Christy Paul has been in this position before -- sort of.
The HRV cross-country star entered last year's OSAA state championship as a relative longshot, and surprised everyone by taking third place overall in her first competitive season.
But at this year's race Saturday in Eugene, she would be no underdog. She had to overcome the pressure of being the favorite.
Pressure? What pressure?
Paul applied what she learned last year and outwilled the rest of the field to win the 2001 state title with a time of 18 minutes, 27 seconds -- the second-fastest time ever at Lane Community College.
"Christy is really good at not thinking about the expectations," coach Kristen Uhler said. "She learned from last year'ss favorite (Paris Edwards of Ashland) who blew up due to the pressure.
"Plus, Christy has been there before, so she had a good idea of what to expect."
Aside from the outcome, the other big difference this year was that Paul had six teammates running alongside her in the team competition.
But not even Paul's teammates could match her torrid pace (5:57 per mile). Just as she has done at every race this season, she sprinted to the front of the pack from the opening gun.
But by the end of the first mile, she found herself in a rather unfamiliar position -- about six seconds behind the leader.
Perhaps she was pacing herself for the final stretch, because by the end of the second mile, Paul had closed the gap. Then, after the third mile, she was alone on the course.
"A lot of the coaches didn't think Christy would be a factor," Uhler said. "I don't know why because during the last 300 meters, she was the only one on the track. People were in awe."
Paul's nearest competitor, Meghan Armstrong of Tualatin, completed the race in 18:48, while Emily McMahon of Mountain View took third at 18:50. Freshman Erin Gray of South Eugene -- the race favorite among many coaches -- finished fourth at 18:51.
The next Hood River finisher was Laurissa Pennington, who timed in at 21:09 for 62nd place overall. Suni Davis was third at 21:52 (83rd); Allison Byers fourth at 22:14 (92nd); and Emily Meyer fifth at 22:15 (93rd).
Kristen Hedges (22:33) and Jenny Villagomez (23:01) rounded out the HRV field, giving the team a score of 331 for 16th place.
After a strong second-place performance at district, the Eagles believed they could catch district champ and league rival Centennial, which ended up finishing 10th in the team competition.
But the Eagles soon found out just how mentally exhausting and intimidating the state competition is, and fell off their pace of the past month.
"State is very overwhelming," Uhler said. "It's hard to change gears and focus after districts if yo'’re not already looking forward to state ahead of time.
"There are thousands of people at state and it usually takes the first year to know what it's all about. That's why you want your freshmen and sophomores to qualify so they have big-meet experience," she said.
Uhler explained that qualifying for state is a victory in itself and the experience the young runners like Davis and Hedges have gained is extremely valuable.
Along with the juniors -- Meyer, Byers, Paul and Villagomez -- the Eagles' two young stars should be back even stronger for next year's state meet. Having six returnees has also given Uhler a lot of confidence heading into next season.
"We're a young, goal-oriented team that is looking toward the future," she said. "This experience only enables us to be a better team next year."