Less than 13 seconds separated West Genesee's Laura Leff from the biggest victory of her career at Saturday's Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals in San Diego, Calif.
Still, the Wildcats sophomore beat most of the field on her way to an impressive third-place finish, also finishing as the top 10th-grader in the field.
In all, 40 runners from four regions - Northeast, South, Midwest and West - qualified for the race. Leff was one of just two runners from New York state in the field, joining Benjamin Cardozo's Alexis Pannise, who would finish 30th.
Leff fared far better. On the Morley Field course in San Diego amid warm and sunny conditions, Leff put herself into contention in the early stages and soon found herself battling for position with Abbey Leonardi, her Northeast teammate from Kennebunkport, Maine.
Winning that battle, Leff finished in 17 minutes, 33.9 seconds, just 1.6 seconds ahead of Leonardi. Molly Seidel, a senior from Hartland, Wisc., won the race in 17:21.4, with junior Erin Finn, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., finishing second in 17:23.9.
Among the five sophomores in the field, Leff finshed well clear of Wisconsin's Alexandria Fons (15th, 17:56.7), Washington's Jordan McPhee (23rd, 18:13.7), California's Anna Maxwell (24th, 18:14.5) and California's Clare Carroll, who was 27th in 18:17.7.
So concluded a momentous cross country season for Leff, who was second at both the Section III and state Class A championship races and was fifth at the Foot Locker Northeast qualifier at Sunken Meadow Park on Long Island on Nov. 26.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Leff's performance in San Diego was that she beat all four of the runners that had finished ahead of her at Sunken Meadow - Leonardi , Angel Piccirillo (Homer City, Pa.), Catarina Rocha (Peabody, Mass.) and Holly Bischoff (Hainesport, N.J.).