A few runners huddled by the posted scores at Air Academy on Thursday and discussed how they might be able to beat Katie Rainsberger.

It wasn’t a group of conspiring girls. These were boys.

Rainsberger, a freshman for the Kadets, was faster than 83 percent (255 of 309) of the boys who competed in the two divisions at the Kadet Invitational to win for the second time in as many high school cross country events. Her time of 19:28 was 24 seconds faster than runner-up Nicole Hahn of Ralston Valley.

“I don’t think anybody has any idea how good she can be yet,” said Air Academy coach Steve Reischling, whose girls team took second and boys placed third to lead all local teams at the event they hosted. “She’s just a freshman. This was her second race. It’s hard to say. I don’t want to put any limits on her.”

The consensus among the frustrated boys admiring Rainsberger’s time was that if they could just be on the course with her, they would be motivated to topple her.

There’s a good chance that would make Rainsberger even faster.

“I feel like I have a lot left at the end,” said Rainsberger, whose time placed her in the top eight in 4A statewide. “When the competition comes, I’ll be ready.”

In middle school, Rainsberger had long targeted a girl who was consistently faster. When they finally went head to head, Rainsberger cut 45 seconds off her personal-best time to keep up.

It’s that same competitiveness that has helped Rainsberger already topple all of her mother’s top times from high school. And this isn’t just any mother. Lisa Rainsberger was the last American woman to win the Boston Marathon back in 1985.

“It’s kind of my benchmark,” Katie said of her mother’s times.

While Rainsberger is waiting for top competition to bring out her best, the team is also poised for a major bump when TCA transfer Kat Pennington gains eligibility at the season’s midpoint.

Pennington ran 21:14 in the Division II race on Thursday, winning by 51 seconds. Had that time been placed in the Division I scores, Air Academy would have defeated Ralston Valley by one point instead of trailing by 14.

The boys also have some key building blocks in place. Junior Andy Boyle placed second and classmate Danyon Anderson was fourth in the Division I race.

Corban Pagnotta of Pueblo West won the boys’ race at 17:04, 15 seconds ahead of Boyle. Pueblo West also took the team title, with Mountain Vista coming in second. The Kadets were third, followed by Coronado and Discovery Canyon.

The Thunder also placed fifth in the girls’ race.

The Kadets took second in both Division II races.

“It’s a great bunch,” Reischling said as he watched his team linger on the football field long after awards had been presented. “Look at them, they don’t want to leave. They just want to stay here and hang out with each other. It’s just a great group, great morale and great chemistry.”

Reischling offered no prediction about how his teams might progress through the season, and it was difficult to say how much should be made of Thursday’s performance against teams that were not all at full strength. Coronado’s Dan Egger, one of the top-10 runners in 4A wasn’t there, for example.

“It’s promising, certainly,” Reischling said. “But whether or not it’s realized or not, we’ll have to wait and see.”