BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Governor Livingston freshman running sensation Victoria Vanriele has been named the Delicious Heights Highlander Athlete of the Week for capturing first place in the 79th Union County Girls Cross Country Championships at Warinanco Park in Elizabeth.

"My course strategy for the championships was to pace myself," said Vanriele. "I wanted to win as well as to run a fast time. I had been working on pacing at practice, so I knew what pace felt right."

Late in the race Vanriele separated herself from the pack using a powerful kick to cross the finish line with a personal best time of 19:21. "I took the lead to ensure that I ran my goal of under 19:30 for the 5.15k course," she said. "When I crossed the finish line and saw that I had met both goals, I was thrilled because I knew I was getting a cannoli as my reward."

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Vanriele became the first Union County cross country champion from Governor Livingston since Megs DiDario won in 2002. Last week, before winning the Union County title, Vanriele won the Mountain Conference Cross Country championship covering the 3.2 mile course in a then personal best of 20:19, which was 12 seconds better than her nearest competitor --- pacing the GL girls team to medal in 3rd place, behind perennial powerhouses Westfield and Union Catholic, and ahead of local rival Summit.  

Vanriele, who is a phenomenon in the 800 Meter, winning the 800 at the USATF Junior Olympic Nationals in California this past summer, has learned to pace herself for the longer distances.

"It was hard to set goals initially because I honestly didn't know the process," said Vanriele of setting expectations for high school cross country. "But I knew I would figure it out by midseason." She credits Coach Chris Coughlin for bringing her along in stages -- from shorter races and easy courses to longer and tougher courses. Each step brings her closer to reaching her ultimate cross country goal of qualifying for the Meet of Champions.

Vanriele, recently ranked 20th in the State by NJ.com, knows she faces tough competition in the States. "At Sectionals, the first round, I will be racing the number three ranked [Robinsville senior Lauren Kroepfl] and number 11 [Voorhees Lauren Wagner] fastest cross country girls in New Jersey," she said. "As number 20, I have to get faster to hang with those girls.  I’m preparing."

The talents of this rising star will again be on display as she competes in the NJSIAA Sectional on Saturday, November 5th.

Below are comments from Victoria regarding her past, present and future:

TAPinto: Since you were new to cross country, what was the best advice you were given this season?

Victoria: The 800 meter race is my best event and I have worked really hard to develop a fast get-out at the start. Advice that was given to me when I started cross country was that I should conserve my energy at the start of the race and don’t go out too fast.  

TAPinto: What is your go-to pregame food of choice?

Victoria: I usually eat pasta, spinach and shrimp for dinner the night before my meet. Then my dad prepares an omelet and bagel sandwich for breakfast the morning of my meet.

TAPinto: Who first introduced you to running?

Victoria: My fifth grade gym teacher at Woodruff, Ms. Ryan, saw that I was a fast runner and encouraged me to participate in the annual Colgate Women's Games. I got hooked on running from that point. Last February, I won the 800 meter race in the CWG middle school six-meet series. It was awesome to win for Columbia. Mr. Geiger, my principal, had designed a big banner with the Tiger mascot for the Finals, and I still have it hanging in my room.

TAPinto: You won the USATF Junior Olympic National 800 Title last summer, please describe what that meant to you?

Victoria; Winning the 800 at the USATF Junior Olympic Nationals last summer is empowering.  It lets me know that with discipline, hard work, and a positive attitude I can accomplish anything I dream of.  I dedicated my summer to training hard and resting diligently. I went to Iceland for a week with other eighth graders from Columbia, and I trained during recreation time while everyone was relaxing.  Training was brutal, but I saw that I was getting stronger as my recovery times between pace sets were descending late in the season.  I flew out to California for my races knowing I was prepared. 

TAPinto: What is your off season training like and how demanding is it?

Victoria: In between my last club race on July 31st and the beginning of my high school cross country training on August 15th,  I went on vacation and spent time with my grandma.  Then, to get acclimated to the high mileage of cross country, I started training in the valley, running on Springfield Avenue on relatively flat terrain.  But in no time, I was running the hills in Berkeley Heights and Chatham.  I used to train three to four days per week with club running.  That increased to six days per week with high school running.  That has been a huge transition for me.  For the three weeks before school started, I slept a lot after practice.

TAPinto: What goals have you set for yourself early in your track career?

Victoria: My goal for freshman year is to make Meet of Champions for the cross country, indoor and outdoor seasons, and to obtain national cuts for indoor and outdoor track.  In middle school, I had obtained 800 meter cuts for both indoor and outdoor high school nationals, but I couldn’t compete because I wasn’t in high school.

TAPinto: Who inspires you most in life?

Victoria: This past summer, I watched the Olympic process. I was training for the National Junior Olympics in the midst of US Olympic Trials.  I was so inspired by the athletes, especially the ones from New Jersey.  Ajee Wilson qualified to run the 800 in the Olympics.  Olivia Baker, who is now running for Stanford University, made it to finals in the 800. Of course, Sydney McLaughlin qualifying for the Olympics was an inspiration, especially since she is still in high school.

TAPinto: What has surprised you the most about high school at GL?

Victoria: I’m loving high school.  I have all my old friends and I made new friends. My male and female teammates have become close friends. I feel like I’m contributing to the school. I look forward to lunch period.  I love the cafeteria food and socializing with my friends.  

TAPinto: What are your favorite subjects at GL?

Victoria: Right now one of my highest grades is in Algebra 2 Honors and I love it when my math teacher comes to our meets.  He was running all over the park cheering for me at the county championships.  

TAPinto: What school activities other than sports are you interested in?

Victoria: I’m a musician. I play the saxophone and the piano. In school, I play the saxophone in the concert band.

TAPinto: What other sports do you plan to try in high school?  

Victoria: I have opportunities to try a variety of sports in gym. Coach Dhaibar has jokingly said to another student who invited me to join the swim team that I don’t have time to dabble with other team sports; or maybe it wasn’t a joke.

TAPinto: How do you enjoy your free time away from school and track?

Victoria: I love vacationing. I have taken some awesome vacation trips with my family. I also like going out to eat on weekends with my family, and hanging out with/texting my friends.

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Delicious Heights Highlander Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Delicious Heights, a family restaurant with three locations; Berkeley Heights, Bedminster and Basking Ridge, where it is part of the Basking Ridge County Club operating a public restaurant with outdoor dining, and acting as the banquet caterer, boasting a facility with panoramic views of the sprawling golf course. Visit our website, www.deliciousheights.com for weekly specials including Happy Hour specials from 3-6pm and daily featured dinner and lunch specials. Delicious Heights....where our only limitations are yours!

Delicious Heights is located at 428 Springfield Avenue in Berkeley Heights. 908.464.3287; 285 Main Street in Bedminster. 908.234.1596; 185 Madisonville Road in Basking Ridge. 908.766.9499.