As it turned out, Hanley, a senior, had nothing to worry about and went on to win the county title at Greystone Park in 18:20.86, just ahead of Mendham sophomore Mackenzie Barry, the defending champion.
Randolph took the team title with a score of 55. The Rams' average time was 19:34.87. Six Randolph runners were among the top 20.
Several minutes after the race, Hanley was breathing easily and reveling in her strong finish.
"After the first mile, I felt a little better," she said. "I might've been overwhelmed by how quick the first mile was. Maybe I was doing it to keep the oxygen and energy going."
Temperatures in the low 70s may have been a factor as well. Colette Richter of Mountain Lakes (18:50.96) and Caroline Wolfe of Hanover Park (18:56.52), third and fourth respectively, also said their breathing was more labored than usual.
Still, Hanley, wearing wraparound sunglasses, had what it took, becoming the first girl in school history to garner top honors in the county.
She prevailed by not going out too hard. The best runners were in a tight pack for about half the race, Hanley said. Randolph senior Sam Jones then broke away, building a substantial lead. Jones eventually dropped back. Hanley took control at a sharp turn near a baseball field.
"I was in a pack of some of the highest-ranked girls in the state," Hanley said. "To try and beat them early wouldn't have helped at all. I really didn't push too hard on the first lap. I'd catch them then get ahead of them. I hurt a little bit. I needed a fast time so I couldn't hold back. I was nervous someone would pass me. I wanted to finish first."
Hanley, who has three firsts this season, clocked a time that was the sixth all-time fastest on the 5K course.
"I'm really happy. This is a good feeling," she said.
Barry (18:30.32) took the North Jersey Section 2, Group III individual crown three days before. On Tuesday, she said she was tired.
"I'm not sure what it's from," Barry said. "Maybe it's the amount of races I've had in a short amount of time."
She didn't feel pressure to defend going into the race.
"People try to put pressure on you," Barry said. "The only pressure that matters is what you put on yourself. I didn't think about it."
Having Hanley take the gold didn't suprise Barry.
"I didn't really expect anything but figured one of the seniors could win," she said. "Everyone can have a good race. Tara was just faster and stronger than me today."
Richter, a junior, was pleased with being third. However, her time did not make her happy.
"I'm OK with my performance," Richter said. "Normally, it doesn't affect me but maybe it was a little too hot. I wanted to be sub 18:05."
For Wolfe, her time was a personal best.
"I struggled a little on the second lap, about a mile and a half into the race," said Wolfe, a senior. "I began to feel it. It was a trouble spot but I pushed through it."
The team title was Randolph's third in four years. The Rams have five overall, two less than Roxbury.
Jones, fifth in 18:58.78, led Randolph. Carole Harsch was ninth and Liz Wellman was 10th. Marianne Loeken was 14th. Jennifer Zackowski was 19th.
"We've been fortunate this year," Rams coach Len Pietrewicz said. "We've been healthy and focused. It's a good group of kids. They're a nice unit. We're getting the most out of them.
"They ran what they were capable of. It was a big goal to get the top six in there."
**PHOTO GALLERY BELOW**