In athletics, success comes quickly for some, while others endure years of frustration.
For Megan Ambrose, The Anne Arundel County Sun's Female Cross Country Runner of the Year, success in the arduous sport of cross country came early -- but after hard work.
For John Dockstader, chosen as Coach of the Year, the battle to raise his Meade harriers to the point of respectability -- and beyond -- has been an uphill climb.
In her first year as a member of the Severna Park cross country team, Ambrose captured first in the county and regionals and topped it off with a third-place finish in the states.
Falcon coach Ed Purpura, who had enough respect in the senior's ability that he named her team captain in her first year on the squad, said her accomplishments were a mere reflection of the dividends yielded as the result of rigorous training.
"She isn't an incredible talent, but she had a thirst for knowledge of the sport, and she sponged up everything you told her," said Purpura, whose girls team captured the regional title as well as their eighth straight county title.
"She had a lot to learn about the sport, and she realized that and put the time in to learn. She was in good shape, but she knew that there was more to cross country then going out and running.
"I like the kind of kid that you have to tell to take it easy. With most kids you have to tell them to pick up the pace, but with Megan it's the other way around. She likes to work hard all the time."
Ambrose's hard work paid off in the county championships, as she completed the 3.1-mile course at Annapolis High in 20 minutes and 16 seconds, exactly 15 seconds ahead of teammate Fran Mackney and 35 seconds sooner than third-place finisher Cindy Silate of Glen Burnie.
Ambrose, in her catch-me-if-you-can style of running, led the pack from the starting gun to the finish line in the Region IV cross country meet at Catonsville Community College and turned in a winning time of 21:05. In the states, Ambrose braved the muddy turf at Hereford High School in Baltimore County in 20:53, which was good enough for a third-place finish.
"She likes to run away from the pack at the beginning, and she was strong enough to hold on in the end," said Purpura. "In fact, she would usually continue to pull away down the stretch."
While Ambrose was occupied with trying to pull away from the pack, Dockstader was busy trying to make believers out of his thin stable of Mustangs.
And Dockstader's words did not go unheeded -- especially those he delivered prior to the county championships.
"I told them before the meet that everyone is important, and as it turned out, everyone was," said Dockstader, whose team tied Severna Park in points with 53, but finished second as the result of a tie-breaking rule that awards the title to the team with the highest sixth-place finisher (which was Severna Park's Chelsie Adams, who finished 22nd overall). "We came as close as anyone could ever come, and I was very proud of them.
"Everyone knew what their role was, and they accepted it. I just kept emphasizing that they are part of a team, and that eighth place is just as important as first place. It's difficult to get kids to understand that."
After being nipped for the title in the county meet, the Mustangs finished in second place again behind Severna Park in the regionals -- but more impressively, ahead of Old Mill and Broadneck.
"We lose a lot of the girls to the high-profile sports like soccer and field hockey, and we don't have the overall pool of talent to draw from like Severna Park, Old Mill and Broadneck," Dockstader said.
"We've never been in the limelight, and we don't have a long tradition established here, so it's not easy to get the number of students to come out like some of the county's other schools.
"Our goal each year is to win the county and regions and place well in the states, but realistically we just hope to be among the top three teams in the county. This team had a lot of discipline, but more importantly, they were unselfish. They knew what their roles were, and they accepted them."
Now, Dockstader and his coaching staff will have to accept the fact that the Mustangs no longer are a long shot -- they're legitimate contenders.