"I'm a lot stronger than I was last spring," Seel said. "I feel good."
Only in recent months has Seel, a junior, felt up to par. She sat out a portion of the cross country season, returning in September after being on the mend from Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), an inflammation of the fibrous tissue that runs down the outer portion of the leg.
The injury was her first and occurred several weeks after the end of the 2011 spring track season. Pain developed out of nowhere and lingered for nearly a four-month stretch.
"I don't know what happened," she said. "I took some time off after spring track and then my leg bothered me. It was frustrating. I kept thinking 'When will it go away?'"
Once cross country ended, Seel kept training, pushing herself harder than before.
She was pleased with her time (3:06.39) in the 1,000-meter run at the Valentine Invitational. It was Seel's second first-place finish this season. She triumphed in the 1,600-meter run at the Racine Invitational on Dec. 28.
Seel was pushed by Bridgewater's Marisa Ruskin, who was second in 3:07.05. Teammate Reagan Kolakowski was fourth, right behind Summit's Kirsty Gargiulo.
"Like everyone else, I wanted to win," said Seel, who had a personal best in the 1,200 meters last spring. "We weren't that far apart today. It was anybody's race."
Sophomore Bria Saunders of Parsippany took top honors in the 55-meter dash with a time of 7.52. Winning meant a lot to Saunders and helped wipe out the memory of the false start she had that disqualified her from the event at the Cliff Back Invitational last Saturday.
"I was kind of shook up and on edge at the last meet," Saunders said. "I was more calm today. I cleared my head and didn't worry about it. All I wanted to do was give my all and I did."
Chatham senior Julie Williamson prevailed in the 600-meter run, crossing the finish line in a time of personal-best 1:41.45.
"I'm trying to get a good seed for the counties next Wednesday," Williamson said. "I ran smart. Sometimes, I don't do that. I didn't let myself get boxed in. I went out with the leaders this time."
Williamson said she often is scared to go out with the leaders but "used confidence" to stay out in front.
Ashley Tomasula, a Mount Olive senior, took the gold in the pole vault, clearing 11 feet.
"This is only my second meet of the season so 11 feet is good," Tomasula said. "I'm just getting started. I'm saving the big jumps for the county, section and group meets."
Tomasula has been working with Al Berardi at Heights Unlimited in Stanhope four days per week. She hopes to move to bigger poles soon and is focusing on swinging to vertical and turning into the pole.
Sparta's Claudia DiSomma came out on top in the 1,600-meter run with a 5:03.99, breaking the meet record of 5:06.33 she established on Jan. 13, 2010.
Every time DiSomma, a junior, wins, she's thrilled. Her elation stems from the broken left leg that sidelined her from November 2010 to February 2011. She broke her tibia playing club soccer and had a full-leg cast.
"My leg never bothers me," DiSomma said. "It doesn't hurt or anything. I took it slow. It healed quickly. I did all I was told to do."
DiSomma battled with Bernards senior Dana Giordano (5:06.70). She received a trophy because her event was the featured one of the meet.
Randolph junior Samantha Kral had to settle for second to Dara Chadwick of Summit in the 55-meter hurdles after posting the best time in the preliminaries.
"I was confident going into the race," Kral said. "I know (Chadwick) is good. I had a bad start. She had a better one so she got me. At the start, I get nervous and it throws me off and slows me down."
Marissa Evans, a freshman from Morris Catholic, took the 300-meter dash in 42.19. Mount Olive's Keturah Orji was second.
The 4x400 relay was won by Morris Hills, comprised of Jennifer Polanco, Jaimie Bertoli, Ulana Thompson and Ailis Clyne, in 4:13.07.
Lisbeth Lopez, a Randolph senior, finished atop the shot put field with a throw of 37-05.75. Second place went to Jefferson's Carrie Wasdyke, a junior.
Hanover Park's Alexa Perkins had the best showing among Morris or Sussex County high jumpers, clearing the bar at five feet for third place.
Wayne Valentine, for whom the meet is named, was on hand to coach, of course, despite the passing of his mother, Elva, earlier in the day.
"Mom wouldn't have wanted me to miss this," Valentine said. "She used to come to many meets, including this one, up until a few years ago."
Elva Valentine, he noted, was a quarter miler for Dover High School. His aunt, Stella Hildebrant, once held the long jump record at Dover.
For complete results, see mctrack.org.