PARSIPPANY _ Quick in transition as a point guard, Sophie Henderson of Villa Walsh thought she'd be playing basketball for the duration of high school.
After the conclusion of her sophomore year, Henderson, now a senior, decided to drop basketball and soccer and add cross country in order to improve for spring track.
It didn't take long for her to make a name for herself on the trails.
As of Tuesday, Oct. 18, Henderson achieved a first, topping the field in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Small Schools Race at Central Park with a time of 19:47.43. The Vikings, with Morgan Mehmel (2nd) and Hope Crann (5th) also in the top five, took the team title with 37 points. Mountain Lakes was second with 55.
"It's awesome," Henderson said. "Mary Lynch won last year so it's the second in a row for Villa. This is only my second year of cross country so to win is huge for me. It was a goal after watching Mary. I'm very happy. I put in a lot of work over the summer."
Abby Loveys of Randolph prevailed in the NJAC Large Schools Race in 18:40.68. The Rams were team champions with 47 points.
"It was motivating for me," said Loveys, a sophomore. "I keep pushing harder. This will help us in the future. This was one of the goals we were looking toward."
Henderson, a resident of Peapack-Gladstone, was glad that Lynch, on a break from Notre Dame University, was on hand to see her triumph.
"Mary cheered me on," Henderson said. "I wanted to do it for her and the team."
Lynch, who watched at the mile mark, noted that Henderson, who intends to study nursing in college, dominated much of the race.
"It's just so cool that Sophie won," Lynch said. "I've seen her progress. She was a great teammate and now she's leading the team. We won again so that shows we're still solid as a team."
At the NJACs, Henderson's plan was to go out fast and use the hills to her advantage.
"I prefer fast races," Henderson said. "I wanted to stick with the girls I knew from Kinnelon and Mountain Lakes. I pushed it up at the first hill and created my first lead. At the second mile, I worked the downhill near the start and tried to increase my lead."
The temperatures that reached the mid 80s impacted Henderson in all of the usual ways but she did her best not to think about it.
"I just focused on my legs, my breathing," she said. "I worked on my tempo and keeping the lead."
When not on the course, Henderson, second in the 800 at groups last spring, loves to watch sports with her family. Among her favorites are professional football and college and NBA basketball. She's a fan of the New York Giants and UNC.
Does Henderson, the middle child of five, mind not being part of a team sport anymore?
"Not really," Henderson said. "We're all so close that it seems like a team to me. You're out there 20 minutes alone but it's all so inclusive."
Loveys, a sophomore, was pleased with her effort despite the unseasonal heat. Although she coped with it, she said "I thought about it all day."
"Conditions were against us but it turned out that it didn't really bother us," Loveys said. "Maybe it was a little tougher breathing but..."
Loveys' objective was to run with her training partner, Brooke Olson, and "go harder in the first mile." During the second mile, her breathing was a bit more labored than usual yet that was where she made her move, breaking away from a small pack.
She credited her teammates with being positive forces and feels that if they come together, they'll do well in next week's Morris County Championships.
"Everyone has such a good attitude," Loveys said. "Their spirits never change. They're always in good moods. They help me not doubt myself."
Anna Campbell of Pope John was second, clocking in with a time of 18:50.76. Olson (19:22.89) and Mendham's Lucy Jeffs (19:34.95) were third and fourth, respectively.
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