KEARNEY — Gabriella Gracia found herself in familiar territory at the University of Nebraska at Kearney Cross Country Invitational Monday at Kearney Country Club.
Taking a 13-second lead after one mile, the defending Class B UNK Invitational champion from Holdrege crossed the finish line in 14:55.3 to win the Class C race.
Only one runner, Columbus Scotus’ Morgan Benesch, was in striking distance of Gracia, closing the gap late to finish just three seconds back. Gracia felt, even with dropping classes, that the talent on the course didn’t change.
“I actually performed better than I thought I would,” Gracia said. “It’s kind of a wake-up call because you think the competition wouldn’t be as tough, but it’s pretty much the same.”
Gracia was aware of Benesch before the race, having edged her for gold in the 3,200-meter run at the state track meet last May. Gracia was able to gauge how far back the Scotus runner was based on the spectators cheering.
“I know her name, so I was listening for fans yelling for her,” she said.
Gracia was relieved to take gold at the UNK meet for the second consecutive year, but she also knows the pressures that go along with that. After winning the UNK meet last year, she took fourth place at the state meet, which is the same course at the Kearney Country Club.
“It’s a good and bad situation to win this meet,” Gracia said. “Last year I was first here, so that meant I didn’t perform like I was expected to at the state meet. Just because I placed first here today doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same way at state.”
This season, she hopes that’s exactly what it means.
Despite Gracia’s gold-medal performance Monday, the Dusters finished sixth overall as a team. Columbus Scotus ran away with it, tallying 39 team points. Cozad finished runner-up with 70 points.
They Haymakers were led by Riley Sigler, who finished ninth overall in a time of 16:27.4. Teammate Sandra Pelayo was close behind to take 11th.
In between the two Cozad runners in 10th was Broken Bow’s Shannon Myers, finishing at 16:30.8.
Minden finished fifth overall, led by Sydney Phillips, who finished 20th.
Gabrielle Feldner paced Kearney Catholic with a time of 16:44.1, good for 12th place. The Stars finished eighth overall as a team.