Lexington Catholic's Michaela Reinhart knew this might be her best opportunity to claim a state title, with the four-time defending Class 2A champion sidelined by injury Saturday.
Reinhart seized it.
"It was really exciting," the junior said of crossing the finish line in first in the 5K event at the Kentucky Horse Park. "And kind of ... 'is this really happening?'"
Reinhart finished second last year to Collins' Gabriella Karas, who would have been going for her fifth straight 2A title, but has been hampered by shin splints all season.
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Karas, a junior, was able to shake off an ankle injury last year and still best the field, and she hoped to run Saturday despite her injury woes.
"Honestly, the final decision was this morning," Karas said. "When I woke up, I was like 'I don't want to hurt myself again.' It's not worth re-injuring yourself."
Karas came to the meet to support her Collins teammates and offer a word of encouragement to her sometime Derby City club teammate Reinhart.
"I told her to go out and win today and do her best," Karas said.
A false start shook things up a bit for Reinhart at the outset. "The (second) start felt a little sluggish, it took a while to get going, but after that, the first mile was nice and smooth," she said. "I tried to start the first mile fast and tried to keep the same pace."
The pace of 18:03.66 was good enough to separate from the field and finish ahead of North Oldham's Erin Edmunson by nearly 26 seconds. Louisville Christian Academy's Clara Lynch took third.
Reinhart's effort helped the Knights finish third in the team competition.
Lauren Ossege and Maggie Shroeder finished sixth and seventh, respectively, to lead Highlands to its fourth straight team title. Edmundson and her North Oldham team took second.
Williamsburg freshman Selena Mattingly broke from her coach's wait-and-strike strategy and broke away from the field for the Class A title in a time of 18:52.87.
"I wish I had gone (even) a little faster in the beginning and broke them sooner, but I'm glad I PR'd (set a personal record), she said. "I feel like this was a big accomplishment for Williamsburg and a big motivation for our team next year."
Williamsburg Coach John Harris knows he has something special in Mattingly.
"She came out, first time she ran in seventh grade and finished third," he said. "So, you know, you just try to stay out of the way."
Nicholas County's Shelby Watkins placed second, about 2½ seconds ahead of Glasgow's Rebekah Howard.
St. Henry won its ninth team title in 10 years with Renee Svec leading the way in fifth place and teammates Holly Blades, Elizabeth Hoffman and Abbey Epplen cracking the top 20.
With 800 meters to the finish, Manual's Alena Sapienza-Wright wouldn't be denied.
The sophomore's sprint to the line outpaced Male's Kaitlyn Lacy and Sacred Heart defending state champion Kathleen Simms in a time of 18:09.45 for a nearly 10-second winning margin.
"I wanted to win," Sapienza-Wright said. "I knew they were great runners, and they could have done the same thing I did. My goal was to beat them in the sprint."
Daviess County won the team competition, placing three runners in the top 10, Madison Peeples (5th), Kate Rhoads (9th) and Olivia Wilson (10th).
Tates Creek freshman Jenna Strange charged down the final stretch to claim eighth place. The Commodores finished ninth as a team.