a lot of great runners who bring out the best in me,” Leavitt said. “And I love that kind of competition, especially when you get to that last 400 and it’s still neck and neck with a few other girls. That’s what I expect it to be like throughout the season, because there’s always somebody out there who’s a surprise or has gotten much stronger during the offseason. I’m looking forward to the challenges.”