Jenny Howard feels comfortable running way out ahead of the pack, and Jeff Hankins could get used to that feeling too.
Howard, a Fallston senior, outran her closest competition by more than two minutes to win her third straight Harford County Cross Country Championship on Friday at Harford Glen.
Hankins, a senior from C. Milton Wright, outdistanced the boys' field by 40 seconds to win his second consecutive title.
The two veterans also paced their squads through gusty winds to the team championships. Fallston won its second straight girls' title, 18-43, over C. Milton Wright. The C. Milton Wright boys took their fourth consecutive title, this time outrunning North Harford, 17-67.
Two-time defending Class 2A state champion Howard took the lead right from the gun and increased her margin with every stride. She crossed the finish line in 19:21, 18 seconds faster than last year.
"I try not to think about the time too much," Howard said. "When there's no one with you, it's hard, because competition serves as a gauge for how you're doing. I just have to try and focus on running hard and running the best I can."
Hankins had company early on, running shoulder-to-shoulder with teammate Greg Stephen through the first mile. But Hankins took over on the hills and finished in 16:47. He took a minute and four seconds off his winning time a year ago.
"I haven't been out in front that far all year," Hankins explained.
"It's harder out front, because you have no one to push you and you slow down. You have to find some other motivation to run faster."
With Howard and Hankins considered heavy pre-race favorites, much of the attention focused on the battles for second place, especially in the girls' race. But those battles never materialized.
An expected sprint for the wire between Fallston sophomore Monica Beall and C. Milton Wright senior Stacey Servia turned into a romp for Beall.
Last year, Beall edged Servia at the wire to take fourth place, but this year Beall passed her near the 2.5-mile point on the hilly 3.1-mile course.
Beall, at 21:22, beat Servia by 16 seconds.
Fallston coach Carol O'Donnell wasn't surprised by Beall's margin of victory. "Monica ran her first race of this year at a faster pace than she finished the state meet last year. She's just come so far. And she's getting better every day."
After Howard and Beall, the Cougar girls placed three more runners in the top six. Sarah Moore (23:05) was fourth, followed by Kristin Svehla (23:20) and Laura Kortisses (23:33).
C. Milton Wright finished second. Jennifer Willey (23:55) in seventh was followed by Rhonda Napieralski (ninth, 24:26), Julie Meyer (11th, 25:06) and Theresa Molnar (13th, 25:11).
Joy Carson (eighth, 24:10) led North Harford to third place in the team competition. Michele McCarthy (12th, 25:10) paced fourth-place John Carroll.
In the boys' race, C. Milton Wright freshman Brian Harris took second in 17:27. Teammate Stephen was third in 17:47. Troy Morse (fifth, 18:09) and Kevin Koffenberger (sixth, 18:15) also scored for the Mustangs.
North Harford finished a distant second, led by Matt Piotrowski (eighth, 18:26).