It's one thing to be the favored team going into a state cross country meet, but it's something totally different when you toe the line in a big race and actually do what you're capable of doing.
That was the case for the Signal Mountain Lady Eagles last Saturday at Nashville's Percy Warner Park where they captured their first state title in cross country in a race that really wasn't that close.
Signal Mountain posted a score of 42 points while runner-up Christian Academy of Knoxville was a distant second with 80 points.
The Lady Eagles also had four runners earn All-State honors.
Junior Mallory Young has been the number-one runner for the Lady Eagles all fall and she didn't disappoint as she finished third overall with a time of 19 minutes, 45 seconds.
Senior Madison Drennan, the team cheerleader, motivator and general entertainer, had one of her best races ever as she finished in fourth place, just three seconds behind Young.
Becca Umbarger and Taylor Luthringer were 12th and 13th respectively, with times of 20:09 and 20:26 while Chandler Chastain finished her high-school career with a time of 20:56, which was 21st.
Erin Brown and Katie Rich completed the Signal Mountain scoring as they finished 29th and 58th overall with times of 21:26 and 22:46.
This group of young ladies is always upbeat and friendly, willing to talk to just about anyone who comes along. Such was not the case on Saturday afternoon as they were all unusually quiet as they contemplated the job in front of them.
But when the horn sounded to begin the race, everything unfolded as planned and the Lady Eagles walked away with their first-ever state title in cross country.
"It was just a perfect day, but we all knew we had a chance to win," said Young on Wednesday morning when asked about her most recent race.
"I felt pretty good when the race started and my goal was to finish in the top three. It seemed like we all surged on the back stretch, but that was my fastest time ever on that course," she added.
Drennan, one of three Signal Mountain seniors making their final trip to the state meet, was more bound and determined to win than anyone else on the team.
"I was happy with my place, but not necessarily my time. I was really anxious before the race began, but it was my last chance and I wasn't leaving without a state championship. I tried to encourage the other girls and may have put too much pressure on them, but they all came through," she said with a smile.
Umbarger is a sophomore who also plays soccer in the fall. She was more than ready for the challenge as well.
"I just tried to keep up with Madison and it was my best time ever for that course. I put forth my best effort and it turned out to be a really good experience," Umbarger recalled.
Luthringer is the youngest of the top seven runners as she's just a freshman, but she ran like a seasoned veteran in her biggest race ever.
"I just stayed with Becca the whole time as it was my best time ever," she nodded.
Chastain was the fifth finisher for the Lady Eagles, but her effort may have been the key to victory as she ran strong after spending most of the fall on the sideline with nagging injuries.
"That was my first race where I really felt 100 percent. I've been on this team for the last four years and it was my last varsity race, but it turned out to be the best day of my life," she smiled.
Brown was ready to run, but for somereason, it wasn't her best race.
"I was healthy and felt well-prepared, but it wasn't my best race. I didn't feel very good, but it turned out to be a great experience," the coaches daughter explained.
Rich is another senior who was running her final race. She has probably made more improvement than anyone in the past four years.
"I'm so proud of what I've achieved as I was running about 36 minutes for a 5K when I was a freshman. I should have gone out faster as I got caught behind a bunch of runners, but it was a beautiful course and I was really happy with the way things turned out," she said with a smile.
Brown just finished her second season as their coach and nobody was any more proud and happy with the final results than her.
One of her goals when she first took over the job was creating a strong bond between members of the team and doing a lot of group activities that allowed that to happen.
"My guys and girls are really close friends, much like a big family, but I really felt like we'd win if we ran the way we were capable. It may have been the first time all season that everyone was healthy, but we peaked at the right time as we were right where we needed to be.
"I thought it would be a closer race. I think my happiest day as a coach came at the Front Runner Invitational at Baylor when everyone shaved a bunch of time, but it's hard to beat winning a state championship.
"It's been a great year all across the board and I'm happy with all my runners, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime team. I'm sure that I'll cry when they graduate, but all of these kids come from good families and all of the parents are really supportive. That's what it takes to have the success we've had.
"I never dreamed this would happen, but what a wonderful surprise and a great way to end the season," the coach concluded.
The Lady Eagles have some really strong runners who'll be back next year and there are yet others moving up from the middle school team who are ready to contribute.
It's much too early to predict what will happen next year. These girls just want to celebrate their most recent accomplishment.
After all, it's not every day that you have a chance to win a state championship.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)