As Flower Mound (Texas) High School senior Natalie Cook ran the final hill of the Eastbay National Cross Country Championships in San Diego on Saturday, she heard her dad yelling toward her that competitors were closing in.
Cook had dominated her last several races, but this wasn’t just a motivational push from her father; the competitors were nearing. In retrospect, Cook had been too aggressive on the first hill and was feeling the effects now.
She pushed herself forward and won with a time of 17:15.0, beating second-place finisher Angelina Perez by almost five seconds and ending her high school career at the top of the prestigious national race.
“I just had to give all I had left in me to try to finish it. It was hard but I’m really happy on how I finished,” Cook said. “The second loop was really hard and I gave it all I had in me. I’m really happy for my last cross country race.”
The boys winner, Hartland High School (Fenton, Mich.) senior Riley Hough, had similar issues on that hill.
“Going up it the second time was, all of us in the front were basically so tired from it, we were like crawling up the hill,” he said.
Hough had observed patiently from behind the pack before slingshotting ahead on the downhill.
“This course is hard. I wanted to see what these people were going to do, because we’re all near each other’s skill level. Anyone can do almost anything,” Hough said.
He grabbed a lead on that downhill burst and would not relinquish it, winning with a time of 15:11.4.
This ties a bow on a pair of dominant seasons from Hough and Cook. Hough won 15 5Ks with Hartland, a stretch that included a personal record of 14:37.1 in the Portage Cross Country Invitational in October.
He is now headed to Michigan State. Hough said that even after he narrowed down his top two schools to in-state MSU and Michigan, the choice was extremely difficult to make.
“It basically just came down to which team I liked more,” he said. “I ended up liking Michigan State a little more, I blended in with them a little more.”
Cook’s finish was a proclamation of her return from a navicular stress fracture in her foot. The injury cost her a year of running after her sophomore season, according to the Dallas News, but she bounced back this season by winning six of the seven 5Ks she participated in, including one in each of these last three weekends. Just one week before the Eastbay Championships, she set a personal record of 16:04.0.
Cook, who became the first Texas girls runner to win the national title, is Oklahoma State-bound.
“They’re building a great team and I love Coach Dave (Smith) and Coach Anna (Boyert-Thorp) so much,” Cook said. “They want to win nationals and I want to be a part of it.”
Here are the top 10 finishers for the boys and girls races:
Girls Eastbay Championship Results
- Natalie Cook, 17:15.0
- Angelina Perez, 17.19.7
- Jenna Mulhern, 17:20.8
- Karrie Baloga, 17:29.1
- Riley Stewart, 17:30.3
- Kate Peters, 17:34.0
- Sophia Kennedy: 17:34.7
- Mia Cochran: 17:35.1
- Sophia Nordenholz, 17:36.7
- Caroline Wells, 17:38.4
Full results here.
Boys Eastbay Championship Results
- Riley Hough, 15:11.4
- Kenan Pala, 15:14.8
- Gavin Sherry, 15:17.3
- Zane Bergen, 15:20.2
- Kole Mathison, 15:22.3
- Tyrone Gorze, 15:26.4
- Shane Brosnan, 15:27.9
- Izaiah Steury, 15:27.9
- Marco Langon, 15:28.1
- Emmanuel Sgouros, 15:29.4
Full results here.