Air Academy sophomore Katie Rainsberger needs no introduction. In the high school running community, she's as vogue as Madonna.
At the start line, everyone is excited to see her marvelous talent. And by the end, nobody expects her to be anywhere but squarely in front.
Sometimes though, she admits, that's been the problem.
"It gets to be a lot of pressure, I'll admit that," Rainsberger said after winning the Cougar Classic by more than 30 seconds Thursday. "It worked me up sometimes last season. But this year, I'm not worried about letting everyone else outside our team down. I just have to prove what I can do to myself and help the team wherever I can."
She has been - and then some. Rainsberger set a girls' course record at Monument Valley Park with her win in 17 minutes, 31 seconds, but Thursday proved just as big to the sophomore as it marked another step in implementing her new strategy for cross country.
"I'm racing my own race. I'm not trying to worry about everyone else as much," said Rainsberger, who had no idea she was so far in front as she looked back from the finish line with her hands on her hips. "I just want to find my groove and hit my splits."
Going forward, she's not trying to worry about the past even when it seems like everyone else does. She's been asked to retell the anguish of her two second-place finishes to Niwot's Elise Cranny last season, but now she's done with it.
She's moved on physically and mentally.
"For most freshmen, getting second at state cross country and doing what I did in track would be good," said Rainsberger, who was beat in the home stretch by Cranny in the state meet last year by .10 seconds, and then was caught from behind during the 800-meter race at state track on the final straightaway in the spring. "That's why I'm running my own race now. I've learned a lot from those races and I want to let that help me grow as a runner."
Following Rainsberger to the line on Thursday? Pine Creek.
Kaleigh Kroeker finished in second place in 18:06, twins Gabrielle and Katherine Sered finished seventh and eighth, and the Eagles girls' team put together their second straight impressive win at a 40-plus team meet.
"Our coach wanted us to run this as a workout, but we wanted to come out and show everyone what we're made of," said Kroeker, who won the Liberty Bell last weekend. "It's tough to not compete when you're at a meet like this, so we did."
Eight of the top 10 finishers were from the area in the girls' race. Palmer Ridge's Alison Deitsch (fourth), Palmer's Hannah McIntyre (sixth), Coronado's Gabby Roth (ninth) and Air Academy's Olivia Evans (10th) rounded out the leaderboard.