There were no opponents in sight, but St. John the Baptist's Kate McCormack kept racing toward the finish line, teeth gritted and eyes focused. Of course, to hear her tell it, victory is never certain until her foot crosses the white chalk, no matter the lead.
"I knew it wasn't safe and secure until I crossed that line," McCormack said.
Nevertheless, there she was, the 5-kilometer winner in 19 minutes, 53.12 seconds at the NSCHSAA League Championships Sunday at Sunken Meadow State Park.
It was her first league championship.
"It feels awesome," she said.
McCormack began the race gradually, viewing the opening portion as a precursor to the challenges that lay ahead.
"My race came after Snake [Hill]," she said. "After I got down it, I just went."
Perhaps the largest challenge was the fierce winds that pounded the course throughout the early afternoon race.
"It was really strong," McCormack said. "But I just kept pushing it. I didn't want it to slow me down. I just gave it my all. You can't let the wind be a factor. You just have to ignore it."
McCormack said she overtook the race around the picnic area, using her strength to get through the uphills and then motoring ahead on the slick downhills.
"That's your recovery," McCormack said of the downhills.
Kellenberg's Jazmine Fray finished second in 20:39.57. The two seniors are actually good friends, making the competition at the top a friendly one.
"I tried as hard as I could to stay with [McCormack] and it helped me run one of the best races I've run at Sunken Meadow," Fray said.
As with any runner, Fray's hill-running game plan was a key to her top-two finish.
"People I talk with are shocked when they find out we run Sunken Meadow on Wednesdays and on a lot of the weekends," Fray said. "Going toward the hill, you have to sprint to it and the momentum helps you get up it. Cardiac [Hill] is always hard, but you have to keep moving. You have no choice."
Fray's finish helped Kellenberg win the team championship, the first in school history, coach Marty Brown said. The Firebirds scored 40 points.
"We were psyched about this all week," Fray said. "I'm so happy."
Other Kellenberg finishers included Deidre Lewin, who was fifth in 21:06.89; Raquel Lopez, who was ninth in 21:54.05; and Kathryn Elnick, who finished 10th in 22:01.82.