The best cross-country runners learn to bide their time and make their move at the right moment.

Chelsea Ley said this season was "her turn." She seized her opportunity.

Ley, a senior at Kingsway, has been South Jersey's best runner since her sophomore season. But this was the year she ruled the state. That's why she is The Inquirer's girls' cross-country runner of the year.

Ley won the state Group 3 title as well as the Meet of Champions. She broke through to the top after spending a couple of seasons chasing older runners such as Melanie Thompson of Voorhees and Jillian Smith of Southern.

"It meant a lot to me to finally get a state title," Ley said. "It was great to finally get that under my belt."

Ley, who has narrowed her college choices to Virginia and Tennessee, has been one of the best runners on the East Coast since 2007. But she was a step behind Thompson, now a freshman at Oregon, in Group 3 state meets as well as the Meet of Champions.

Ley was second in the state Group 3 meet in 2007 and 2008. She was third in the Meet of Champions in 2007 and second in 2008.

Thompson won all four races.

But 2009 was Ley's year. She won the Group 3 state meet in 17 minutes, 52 seconds. She came back the next weekend to win the Meet of Champions in 17:55.

"Chelsea is such a great runner," said Highland junior Megan Venables, who finished second to Ley in the Group 3 meet as well as in the Meet of Champions. "She gives it everything she's got. She makes you better just by competing against her."