Katie Rainsberger of Air Academy (Colorado) just kept getting closer at the Nike Cross Nationals.
She was 13th as a freshman, sixth as a sophomore and sixth as a junior, but in the final race of her high school career, Rainsberger is the national champion.
Rainsberger ran away from the field to win the Nike Cross Nationals on Saturday in Portland, Ore., in a time of 16:56.8.
“It’s something that I’ve pictured since my freshman year,” she told USA TODAY High School Sports. “ Coming out here and being so green and wide-eyed back then and now coming here and closing it out, it’s amazing. I don’t know if I have words for it. It’s something I’ve worked and dreamed about for four years. I know it’s special.”
Fayetteville-Manlius (N.Y.), running as the Manlius Cross Country Club, dominated in the team competition, winning its ninth national title in 10 years.
Rainsberger, an Oregon commit who is a two-time Colorado 4A state champion, was ahead of the field in the first 400 meters with a small group that included Stephanie Jenks (Linn-Mar, Iowa), Kaitlyn Neal (Fayetteville-Manlius, N.Y.) and Judy Pendergrast (Naperville North, Ill.).
At around the 11-minute mark after the first hill, Rainsberger took the lead and never trailed again.
“That was the game plan — to be with the leaders for the first mile, mile and a half. I wanted to see how the hill would play out,” she said. “When I went through the starting line again, I felt good and strong. From there, I slowly started to pick it up. I know that my strength is the last mile, and I started to pull away and use the hills and downhills to my advantage.”
As she turned for home on the final push to the finish line, no one was in sight.
“I just was focused on getting to the finish line and I didn’t really realize how much of a gap there was until I crossed the finish line,” she said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work this season and it has come together really well. I was a little nervous for the first mile having so many people around me, but I kept my composure.”
Ella Donaghu (Grant; Portland, Ore.) was second in 17:10.20, followed by Cailie Logue (Girard, Kan.) in 17:14.20. Kelsey Chmiel (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) was fourth in 17:15.40 and Bethany Hasz (Jefferson; Alexandria, Minn.) was fifth in 17:17.10.
In the team competition, F-M posted an amazing 55 points to finish ahead of Davis (Calif.), which was second with 141. Great Oak (Temecula, Calif.) was third with 171. Saratoga Springs (N.Y.), running as Kinetic XC, was fourth (207) and Lower Bucks (Pa.) was fifth with 241.
Neal finished 15th overall and was the fourth runner among those on teams to lead the Manlius runners. New York state champion Claire Walters was 24th overall and the eighth scoring runner. In all, Manlius had finishers at 4, 8, 11, 14 and 18. Of its seven competitors, Manlius had three runners back from last year’s national title team: seniors Samantha Levy and Jenna Farrell and sophomore Sophia Ryan. Neal is a transfer from Skaneateles, N.Y., and Walters is a freshman.
“We just all tried our best,” Walters said. “I really love these girls and I’m so proud of everybody.”