Ayako Higuchi said she was nervous before starting the West Aurora Stampede Saturday morning at Marmion.
The Fremd junior had a funny way of showing it, staying poised before making her move into the lead in the second mile of the race and going on to win in a time of 18:26.
Neuqua Valley senior Claire Costelloe took second, 14 seconds back in 18:40.
It was the first individual title for Higuchi.
"Ayako ran a smart race," Joe Marcin said. "We knew the race was going to start out fast so she kind of stayed back the first 800 and then started working her way up after the first 800. That was our race plan to race the middle mile hard and hold on the last mile."
Adding Saturday's title to a recent second at the Warren Invite and 11th at Peoria means the upcoming postseason looks quite promising for Higuchi.
She took ninth in this race last year in 19:08.
"She is right where she needs to be," Marcin said. "It's pretty exciting to see."
Fremd placed fifth as a team with 114 points. Anita Grudzien (18th, 19:49) and Katie Escobar (20th, 19:52) followed Higuchi.
"Great pace to start and they came in pretty strong," Marcin said. "I'm happy with their performances today."
Costelloe found herself in a strange position early in the race. After a faster start than expected, Costelloe looked around and realized every other runner was behind her.
"I had never done that before and I was just hoping I knew the course," said Costelloe who matched her best place with her second-place at Joliet. "We ended up moving farther than they expected us to be. We didn't expect to be there and then we were like, 'oh now what do we do?' I wish I would have held on better but it was still good."
Higuchi passed Costelloe to take the lead for good between the mile and a half and two-mile mark.
The Wildcats won the team title with 59 points. Wheaton Warrenville South (89), Downers Grove North (97) and Sandburg (109) followed in the 13-team field.
Julia Pena (fifth), Lauren Penkala (16th) and Caitlin Horn (19th) gave the Wildcats four runners in the top 20.
"We knew we had to compete against a couple other teams in our sectional and I think we did really well against them," Costelloe said.
Streamwood didn't enter as a team but Sabres coach Dennis Lau couldn't have been much prouder of individuals Gabby Juarez (fourth, 19:03) and Addie Kelly (14th, 19:37), both juniors.
Jaurez returned to the Sabres' lineup last week at the St. Charles North Invitational and finished fifth. She came back a week later with another strong effort.
"She's running great," Lau said. "She was sick for a little while and we just had to alter her workouts and now everything is coming into form and we're doing 18:25 and haven't even started tapering yet. We're expecting her to be on the bubble if not qualify for state individually at the end. Things are starting to come full form for her."
Jaurez finished with a burst to pass Neuqua's Pena in the last few meters, earning a 19:03.8 to Pena's 19:04.6.
"That's one thing she naturally has that you can't coach," Lau said of the kick. "But at the same time we're doing a lot of those speed-type things that are helping her finishes. We're starting to refine the little things. That's what we're emphasizing is this is what's going to get you out of sectional and making it to state. Can you pass these girls at the end or are you going to be the girl who is getting passed?"
Kelly also impressed Lau Saturday.
"Same boat as Gabby," Lau said. "She was our No. 1 runner for most of the season and they've been flipping back and forth. Same principles with her. We're just refining a couple things. Both girls are looking to make it out individually."
Lau sat his three, four and five runners, a theme for several teams. As it has done lately, Geneva is running its best lineup Sunday in Chicago. Batavia coach Chad Hillman rested four of his girls.
"Just to get ready for future weeks," Hillman said.
Junior Miranda Rea led Batavia taking 12th in 19:35.
"Very good race," Hillman said. "She was out a few different races for health or injury reasons and is just starting to race."
Rosary was eighth led by Madison Ronzone (17th) and Emily Martin (23rd). Geneva was right behind in ninth led by Mary Grace Neville (26th) and Marin Leone (39th). Batavia took 10th with freshman Maia Haworth (57th) next after Rea.
West Aurora followed Batavia in 11th. Freshman Taylor Truckenbrod ran with the front-runners and ended up in third overall in 19:00.
"I wanted to at least make a good first impression for my first mile instead of trying to take my position in the middle of the race," Truckenbrod said. "I am glad I was able to keep it."
The third-place finish was the best in Truckenbrod's season. She also took seventh at Downers Grove South, 12th at the Charger Classic and 37th at Peoria.
"I tried to use the leaders as motivation to stay with them," Truckenbrod said.
Miranda Gollwitzer took 29th for the Blackhawks in 20:07.