Marlee Starliper wasn't feeling as strong as she wished at last week's District 3 Championships.
So the Northern senior took it easy in the week leading up to Saturday's PIAA State Championships, where she was looking to win her third straight Class AA state title.
With some fresher legs and the adrenaline of her final cross country state meet on her mind, Starliper put forth another dazzling performance, further cementing her legacy as Pennsylvania's greatest-ever distance runner.
Starliper crossed the line in 17:10, bettering her own course record by 30 seconds, and winning by nearly a minute. It is also the fastest time in PIAA State Championship meet history, topping the previous top time of 17:19, set back in 1980 at Lehigh by Lynne Strauss of State College.
But Starliper's record run came in the mud and cold on the notoriously hilly Parkview course at Hershey.
The conditions didn't bother Starliper at all, though. She showed up at the course ready to run. The Northern girls had hopes of a AA team title, too, which gave the Polar Bears' lead runner some added motivation.
"I think I wasn't fazed at all (by the course condition)," she said. "This whole week, I was so excited. I've never been this excited for a race before. My team was such a big part of that because I knew I was apart of something much bigger today."
The Northern girls ended up in second place to the champions from South Fayette, which scored 62 points. The Polar Bears put up 77.
"Looking back on my past two races that I was really disappointed with, my parents talked to me after districts and they're like 'overall, we think you're still tired at your core,'" she added. "So I took this week so easy, so I felt like I had all this built up energy and excitement that I'm so thankful I was able to unleash that today."
Starliper said she had 17:20 on her mind ahead of the race. She ended up ten seconds faster than that prognostication, and even left her speculating if she should have gone a little harder early on.
She employed a version of her race strategy from the PIAA Foundation Invitational, where she initially set her Hershey course record back in September. At Foundation, she hung in the lead pack for the first mile before working the middle mile and closing strong.
The first mile at Hershey is quick, all things considered, while the second mile brings the Aloha Hills.
"I wanted to go out and make sure the first mile felt really good," Starliper said. "Then I picked it up a notch for the second mile, so I could try to even split the race."
Starliper came through the mile in 5:32, a tick ahead of eventual second place finisher Taryn Parks of Greencastle-Antrim. Then Starliper picked up the pace on the hilly and muddy middle mile, coming through the two mile mark at 11:11, right on pace.
Then Starliper really got rolling on the third mile to bring it home for the victory,
"I am so thankful because I felt so good, so relaxed," "I ended up running probably the strongest I ever have for a last mile. I couldn't have enjoyed the race more."
Starliper was attributed with a 161 speed rating on TullyRunners, the best of her career. Now she will go back to the training grind for a few weeks before November 30's Foot Locker Northeast regional. The region is as loaded as its ever been and Starliper will be on the hunt for the top spot and another trip to Foot Locker Nationals.
But on Saturday, Starliper was razor focused on Pennsylvania, the place where her rise started and only continues trend upwards with each passing season.
"I've been waiting for a race like this," Starliper added. "I'm so thankful that for my last race in the Northern jersey that it turned out like this."