When it was over -- the greatest female run in the history of California high school cross country -- Sarah Baxter hustled cups of water to her Simi Valley teammates and, later, rejoiced when she learned the Pioneers had made the podium as one of the top three teams.
"She's remarkably humble," coach Roger Evans said. "To her, it's all about the team."
Maybe. Sort of. But not really.
Not on a splendid Saturday morning at Woodward Park, where the 16-year-old junior with Fresno ties ran away from Buchanan's Hagen Reedy at the mile mark before a crowd of thousands roared her home in 16 minutes, 40 seconds over the 3.1-mile course in the Division I race of the CIF State Championships.
That beat the previous standard of 16:43 that Santa Rosa's Julia Stamps held for 16 years.
"I didn't know what the record was," said Baxter, not at all fibbing. "I just wanted to beat my (personal record)."
That was 16:57 as a freshman at Woodward, a mark imminently fragile after the daughter of 1990 Fresno High graduate Kevin Baxter won the Nike Cross Nationals a year ago as a sophomore, then really grabbed coast-to-coast attention by scorching a 16:00 over 2.94 miles at the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational in October.
Rich Gonzalez, editor of PrepCalTrack.com and the leading authority on high school cross country in the state, calls that effort, "the most stunning singular female prep distance-running performance in our nation's history."
Then to Saturday, when Baxter matched sun-splashed weather reaching 68 degrees with such excellence she set the record despite coasting to the finish line: "I'm just happy I can go home and relax now."
That household includes her mother, the former April Beaver, who met Kevin Baxter at Fresno State, where they ran cross country and track.
Reedy, who won the D-I title last year as a junior in 17:27 on a day Baxter captured the D-II gold, placed second this time in 17:10.
This came seven weeks after Reedy won the Clovis Invitational sweepstakes in 16:59, which ranks No. 7 in Woodward Park annals.
It was one thing not to stay with Baxter and yet another for Reedy not to beat her personal record, and it brought her to tears afterward.
"I tried to win," she said, "but I sacrificed a PR for that. I did try and I'm happy I tried."
That attempt had Reedy within range of Baxter's orange and black Asics at the mile mark.
The caveat: Baxter smoked that first leg in 15:11, with Reedy 3 seconds back.
"That first mile was a killer," said Reedy, who has committed to Colorado. "And the hills got me after that. Then, in the last mile, my arms felt frozen and I tightened from the hips up. I knew Sarah was gone; I was just trying to keep the gap from third."
She did as Amador Valley-Pleasanton's Jena Pianin took the bronze at 17:39.
Baxter's state title was her third, having also won D-I in 2010 before Simi Valley went down a division, then back up.
She stood 5 feet and 83 pounds as a freshman, evoking comparisons to four-time D-V champion Jordan Hasay of Mission Prep-San Luis Obispo (2005-08).
But, as opposed to the 5-1 Hasay, who didn't gain height in high school, Baxter has sprouted to 5-6.
"She has that cardiovascular system that's superior," said Evans, who has coached the Pioneers for 22 years. "But, truthfully, I can think of five other girls I've had with that level of cardiovascular system. But they got spoiled with it and didn't work hard.
"Sarah trains hard; she does not see herself as invincible. And she has tremendous admiration and respect for her competitors. She never discounts anyone."
That counted a line of fans, young and old, whom she accommodated for pictures and autographs afterward.
- On a day the Southern Section, including Simi Valley, ruled overall as expected, the Central Section was best represented in the girls D-I race.
Besides Reedy, Clovis North junior Leigh Moffett placed 12th (18:00), Bullard senior Ali Teliha 20th (18:14) and Buchanan fourth as a team.
The Southern Section, its 579 schools accounting for 37% of the state's 1,553, won eight of the 10 team titles and five of the individual golds.