All the miles cross county runners trek during summer workouts, morning runs and weekend meets, and the state championship came down to the last 500 meters.
It was with 500 meters to go Friday morning in Carrollton when Woodland High girls cross country coach Matthew Landolt did the math. As the front group passed where he was stationed on the course, his calculations suggested his No. 2-ranked Lady Wildcats trailed No. 1 McIntosh by five points.
"My communication to them at that point with under 500 to go was, 'It's a five-point race. You need to make those last passes,'" Landolt said. "'Don't quit now.'"
In retrospect, the idea of this group of Woodland runners quitting is unconscionable. It's mostly the same group that won a state title two years ago. It's the same group that Landolt watched outwork, out-tough and flat out beat the competition time and time again.
However, the margin between Woodland and McIntosh was razor thin. And it wasn't until a parent informed the girls during a cool-down run about 15 minutes later that the team discovered the news they had been working all season to hear: Woodland is the GHSA Class 5A state champions.
"It's surreal. It's incredible. It's completely indescribable," said McKenna Trapheagen, who capped a remarkable season with an individual state championship and a time of 19:07, 40 seconds ahead of her closest competition.
"It means the entire world. Oh my gosh, it's so amazing," Carli Clymer added of winning a state title.
There weren't many words said immediately after the girls heard the news, just screams of joy that drew glares of admiration from onlookers across the Carrollton Elementary School field. Clymer dropped to the ground in tears, while Baylee Evans and Trapheagen immediately embraced, and their teammates soon followed.
It was a state title two years in the making. After Woodland took the crown in 2016, the Lady Wildcats placed second to McIntosh in 2017, and there was never any doubt the 2018 championship would come down to the same two teams. In the end, it was crucial passes made in those final 500 meters that earned a 56-59 victory.
"They made those little passes at the end," Landolt said. "And, even if you don't feel like it's a big deal to get one person here or there, when there's five of you passing one or two, suddenly you win by three instead of losing by five."
The only Wildcat who didn't pass someone late in the race was Trapheagen, but only because she led wire to wire, methodically increasing her lead throughout until emerging over "separation slope" without another runner in the picture.
"Once the starter handed me the bullet that started our race, he looked at me and said, 'This is the bullet that started your race' and he asked me a few questions," Trapheagen said. "It hit me then that I'd just won."
Of course, Trapheagen knew as soon as she crossed the finish line she won an individual state championship, but she compared waiting to hear the team results to "holding your breath underwater."
The McIntosh coach told Landolt Woodland had won before all the runners had even made it out of the finish-line chute. But, after a mistake last year at state in which the results were misread and Woodland prematurely thought it had won, Landolt was hesitant to relay the message to his team.
On top of that, Baylee Evans broke into tears in the arms of her little sister Rylee after her race, believing she hadn't done enough.
"I knew it was going to be close because, at the end, I passed two McIntosh girls," Rylee Evans, who finished 14th with a time of 20:34, said. "I knew that did something, but I wasn't sure how much because [Baylee] told me that we didn't get it. So I thought we lost."
Turns out, Baylee Evans' 20th-place at 20:52 was critical to the victory. She made the biggest jump in the last half of the race, and she finished eight seconds ahead of the 23rd-place runner, giving Woodland the three fewer points it needed to hold off McIntosh.
"Baylee Evans was trying to give me heart failure. About one mile in, I think she was about 30 places behind where we thought she should finish," Landolt said. "She likes to go out a little slower so she can get her legs under her, and then she likes to pass. But they had us by 30 or 40 points one mile in, and then she just worked the whole second half of the race to work herself back in."
Baylee and Rylee were the only two runners in the Woodland top six not on the 2016 state-title team, and to win their first championship together made it all the sweeter.
"It's amazing," Baylee said. "I'll remember this forever."
When Woodland reflects back on the day, in addition to Trapheagen and the Evans sisters' performances, the team can also point to the races from lineup cornerstones Clymer and Tess Cochran as difference-makers. Clymer placed 10th to medal with a time of 20:18, while Cochran came in 11th at 20:24. With McIntosh scoring three runners from 13-18, those points proved invaluable.
"Carli and Tess, they're both veteran runners," Landolt said. "They've both led races many times in their running careers. They're totally comfortable being up front and they're totally comfortable being in a pack and battling for spots. They're going to get it done when it counts."
Meanwhile, senior Cheyenne Spinks finished two spots ahead of McIntosh's sixth runner in 28th at 21:22. Given the tiebreaker is each team's sixth runner, Spinks' late run to pass McIntosh's sixth girl could have given Woodland the edge even if other runners hadn't made all those late passes.
"I kept looking up for McIntosh and I saw one of those girls. I was like, 'All right, Cheyenne. I don't know what place you are, but right now, every place counts,'" Spinks said of her thoughts during the race. "So I went after that girl."
Further illustrating Woodland's depth, freshman Marlee Bowles finished 45th out of nearly 200 of the best runners in the classification.
The complete team effort was cause for celebration on the bus ride back. But according to the runners, it was the bus ride to Carrollton that set the tone for the race. There was no talk of strategy, no crunching numbers to see which Lady Wildcat runners would have to finish in what place. Landolt delivered a simple message, and it was exactly what the team needed to hear.
"Just go for it."
"Our conversation on the bus was, 'We know we're good for second, but let's go for it,'" Landolt said. "If it means we fall back to fourth, we know we put everything on the field. But we were going to put everything on the table and know that we went for it instead of playing it safe."
Or as Cochran succinctly paraphrased the strategy, "Just run."
"More so than even their finish, I'm more proud that they decided to take the risk and go all in today," Landolt said. "That's all I ask of them. When they finished racing, everyone had a race to be proud of. That was the message when we started on the bus this morning, and I think it was still true as they finished. They left it all out there."