VERONA, NJ - A four-year member of the Verona High School girls cross country team, Jenika Ying has already earned a spot in the top ten best-ever runners in VHS cross country history.  Last week she kicked off her senior season with a first place finish, making her the TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove Hillbilly Athlete of the Week.

“Jenika Ying has been a letter winner and one of our best cross-country runners and been the recipient of several all-conference honors.  Last week led her team with an overall first place finish a Branch Brook Park in a field of seven teams on our opening day,” said coach Gene Leporati.  “As team captain Jenika is an enthusiastic, dedicated, and compassionate leader who is always there to support and encourage her teammates at practice, during competition or in school.”

For Ying cross country started out as a way to keep in shape for lacrosse, but she quickly developed a love for the sport in its own right.  

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“I like that cross country can be both an individual and a team sport.  Individually you have to work through the pain barriers that you didn’t know existed and of course there’s the endurance aspect, but you also need all five runners to score so you work together to make sure everyone crosses the finish line,” Ying said.

Verona boasts a small, but motivated team this year with just five varsity runners -- two of whom are completely new to the sport.  Ying sees the youth of the team as an advantage and her only concern about the size of the team is making sure everyone stays healthy.

“We have a lot of fresh energy since everyone is new.  Everyone’s excited about trying new courses and really giving their best performance.  However there’s only five of us and we need all five to compete. Last year injuries were a challenge so we need to make sure we stay healthy as the season progresses and we get to the bigger meets in October and November,” Ying explained.  

Ying followed up her season opening first place finish with a second place finish in her second meet on Tuesday and has hoped to beat her personal record of 20:23 which she set as a sophomore at the Essex County Championships at Brookdale Park -- a highlight of her cross country career.

“That was my first time running the varsity race there and I didn’t have big expectations going in, but that time is still my PR and having that good of a race really gave me new confidence,” Ying said.  “I was disappointed with my times last year so I’m hoping to improve them.”

While focused on improving her performance, Ying is also simply trying to enjoy her final season with VHS cross country.  

“As a senior captain I want to keep mentoring the team and helping my teammates develop a love for the sport like I did,” Ying said. “I’m looking forward to my last year of races.  I’ve had four good years so I really want to savor the last bit of it and enjoy the bond that comes from training and competing with a small team.”

TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove  is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.

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