Heading into the Class 3 Virginia cross-country championships, several names on the girls' side of the lineup surfaced in pre-meet projections as potential winners.
And while Tabb's Kasandra Aulenbach found her name in the mix of hopefuls, it was usually toward the bottom of field favorites. She understood.
"I didn't run States last year," said the Tiger, who had nevertheless built up an outstanding running resume that includes a 5:17 mile and best of 18:28 over 5-kilometers.
Still, the Yorktown harrier was aware of her status.
"There was a hidden element of surprise," said Aulenbach, with a sly grin.
Some of the surprise was self-absorbed. "I wasn't really expecting to win, and knew I would have to take (the pace) it out.
After cruising through the first mile "in about 5:44," she had another moment of awareness. "I was feeling good." Bolstered by her swift early pace and a realization that victory was a possibility, Aulenbach kept her swift pace, which carried the runner all the way through the finish line in first place with a 12-second win in 18:41, 12 seconds faster than second-place Emma Rogers of Hidden Valley. Jessica Cantrell of Broadway High was third in 19:02.
Aulenbach's win buoyed the Tigers, led by Coach Emily Honeycutt, to a fifth-place team finish.
Hidden Valley won the girls' championship as Elle Anderson (fourth -19:09), Sophia Pineda (seventh - 19:20), Ainsley Lester (12th - 19:35) and Chloe Rogers (18th - 19:51) all broke 20 minutes and joined Rogers on the winners' platform at Great Meadow.
Aulenbach credits a solid cross-training program, as well as a sensible workout ethic for her consistency.
"I am really conscious about it," said the senior, who will be racing at the Foot Locker Southeast Regional meet in two weeks before embarking on her indoor and outdoor campaigns. "I try not to do too many track workouts, and take off days when I feel the need to. Resting is important."
In the boys race, Western Albemarle pulled off a Herculean (or Loudoun Valley type) effort, as Joe Hawkes garnered the individual title with a time of 15:39, followed closely by teammates Jack Eliason (second - 15:44), Cyrus Rody-Ramazani (third - 16:03), and sophomore Joseph Taylor (fourth - 16:11). Will Bonner added a 13th place finish in 16:29 to pace the Warriors to a team-low 23 points.
"We wanted to work together, and have the young guys run in a pack. It worked out well," said Hawkes, who was interviewed with Eliason by Nolan Jez of Milestat after the race.
Sophomore Conner Amberg of Spotswood rounded out the top five finishers with a clocking of 16:12