Rookie Kelsey Margey shows toughness and potential

By Christopher Hunt

Harborfields junior Kelsey Margey is proving that, in her cross country season, that not only is she one of the most dangerous distance runners in the state but she’s tough too.

Margey rebounded from a scary scene last week to win the Seeded Invitational Girls race at the Great American XC Festival Saturday in Cary, N.C. Margey blitzed the 3.1-mile course at the SAS Soccer Complex in 17:25.40. She sat with Georgia’s Grace Tinkey for two miles then opened a 30-second advantage in the last mile to win. Tinkey finished 20th at Foot Locker Nationals last year.

The only athlete to run faster than Margey (at right in photo)  at Great American was Cornwall’s Aisling Cuffe, the top-ranked runner in the country, who broke the course record in an astounding 16:40.90.

“Great American was important to me,” Margey said. “I wanted to run well and I wanted to PR. It’s such a great meet.”

She also wanted to finish a race. At the Green Mountain Lake Invitational two weeks ago in Pawling, Margey stapled herself to Lizzie Predmore of Shenendehowa’s shoulder though the first couple miles, in a tight pack that included Queensbury’s Brittany Winslow.  But after the huge hill at Lakeside Park and into the last mile, Margey started to black out. She felt her legs giving way.

Margey knew she would faint if she didn’t stop. So she dropped from the race. She had been fighting a cold all week. Margey didn’t tell anyone about. Plus, the hot, sticky day left a number of runners feeling dizzy.

“I never like to stop,” she said. “I always like to push through, whether it’s a race or a hard practice.”

Margey brooded on the way home. The next day she went out for six miles. It was supposed to be easy. Three miles later she realized she was halfway through a hard tempo run and forced herself to back off. She admitted she was “still a little angry.”

None of that stopped Margey from tagging on with Tinkey in the front at Great American. After a mile, Tinkey and Margey made it a match race. Another mile later, rookie junior was flying solo for the first time at a major invitational. Not only had Margey forgotten about her spoiled race a week before, she was thinking of what it would have been like to race Cuffe, one of the favorites for the Foot Locker national title this season.

“I don’t have any set time goals yet, especially since it’s my first season and I have nothing to base it off of. New York is so competitive. I just want to go to states and do well there. I think I would end up facing Cuffe at states. She’s a great runner. I want to see if I could run with her.”

She could sound like a boxer that just moved up in weight-class and already looking for a bout with the champ. But actually, it’s not unrealistic. Since Harborfields will not compete at the Manhattan Invitational Saturday, Margey probably won’t see a matchup with Cuffe until the state meet. But even before tragedy struck at Lakeside Park, Margey looked very comfortable latching on to Predmore, who was third at the New York Federation championships last year.

Margey hasn’t quite developed a reputation as a giant killer yet. She only really has one season on the high school track under her belt. Margey became an all-American in her debut season last year, placing second at the Nike Indoor Nationals in the 800, clocking 2:10.07. She earlier won the state 1,000-meter title.  Margey barely two months into her first track season when she qualified for the invitational mile at the Millrose Games.

“That’s what’s scary,” Harborfields coach Tim Russo said. “She’s so new to the sport. Her family doesn’t even know anything about the sport. Millrose? She was like, ‘What is that?’ She didn’t even know what that is. She was so nervous when she found out it was at Madison Square Garden. She said she gets nervous at the Armory.”

Russo doesn’t coach in the spring and Margey decided to play lacrosse. But Margey’s talent was evident and her parents sought out a private coach. Paul Limmer, known for great teams during his 35-year coaching tenure at Mepham, had a reputation on Long Island and throughout track and field community. And he lives about a mile away from Margey.

Her talent and raw speed immediately impressed him. Margey was brand new, anaerobically-gifted and too green to realize how good she was.

“When I took her to the Adidas (Grand Prix) at Ransdall Isand, somebody said me that her hair was really long, longer than Jordan Hasey’s. You know what she said to me? Who’s that?”

Limmer would monitor her lacrosse workouts and games, calculate how much she was running and adjust her training accordingly. Even with the abridged training, Margey placed third at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in the mile in 4:49.98. When Margey decided to run cross country this fall, she rejoined the Harborfields team and coach Russo while Limmer has remained involved with her training as a consultant.

“It was really a lucky thing for everybody involved,” Russo said. “I think Paul was really willing to listen to what I had to say. One he saw that we had a good plan in place, he backed off a bit.”

Limmer made a point not to step on any toes and Russo thought it foolish to refuse a textbook of track and field experience and knowledge. In the meantime, everyone is learning. Neither Russo nor Limmer could put a benchmark on her potential. They said she’s as strong as anyone around and her speed is expectional for cross country. After Great American she proved her toughness too. Which means that if she’s near the front toward the end of any race, she’s one of the most dangerous out there.

“She should feel comfortable because it’s not likely she’s going to get into a race with a girl that has run a 4:43 mile,” Limmer said. “She’ll probably be stronger than most girls she’ll race against. She can follow and not worry about being outkicked.”