Even when Gabriella Karas isn't in top form, she's tops in the KHSAA state cross country championships.
Despite training for only the past five weeks, Karas, a sophomore at Collins, won the Class 2A title for the fourth year in a row Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Karas took August and September off to recover from a sprained ankle, so she wasn't in her best shape coming into the state meet.
That put a little bit of doubt in her mind.
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"And then there's the pressure of always needing to win," she said. "But I'm grateful I did what I did today. It was a comforting feeling when I crossed the line again to win a fourth one."
Karas hoped to run the 5K in under 18 minutes, and she did that with a 17:57.70. That wasn't close to her state record of 17:39 she set last year, but she knew that wasn't within reach.
Lexington Catholic sophomore Michaela Rinehart was runner-up to Karas after finishing third last year.
"Through the first mile I thought maybe I could still get her," Rinehart said. "But at 21/2 miles she really took off. Gabby ran a great race. But I'm happy with how I did."
Karas is the first four-time winner since Assumption's Emma Brink (2007-10).
Rachel Sanford of Pulaski Southwestern won five in a row from 1993-97.
Karas would like to win six consecutive titles.
"Yes, I hope I can win the next two in my junior and senior years," she said. "That would be pretty amazing."
Highlands three-peated as team champ. Chloe Gastright was the Bluebirds' highest finisher in 11th place.
Caroline Gosser didn't like the weather, but the Presentation senior still swept to the Class A title in a time of 18:12.40.
"I broke away early, but the conditions weren't really ideal for me," she said. "It was windy and cold, and my legs never warmed up the whole way. I was a little worried until I got a good lead with a mile to go. Before that I didn't know what might happen."
Gosser, who finished sixth last year, said she was "hoping for a time closer to 18 (minutes), but I'm happy."
Louisville Holy Cross senior Karly Gawarecki was runner-up for the second year in a row.
Sayre senior Maddox Patterson, who won state titles in 2009, '10 and '11, finished fourth in her final state meet. Patterson has had low iron all season, which kept her from being at her best.
"It's almost like you're running in a different body," she said. "Your head's in it and your mind's in it, but your body's just not in sync.
"This season was still pretty good, but I'm just excited about the future when I start feeling better again."
St. Henry won its seventh team title in eight years thanks to strong showings by Samantha Hentz (fifth place), Renee Svec (sixth) and Holly Blades (seventh).
It was a good day for Kathleen Simms. The Sacred Heart freshman won the individual title and also celebrated the team championship with her sister Samantha, a senior who finished 11th.
"Team definitely comes first," said Kathleen, who won with a time of 18:15.02. "We trained so hard this season, it's time for everything to pay off."
Kathleen said there's no serious sibling rivalry with Samantha. "We like to push each other and always encourage each other to do the best we can."
Clark County seventh-grader Makenzie Cooper finished eighth in her first state meet.