Robert E. Lee sophomore Mary Claire Neal was a little surprised and excited to have several girls keeping pace with her for the first half of the varsity girls 5K race.
But around the midway point, Neal did what she has done all season and broke away from the rest of the pack and cruised to victory, winning the District 11-6A championship by 28 seconds Saturday morning at UT Tyler.
The win qualified Neal for the Class 6A Region II cross country meet on Nov. 1 at Old Settler's Park in Grand Prairie.
"I felt really good and it was cool to have challengers (early on)," said Neal, who entered with the top time and won the Tyler Lee Invitational earlier this season at the same course. "I really didn't feel it until mile three-and-a-half, and that is usually when you hit a wall.
"I've been working on my pacing and that really helped (in that final mile or so)."
Joining Neal at regionals from Lee is the Red Raiders boys cross country team, which finished in second place overall, led by a third-place finish from Ian Estrada who ran the 5K course in a time of 16 minutes and 57 seconds.
As for Neal, she realized she had put some distance between her and the other competitors based on how quiet it was.
"I am thinking around the lake because up until then I was hearing people cheer behind me," Neal said. "That is how I knew because I don't look back."
Neal will be the lone representative at regionals for the Lee girls as the team finished in fourth spot overall.
"Our guys ran great today and I was proud of their team effort," Lee coach Dennis Baker said. "Our girls were decimated by injuries on the course and another one of our top runners missed the meet."
The top three teams qualify for regionals along with the top 10 individual finishers. Lee's Erica Overmeyer just missed joining her teammate, finishing in 16th position, a little over a minute behind the 10th place finisher, who grabbed the final regional spot.
Rockwall swept both team championships. Rounding out the top three for the girls were Sachse in second and Rowlett in third. The second- and third-place teams in the boys race were Lee and Sachse.
The boys district champion was Rockwall's Sam Fox, who won the race in a time of 16:44.
District 11-6A Cross Country Championships
Saturday at UT Tyler
Team Standings — 1, Rockwall, 30; 2, Sachse, 66; 3, Rowlett, 82; 4, Robert E. Lee, 107; 5, Garland, 109; 6, North Garland, 133; 7, Naaman Forest, 151.
Individual — (Top 10 only) 1, Mary Claire Neal, Robert E. Lee, 19:10.60; 2, Destanie Thomas, Lakeview Centennial, 19:38.07; 3, Ariell Hopkins, Rockwall, 19:54.46; 4, Kaitlyn Stark, Rockwall, 20:16.51; 5, Jordan Lande, Sachse, 20:50.03; 6, Maiaya Collins, Rockwall, 20:51.58; 7, Gemma Gonzalez, Garland, 20:55.41; 8, Jazmynn Kennebeck, Rowlett, 20:59.24; 9, Annie McKee, Rockwall, 21:06.36; 10, Maddie Shubert, Rowlett, 21:10. Lee finishers: (16) Erica Overmeyer, 22:15.17; (21) Zoraya Nunez, 22:48.76; (33) Lauren Lyons, 23:46.93; (36) Sarah Sanders, 24:21.13.
Team Standings — 1, Rockwall, 40; 2, Robert E. Lee, 45; 3, Sachse, 58; 4, Rowlett, 108; 5, North Garland, 109; 6, Garland, 186.
Individual — 1, Sam Fox, Rockwall, 16:44.76; 2, Mitchell MacInnis, Rowlett, 16:56.64; 3, Ian Estrada, Robert E. Lee, 16:57.58; 4, Damon Lewis, Rockwall, 17:05.30; 5, Sage Breed, Sachse, 17:12.41; 6, Shafen Borah, Robert E. Lee, 17:21.10; 7, Jean Sabillion, Sachse, 17:25.89; 8, Jonathan Clem, Rockwall, 17:36.90; 9, Isaiah Davison, Robert E. Lee, 17:50.57; 10, 10, Alex Villalon, North Garland, 17:54.29. Lee finishers: (16) Allan Evans, 18:16.43; (23) Cesar Correa, 18:27.06; (26) Steven Jones, 18:43.87.