As Olivia Murphy prepared to watch her Mandeville High School teammates compete in a season-opening cross country meet last week in City Park, she reflected on how difficult it was to not be part of the action.

After all, Murphy finished second in last year’s Class 5A Louisiana Cross Country Championship Meet. Her 3-mile time of 18 minutes, 26.99 seconds trailed only that of Dominican’s Mia Meydrich, who since has graduated.

That said, 2014 appeared to be Murphy’s year to take center stage. It still could be, but the junior has work ahead if she’s to reach the lofty standard she set last year.

Murphy is recovering from surgery to repair cartilage damage in her knee. She said she first hurt the knee during some lunging exercises in June. Doctors thought it could be a torn meniscus, but the injury was less severe, she said, and she had surgery to clean up the knee on July 23.

Since then, she’s been swimming and working on an elliptical machine to keep her cardio training to speed. Still, she’s significantly less than thrilled having to watch her teammates from the sideline.

“It’s hard to see everyone at practice doing so good, and me not being able to do anything,” she said. “My brother (eighth-grader Charles) comes home and tells me how things are going. He’s my training partner, so it’s just sad because I’m not out there. But I will be.”

In Murphy’s absence, Mandeville cross country coach Gerald Singer said his top runner has been leading by example — albeit, in a vocal role.

“She helps out all the other girls when she can,” Singer said of Murphy. “She’s a cheerleader when it comes to taking care of the other runners out there.”

Perhaps that camaraderie, and a stockpile of talent, has helped Mandeville get the season off to a good start. The Skippers placed five runners in the top 18 at the season opener at City Park last week, including four of the top 10. Claire Crosby placed second, Chelsea Jones was fourth, Ally McCully was fifth, and Kylie Touchard was 10th.

Still, Singer would like nothing more than to have Murphy on the course.

“We need to let her slowly progress and let her get back to where she should be,” Singer said. “She’ll be around by the end of the year, for sure.”

Murphy agreed, saying that she’d like to be back at competitive strength by early October, at the latest. After all, she has opportunities for parish and state championships in front of her, though she said as of last week, she’s at about 50 percent capability.

Singer said he’ll take it slowly with Murphy’s rehab.

“She’s doing great with the rehab, jogging two or three miles,” he said. “She’s only a junior. We just have to make sure she can bring it all together.”