Bowling Green's girls cross country team paced nervously. They had just finished running in the Division I state race at Scioto Downs in Columbus, and they awaited the race results.
What was at stake? A third straight state title for the Bobcats, that's all.
Then came the announcement: Bowling Green had won. As if on cue, the Bobcats cheered and screamed - and cried.
When asked about the feeling, senior Andrea Pereira de Almeida eloquently expressed the sentiment of the BG camp.
"That was the best feeling in my life. I know it sounds corny," she said. Then she began crying so hard she couldn't speak.
There were tears of joy, to be sure. But the weeping also was visual proof of the pressure the Bobcats faced in repeating as state champs.
"It was like the weight of the world on your shoulders," BG coach Brian Tucker said. "We've been chased and chased. We lost a couple close ones, and there was some doubt around the state about us.
"But the way the girls came on the last couple weeks, we thought we were OK. And we were. We're just relieved and elated over the results."
Notice the order: the Bobcats were relieved, then elated, over the results. The relief stemmed from Bowling Green's difficult road to this title. Junior Alyssa Glenn, a key runner on the previous two title teams, was out of the lineup because of a stress fracture. And senior Paige Lane, who was in the team's top five the last two seasons, was the sixth runner for the Bobcats this year while battling breathing problems.
Added to that lineup uncertainty was the pressure to repeat, which became almost an expectation when BG began the season with six returning runners that boasted state meet experience.
"The pressure is very encompassing," Tucker said. "It starts earlier each year and it builds. You have that expectation because everyone else has it for you - you have to do it again."
Tucker said his squad has found it more difficult to repeat as champs than it did to win the first of its three straight crowns, which came in 2003.
"We worked hard to get where we were a couple of years ago, but it was easier because we had a lot of good runners and there were teams that just weren't as good as they were [normally]," Tucker said. "This year these teams have come back, and it has made it very difficult and challenging for us [to win]."
Don't believe it's a challenge? Ask Delta's Evan Gaynor, who won the Division II individual title last season. This year, despite the Panthers' drop to Division III, Gaynor failed to earn a spot in the state race.
Some of Gaynor's problems were health-related. He developed a cold a few weeks before the Northwest Ohio Athletic League race, then contracted bronchitis during the final weeks of the season.
But Gaynor also admits that wanting to repeat his individual title may have led to training problems.
"There was a lot of pressure to win again, so I did a lot of miles over the summer because I wanted to get better," he said. "I worked my butt off, and I might have overdone it a little bit."
Gaynor began the summer logging roughly 60-80 miles in June, then increased his mileage to more than 120 miles in a week.
"In the summer, I just felt high mileage was something I had to do," Gaynor said. "I thought that was the mileage I needed to get to the next level. This summer I vowed to push through anything but an injury to reach that mileage. When I did that, it felt like scaling Mount Everest."
Gaynor admitted wearing the crown as a state champ had its advantages.
"I used it to my psychological advantage," he said. "A lot of times, other guys I was facing were running scared - there was the big blow-up, and they thought I was better than I am.
"And when I would finish second, I would use that as motivation to try and get back to the top again."
There were highlights during the season for Gaynor, including a third straight Northwest Ohio Athletic League title that helped Delta claim its first league crown. But at the regional, he finished 25th - and since only the top 16 runners advance to the state meet, the dream of repeating as state champ was dashed.
"I learned a lot about myself, and I feel I'm a lot smarter runner," Gaynor said of the experience. "[I used to think] if you weren't doing all of those miles at a breakneck pace, you were lazy.
"Now I realize I have to train smart and keep it fun. It's counterproductive to use the hammer all the time."
Gaynor handled the disappointment of not winning a second straight crown with grace.
The BG girls were relieved they didn't face a similar challenge.
"It would have been hard [to lose]," said BG's top runner, Christy Titus. "We all would have been disappointed. It would have been a letdown.
"So [to hear we had won] was the best feeling ever."
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