Cross country

Salado junior Jaci McGregor stands on the podium with her gold medal Saturday after winning the Class 4A cross country state title.

ROUND ROCK — During her high school cross country career, Salado junior Jaci McGregor has made a habit out of topping her program-best times. Essentially one-upping herself over and over.

McGregor was at it again Saturday. On the sport’s biggest stage no less.

“Every year she’s broken the school record. This year, she just smashed it,” Lady Eagles coach Corey Baird said.

McGregor pulled away over the final 800 meters of the Class 4A state meet’s 2-mile race at Old Settlers Park, crossing the finish line in 11 minutes, 24.05 seconds for the gold.

“The past years I’ve always collapsed (at the finish),” said McGregor, who made her third appearance in Round Rock on the heels of earning bronze medals in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races at last spring’s state track and field meet. “I saw the ribbon this time and I think I was in shock. I wasn’t thinking about being tired. I just couldn’t believe it.”

And believe it or not, the most pain McGregor felt afterward wasn’t a result of securing her first cross country state championship by 7 seconds over second-place Emily Garcia of Alvarado.

“My face was hurting at the end of it,” McGregor said, referring to how much smiling she did while celebrating with the throng of family and friends in attendance. “I was just overwhelmed by the amount of people there.”

McGregor, who won the Region IV crown Oct. 28 to help the Lady Eagles qualify as a team for state, finished seventh in Round Rock as a freshman and fifth a year ago. She said an amped-up summer regimen parlayed into a successful start to this season, and she was then able to carry the momentum into the postseason with the help of her teammates continuously challenging her in training.

“Jaci is super competitive. She has goals set and pushes herself in practice,” Baird said. “I’ve never coached a kid who puts in more time and effort. She knows she’s good but doesn’t yet quite realize how special she is as a runner. She kind of peaked at the right time. Every meet she got faster and faster.”

McGregor said the strategy Saturday was to get out ahead of the field early and stick with the top two or three runners for a majority of the race before kicking it into high gear down the stretch. The plans panned out perfectly because when the 800-meter mark approached, McGregor said, “I felt like I had a lot left in me.”

“She just ran smart,” Baird said.

She ran pretty fast, too.