At the state cross country meet, Alex Sharp did what she's always done: run with no one beside her.
The sophomore was definitely in the conversation of potential state champions, but no one expected her to make the Class 2 state meet as non-competitive as it was on Saturday.
The Brookfield cross country team's lone runner held a marginal lead at the one-kilometer mark, and she more than took charge from that point onward.
For the first time, the state meet was held at Gans Creek in Columbia. Gans Creek is a flat, wide open course built for fast times. For more than 20 years, the championship was held in Jefferson City.
The sophomore finished with a time of 19:07. Runner-up Mercedes Schroer of Christian High School was a full 26 seconds behind her. Schroer, also a sophomore, won the Class 3 championship last year, and her school dropped down in classification.
Sharp said that having run the course earlier in the season in the Gans Creek Classic helped her tremendously. The first time she had seen the course was the only time she didn't win a race this season, and she shaved 30 seconds from her time in late September.
Her debut race at Gans Creek two months ago was the only race this season in which she didn't finish first.
"It still hasn't quite set in yet, but I've definitely learned how to run smarter,"Sharp said. "Since the last time I was here, I've learned to stay more toward the inside and take as few steps as possible. In the last 800 meters, I realized that I was going to win unless something crazy happened. Coming into today, I was definitely kind of intimidated by the field, and I had no idea that I was that far ahead."
At the thousand-kilometer mark, Sharp led the pack by under a second. Gans Creek's wide and flat corners gave her a huge advantage because, while the rest of the field was jockeying for position, she had the luxury of taking the most direct route.
By the time the lead-vehicle Gator left the course with a half mile remaining, Sharp could have stopped for a water break and still won.
Brookfield coach Holly Matzen said that Sharp ran the most confident race of her life on Saturday.
"We looked at the course, and we looked at places where we could utilize the fewest amount of steps. With training and speed work, we knew that Alex would have the biggest advantage if she was by herself. That's her strength, she's a frontrunner. We knew that there was a very good possibility that she would be in position to win this race, but the way we looked at it, we though there would be four girls packed shoulder-to-shoulder.
"I knew at the two-mile mark that she was going to win this."
Reigning Class 2 state champion, senior Kendall Haller of Fatima, finished sixth.
Behind Sharp and Schroer, Herman's Morgan Miller, El Dorado Springs' Hannah Klaiber, and Summit Christian's Adriana McGregor finished third through fifth, respectively.
Sharp's conference foe, Clark County sophomore Grace Buschling, finished 11th at 20 minutes square.
"I was kind of surprised, but today is the best I've ever felt as far as my all-around health," Sharp said. "I wouldn't have been able to do this unless I was feeling 100 percent. I never would have known that I was that far ahead, and I only knew that I was running by myself. I picked up on the crowd's reaction after (about the three kilometer mark) that I was as far ahead as I was, but I don't think that changed our strategy really."
Saturday marked Sharp's second career gold medal. She won the Class 2 1600-meter race as a freshman.