Becky Hobby burst onto the area cross country scene as a freshman.
This year, the Hughson High sophomore owned it while putting the rest of the state on notice.
A State Meet qualifier last year, Hobby won six of the 10 meets she entered in 2009, showing steady improvement as the season progressed and reserving her best performances for the biggest stages.
Hobby ran to a Trans-Valley League individual championship on Oct. 28 at Legion Park, placed third at the Sac-Joaquin Sub-section meet on Nov. 7 at Frogtown in Angels Camp and finished second in Division 4 at the Sac-Joaquin Section meet on Nov. 14 at Folsom.
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All were warmups to her finest performance of the year on Nov. 28 at the State Meet in Clovis, where she finished fifth in a personal-best time of 18 minutes, 35 seconds.
"I was hoping for pretty good times this year, but I didn't expect to do as well as I did," said Hobby, The Bee's 2009 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. "I really need to thank my coaches, my teammates and my family for helping me push myself to achieve my goals."
While Hobby was surprised by how well things went, Hughson coach Joel Bernard was not.
"During the summer, we talked about her goals. She always seemed to set lower goals than I thought were possible," said Bernard. "She wanted to be in the top 20 at state. I kept suggesting that she aim for the top five and don't rule out the possibility of winning the State Meet."
All season long, Hobby's goal was to break the 19-minute mark. To do it at State was easily the highlight of her young career.
"I was hoping to go under 19 (minutes), and I knew I had, but I didn't know by how much. When I realized I broke the 18:30 mark, I was just happy that all my hard work paid off," Hobby said.
Ironically, Hobby fell ill during the two weeks between the section and state meets and still hadn't fully recovered by the morning of the race.
"I had come down with a cold two weeks before state, so both mentally and physically I was trying to get better and to stay in shape," said Hobby. "Mentally, I was like, 'OK, I can do this.' When you're sick, sometimes you run a great race."
Even as she battled the sniffles, Hobby had a special feeling about the day.
"I was definitely in the zone and could feel something was gonna happen," she said. "I was very excited for that day. When you get to the line there's twitching and nerves, and that extra bit of adrenaline helps you."
Hobby said resisting the urge to hit the gas pedal early in races and instead finding a steady pace on the course was one of the biggest factors in her success.
"I think sometimes mentally, especially at the beginning of a race, you go out a little too fast and don't save enough for the finish, but coach and I were working on a steady race," said Hobby, "and I think I achieved that."
Bernard said another key for Hobby was a steady training progression.
"We didn't try to make any huge leaps forward in her training," said Bernard. "She was more consistent this summer than last summer. The key to future success will be to gradually increase the quantity and quality of the work she is doing. Basically, she will just do what we have been doing, but do a little more and do it a little faster."
Hobby knows this year will be a tough act to follow, which is why she doesn't want to set her goals so far off the charts that she sets herself up for disappointment in 2010.
"I hope to place in the top 10 again at State, but every year is a new year," said Hobby. "You never know if new athletes are coming in and you never know what can happen, but I hope to go under 18:30. I don't want to place my goals so high that I can't reach them. I want to make them realistic."
Bee staff writer Stuart Rosenberg can be reached at 578-2301 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.