Metuchen High School senior Safiya Ratliff was determined.
Her goal was to receive a medal in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on Nov. 17 at Holmdel Park.
The top 20 girls’ cross-country runners earn a medal in the race.
When Ratliff reached the tennis courts at Holmdel Park, about a mile from the finish line, she was in 20th place.
The Metuchen’s boys’ cross-country coach, Marty Holleran, was standing by the tennis courts when Ratliff passed.
He yelled out to her, “You’re in 20th!” And Ratliff certainly heard Holleran.
She responded by speeding up, passing six runners on the home stretch to place 14th in the field of 170 runners.
She earned her medal.
That run, and a run in the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional on Nov. 24 in New York state, capped a great senior season for Ratliff. In the regional, Ratliff finished 32nd at 20:05.
She placed eighth out of 132 runners in the Group 2 state championship race on Nov. 10 at Holmdel Park. She finished fifth among 94 runners in the Central Jersey, Group 2 state sectional championship meet on Nov. 3 at Thompson Park in Jamesburg.
Ratliff moved to New Jersey from Missouri in January, so this was her first cross-country season with the Bulldogs.
“I’m proud of her. She worked very hard and made a lot of improvements since she’s been here. I’m just so happy it ended up so well for her,” said Metuchen girls’ cross-country coach Kelli Holleran, Marty Holleran’s wife. “She was making lots of improvements early on. By the end of September she looked really, really good. It looked like all of her work was clicking. Then she just kept building on that.”
Her coach was impressed with her showing in the Meet of Champions.
“She also races really smart. She hung back early on in the Meet of Champions, then moved up throughout the race,” Kelli Holleran said. “To pass six girls of that caliber in the end of that race is pretty good.”
As a team, Metuchen placed 12th in the meet of champions. The next Metuchen finisher behind Ratliff was Bridget Thomas, who crossed in 79th.
The Bulldogs reached the meet of champions by winning the state Group 2 championship and the Central Jersey, Group 2 state sectional title.
Caroline Schleif paced Metuchen in the state group meet, placing fifth at 19:21. Ratliff led Metuchen in the state sectional meet, coming in at 19:23.
But a 12th place finish at the meet of champions will not damper a very successful fall, according to Kelli Holleran.
“I told the girls, ‘We won’t let disappointing race overshadow the great season that we had,'” the coach said.
Metuchen’s season was not over that day at Holmdel Park.
In the Nike Cross Nationals, Metuchen came in eighth out of 21 teams.
Most of this talented group will be back next year. Schleif was only a freshman in 2018. Another varsity runner, Mary Malague, was also a freshman.
Two other members of Metuchen’s top seven, Thomas and junior Tasha Pais, will be back as well. Thomas, a sophomore, finished 21st (20:26) at the state sectional championship and 24th (20:32) at the state group championship.
“Bridget Thomas was the rock of our team all year as our fourth or fifth runner. She was very steady and always reliable,” Kelli Holleran said. “They are a talented group overall, and they are workers. I have high hopes.”