In her second high school cross-country season, Natick sophomore Grace Connolly has left a footprint on the national stage.
Connolly raced to a ninth-place finish Saturday at the 38th annual Foot Locker Cross Country national championships in San Diego. Connolly finished the 5K course in Balboa Park in 17 minutes, 50 seconds.
Fellow sophomore Claudia Lane of Malibu, Calif. won the race in 17:04.8, followed by senior Nevada Mareno of Raleigh, N.C (17:08.3).
Connolly placed fourth at the Northeast Regionals two weeks ago in New York, finishing in 18:01.9.
“Coming into today, I was really focusing on going out in the middle of the pack, I was just going to feel it out,” Connolly said. “I was getting really good after the mile. My game plan was go easy after the first mile, and after just kind of try to pick people off one by one and pass them on the hills.”
The race was held under cloudy skies with temperatures reaching 60 degrees.
Connolly said her strength is running on hills, and that the traditionally hilly courses of the Northeast helped build that advantage. She said that running at the up-and-down terrain of Van Cortland Park two weeks ago helped prepare her.
“I just felt stronger because obviously it was a really hard course because of the competition,” Connolly explained. “But [Van Cortland Park] just gave me confidence and showed me that I could handle hills.”
Jacqueline Gaughan, a senior from Exeter, N.H., came in 11th in 17:50.6. Gaughan finished second in the Northeast Regionals in 17:55.2.
In the boys’ race, Reed Brown, a senior from South Lake, Texas, won in 15:01.8. Junior Andrew Thompson of Trumbull, Conn., was the top New England finisher, crossing in 15:52.2 (35th place).
Coming into this season, Connolly’s goal was simply qualifying for nationals. But after winning the Division 1 All-State championship, she has plans to climb those rankings come next season.
“I obviously just want to get back here again and improve my time,” she said. “I’d be happy with just one place faster. Just keep getting better every year, and be a lower place every year.”