PARSIPPANY _ Villa Walsh's Morgan Mehmel established no grand plan for the start of the season.
Mehmel, a junior, simply set out to run hard and "to feel it out" in the first Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Small Schools batch race at Central Park on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Of course, she'd give her best effort but never dreamed of winning.
Mehmel ran much of the race with teammate Hope Crann and surprised herself, finishing first in the afternoon's second girls race in 20:11.02. In the first race, Mountain Lakes' Izzi Gengaro prevailed with a time of 19:49.32.
"I won so this is very exciting," Mehmel said. "All the girls in the race were amazing. I was with the pack at the beginning and wanted to see if I could stick with them. I wanted to see how it would go. At a point, I said 'Wait, I think I can do this.' The last mile I picked it up. I went for it."
Never had Mehmel won a varsity race. She recalled being first one other time - in a junior varsity 600-meter run as a freshman.
"The time isn't as good as I wanted but it's the start of the season so it's fine," said Mehmel, a Bernardsville resident who competes in cross country and winter and spring track. "I work out with Hope and she was with me. It was great to have her there."
Villa Walsh coach Mary Ehmann didn't expect Mehmel to lead the pack and, ultimately, triumph but was pleased by the result. The Vikings had five runners in the top 10 (Crann, Mia Cuttone, Sarah Hanifin and Julia Collum) and took four of the top seven spots. Crann and Collum are sophomores and Hanifin and Collum are freshmen.
"I'm very happy for Morgan," Ehmann said. "I didn't expect it. I told her 'If you feel like it, go.' We haven't tapered down yet. Morgan is determined and enthusiastic. She's motivated. She did well."
From the age of 3 until eighth grade, Mehmel participated in ballet. She feels that certain elements of ballet have helped with running.
"There's a lot of discipline needed for dance," she noted. "And, stretching, too."
Next week, Villa Walsh will go against Mountain Lakes, which took four of the top eight spots in the first girls race.
"I'm worried about them," Ehmann said. "That's our true test. They've always been our toughest competition."
Gengaro, a senior, came in just ahead of Kinnelon standout Hannah Relovsky (20:96.41). She found the new course at Central Park challenging, especially the final kilometer, which is uphill.
"I felt pretty good," Gengaro said. "It's good to know the course and for the team to run well. The hill at the end was a little tough. I just want the team to continue to get stronger."
New to the Lakers' squad is Gengaro's twin sister, Sophia, who left behind soccer after tearing her ACL twice.
"It's fun being on the team with my sister," Izzi Gengaro said. "I've been training with her a little bit."
Kate Bernauer of Parsippany was third and Ally Jin of Mountain Lakes was fourth. The Colts, sectional champions last fall, had three runners among the top six.
***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***
Latest from Sandy Seegers