Several minutes had passed since Grace Fahrney’s third-place finish in Saturday’s Cook Inlet Conference cross-country championships and the Service High senior was still glued to the ground, exhausted.
She agreed to talk about her race on one condition: "Can I keep sitting here?"
Fahrney earned her moment of rest. She was part of a fast girls race that produced four sub-19-minute times on the hilly and slightly muddy 5-kilometer course at Bartlett High.
"It felt like I was sprinting the whole time," Fahrney said. "You tell yourself to keep working hard. This entire field is so good. It felt so good to keep up."
Pushing the pace was South High sophomore Ava Earl, who danced and smiled her way to her second consecutive CIC title.
"It was pretty hard," Earl said after shaving 14 seconds off her previous best time at Bartlett by finishing in 18 minutes, 26 seconds.
"But I kept a smile on my face, and all of my teammates were cheering."
Earl's strong effort helped pull Fahrney (18:48) and second-place Emily Walsh (18:32) of Eagle River to personal records. Fahrney sliced 25 seconds off her all-time best, and Walsh trimmed 10 seconds off her previous best on the Bartlett trails.
Fahrney led five Service runners into the top 15 to help the Cougars defend their CIC team title.
The boys race belonged to the Chugiak Mustangs, who celebrated an individual victory by Daniel Bausch and their first team championship since 2003.
Bausch, a senior, shook off a fever to win by 10 seconds in 15:40. He was eight seconds off his Bartlett PR and 20 seconds off his all-time PR, but given the way he felt all week, Bausch couldn't complain.
"I'm sick right now," he said. "I went out a little hard today — I think I did the first two (kilometers) in 5:56. I went out too hard and crashed a little at 2K and was hurting more than I have this whole season, but I had enough of a gap that I was able to win by a pretty good margin."
Behind Bausch was a thrilling race for second place between West's Ethan Davis and Dimond's Santiago Prosser, the defending champion.
The two traded places a couple of times as they sprinted through the finish chute, a duel that Davis won by a heartbeat. Both runners clocked 15:50.
"I passed him and then he passed me and then I leaned," said Davis, whose finish-line lean gave him a razor-thin edge over Prosser.
While Davis and Prosser provided finish-line drama, a bib mixup between two Chugiak runners provided some post-race drama.
Jacob Lestina, Chugiak's No. 5 runner, placed 23rd but was disqualified for wearing the wrong bib — he and a JV runner got their bibs mixed up earlier in the day and no one noticed until the varsity race was over.
Fortunately for the Mustangs, their No. 6 runner — freshman Will Gerlach — finished a strong 25th, which allowed Chugiak to capture the team title despite the disqualification. The Mustangs edged a talented Dimond Lynx team by seven points, 49-56.
"The boys were really excited," Chugiak assistant coach Melissa Hall said. "They had been in the shadow of our strong girls team for years. They're always following in their footsteps, so it's nice to see the boys get some attention."
Bausch has been in the spotlight all season while establishing himself as the runner to beat in the CIC.
"He's a beast," Davis said. "He's a strong, strong guy."
Earl earns similar high praise from her competitors, who respect her running ability almost as much as they respect her attitude. She almost always smiles during a race, and sometimes she dances too.
"She reminds you what it's all about," Fahrney said. "She reminds you that you love to do this."
Earl said that before the race, she picked a clover in the woods and wore it in her hair for luck. "Can't hurt," she said.
For inspiration, she wrote inspiring messages on her hands — "Pain is temporary" on one; "Hills rock" on the other. And it was on a hill where Earl rocked the race by running away from Walsh and Fahrney.
"I headed up Separation Hill and thought, 'I'm gonna do it now,' '' Earl said. "I was not planning to do it on an uphill, but it worked out for me."
Walsh said she had no shot at following.
"I was already pushing it really hard," she said.
Walsh, a sophomore, said it wasn't just Earl who pushed her. So did Fahrney, who said she decided to switch tactics and go out with the leaders instead of following her usual routine of sitting back and picking off runners as the race progressed.
"I just forced myself into that front pack," Fahrney said. "I was super nervous because I knew it would be hard."
Walsh said she was glad to have Fahrney's company.
"Grace did really, really good," Walsh said. "She pushed me the whole way. It was good, though. During a race you can get a little stressed out (when it's close), but I was glad she was up there, because I see how she's worked hard to get where she is."
Girls team scores — Service 48, Chugiak 65, West 77, South 85, Eagle River 104, Dimond 108.
Boys team scores — Chugiak 49, Dimond 56, West 72, South 89, Service 116, Eagle River 125, East 203.
1. Ava Earl, South 18:26; 2. Emily Walsh, Eagle River 18:32; 3. Grace Fahrney, Service 18:48; 4. Adrianna Proffitt, Chugiak 18:54; 5. Tatum Witter, Service 19:18; 6. Aubrey LeClair, West 19:18; 7. Breanna Day, Chugiak 19:56; 8. Sophia Dedmore, Chugiak 20:04; 9. Natalie Hood, West 20:10; 10. Kylie Judd, Dimond 20:14; 11. Mary Reinbold, Dimond 20:16; 12. Zoey Chang, Service 20:21; 13. Nowelle Spencer, Service 20:26; 14. Elizabeth Novakovich, South 20:27; 15. Garvey Tobin, Service 20:39; 16. Clare Howard, Service 20:40; 17. Abigail Robinson, South 20:45; 18. Hannah Yi, West 20:46; 19. Brooklynn Gould, Chugiak 20:49; 20. Laura Ripp, Eagle River 20:53; 21. Ryann Dorris, West 20:53; 22. Leola Atkinson, Bartlett 20:58; 23. Lucy Young, South 21:01; 24. Ivy Eski, West 21:08; 25. Amanda Michener, Eagle River 21:12; 26. Quincy Donley, West 21:18; 27. Claire Nelson, Eagle River 21:22; 28. Lindsey Gerlach, Chugiak 21:28; 29. Maria Cvancara, Dimond 21:30; 30. Tarja Latva-Kiskola, Dimond 21:31; 31. Delainey Zock, Dimond 21:33; 32. Lindsey Western, South 21:38; 33. Mary Goodwin, Eagle River 21:45; 34. Nataya Lee, South 21:49; 35. Myah Smith, Eagle River 21:54; 36. Grace Dunn, Chugiak 22:05; 37. Julia Thomas, South 22:14; 38. Annika Ostberg, Dimond 22:39; 39. Kaley Fleming, Dimond 22:41; 40. Hannah Cryder, Chugiak 22:48; 41. Courtney Jones-Brunner, Eagle River 22:48
1. Daniel Bausch, Chugiak 15:40; 2. Ethan Davis, West 15:50; 3. Santiago Prosser, Dimond 15:50; 4. Alexander Maurer, Service 15:57; 5. Everett Cason, West 16:33; 6. Hyrum Nelson, Chugiak 16:37; 7. Michael Earnhart, Chugiak 16:46; 8. Nick Carl, Eagle River 16:52; 9. Niko Latva-Kiskola, Dimond 16:52; 10. Miles Dennis, Chugiak 16:53; 11. George Cvancara, Dimond 16:55; 12. Zanden Mcmullen, South 16:58; 13. Kai Meyers, South 17:00; 14. Isaac Dammeyer, West 17:00; 15. Kaleb Beloy, South 17:03; 16. Fred Rygh, Dimond 17:04; 17. Cameron Sheldon, Dimond 17:09; 18. Carter Gladwill, Eagle River 17:11; 19. Dallin Gardiner, Dimond 17:14; 20. Noah Hoefer, Dimond 17:16; 21. Jacob Bradley, Eagle River 17:16; 22. Jason Hlasny, Service 17:23; 23. Spencer Putnam, South 17:25; 24. Eli Mckenzie, West 17:27; 25. Will Gerlach, Chugiak 17:28; 26. Seth Chamberlain, South 17:30; 27. Skyler Parks, West 17:31; 28. Max Beiergrohslein, Chugiak 17:43; 29. Mitchell Guyer, Service 17:43; 30. Alvaro Gonzalez, Service 17:46; 31. Dylan Kearns, Service 17:46; 32. Ben Post, West 17:52; 33. Simon Keffalos, South 17:58; 34. Ahmed Salih, East 17:58; 35. Sebastian Reed, West 17:59; 36. Alex Carl, Eagle River 18:11; 37. Joel Power, Service 18:16; 38. Joseph Curry, East 18:18; 39. Sebastian Szweda Mittelstadt, Service 18:27; 40. Luke Howe, East 18:29; 41. Ben Fischer, South 18:32; 42. Gunnar Sackerson, Eagle River 18:32; 43. Jacob Heavener, Eagle River 18:42; 44. Tucker Lien, Eagle River 18:47; 45. Beck Haywood, East 19:03; 46. Tommy King, East 19:29; 47. Malzaiah Rubit, East 19:49; 48. Will Sanchez, East 19:49