MADISON _ After suffering a season-ending concussion while playing soccer in the fall of 2012, Morris Hills' Ashleigh Thurston sought out ways to get back to being active.
Unsure of what to do, Thurston began running.
She ran until it was time for spring track and then had a strong showing qualifying for the 4x800 in the Meet of Champions.
Now a junior, Thurston abandoned soccer for cross country last fall. She decided she liked running so much that she didn't stop.
On Monday, Jan. 6 at the Morris County Relays, Thurston experienced one of her greatest moments as a track athlete, running the anchor leg when the Scarlet Knights came in first in the sprint medley relay in 4:24.14, beating out Mount Olive, which claimed its first championship in 17 years.
"It was awesome to run against Mount Olive and come out on top," said Thurston, who ran her leg in 2:23. "You work hard and you train and you amp up your teammates. This is a big accomplishment. That's why we do this."
The Marauders, first in three events, second in one and fourth in two others, had 47 1/2 points while second-place Mendham had 42 at the Morris County Relays held at Drew University. Morris Hills (30 points) and Randolph (20) were third and fourth, respectively.
"We're so excited. This hasn't happened in awhile," said Suzanne Nimoh, a member of Mount Olive's 800 and 1,600-meter relay squads. "We pulled together. With every event, it got more and more exciting. We wanted to see if we could do it.
"It's hard to be connected in track but everyone worked together - the distance runners, the sprinters, the throwers. I'm very proud."
Thurston, along with Chelsea Jorgensen, Casey Lyness and Rhianna Follett, were feeling good about themselves, too, after claiming gold in the sprint medley relay. Morris Hills coach Nast Whitson considered winning "a big deal for us."
"Mount Olive's a great team so we keep an eye on them," Whitson said. "We're training Ashleigh to pay attention to Mount Olive and their times."
Whitson has high regard for all of her runners yet marvels in the progress that Thurston has made thus far. Last summer, Thurston, a center midfielder when she played soccer, showed she was serious about cross country, attending open gym sessions three times a week before heading off to her job at at Starbuck's.
"Ashleigh will do exactly what we tell her to do," Whitson said. "If she can stay close, she can pass people."
In the sprint medley relay, Thurston closed the gap on the last turn.
"People get caught up on the last turn," Thurston said. "I made my move and held it. I love chasing and getting them at the end."
As for soccer, Thurston, once involved in travel leagues, doesn't miss it anymore.
"I played soccer for so long," she said. "I wanted to try something different. I found what I like and feel good about myself. We're all doing well. Hopefully, we can make the school proud."
Chatham prevailed in the shuttle hurdles in a school-record time of 34.98 thanks to outstanding efforts by Liz Malatesta, Erin O'Connor, Elaine Weaver and Simone Kirton.
Kirton, a freshman, had an 8.0 to pace the Cougars, who broke the record of 35.49 they established at the Lid Lifter. O'Connor (8.63), Malatesta (8.78) and Weaver (9.4) also were exceptional in the shuttle hurdles.
Hurdlers from Butler and Randolph fell, aiding Chatham in its quest for first place.
"We were seeded third so this is a nice surprise," Cougars coach Julie Ullmeyer said. "You don't like to see it but having the other girls fall opened it up for us. We've had our problems. Last time, one girl fumbled. Another lost her balance. Today, all of our girls had smooth runs."
Malatesta, a senior, is pleased with the team's progress.
"We haven't had a strong girls team in a long time," Malatesta said. "We've got a lot of depth and a lot of people who are really into it. We were a little shaky before."
Weaver, a sophomore, began hurdling last winter. When she was younger, Weaver used to play basketball and do gymnastics.
The addition of Kirton, who was fifth at the Junior Olympics National Championships in the high hurdles, has boosted Chatham. She already holds the school record in the 55 hurdles, recording a 9.08.
Jordan Wildermuth and Katie Noonan won the shot put for Jefferson with a combined throw of 69-3/4.
Wildermuth, a sophomore, has been working on gliding and weightlifting. She attributes her success to Carrie Wasdyke, now at West Point.
"Carrie has been a big influence," Wildermuth said. "She was always helpful and worked with me on my form."
Mount Olive not only won the 800 and the 1,600 meters, it was first in the 3,200.
Nimoh, Micaela Poggi, Alicia Warren and Keturah Orji took part in the 800 relay. Alexis Reyes joined Warren, Nimoh and Orji for the 1,600 relay. Lindsay and Erin Schafer along with Sarah Masukewicz and Sara Christian ran the 3,200 relay for the Marauders.
"There was a lot of pressure on us," Marauders coach Joe Hehn said. "We were the top-ranked team in three relays. We had a good chance to win but it was a matter of getting it done. The girls came through.
"We scored points in everything. It was a team effort. There was a lot of participation and a lot of medals to share."
West Morris (Kylene Cochrane, Brennan Sharkey, Katie Sabatino, Meg Lloyd) took the distance medley relay in 12:38.91. The time was a school record.
Pole vault was won by Mendham's Julia Mszanski and Kelly Duggan (17-6). Whippany Park (Kristen Hall, Gina Della Russo) garnered the team high jump with a 10-0.
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