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From the very beginning, it was apparent that this could be the fastest girls race in Foot Locker Cross Country Championships history.
It ended pretty close to it.
Ann Arbor Pioneer (MI) senior Zofia Dudek earned a Foot Locker Nationals title on Saturday, posting the fifth-fastest time in course history, winning in 16:45. Pennsylvania's Marlee Starliper was second in 16:46.8.
Bethany Graham (VA) shot out to the lead from the gun, bringing a strong Midwest contingent with her of Katelynne Hart (IL), Dudek (MI), Taylor Ewert (OH), and Abby Vanderkooi (MI). Hart pulled even with Graham before she went to the front at the half mile mark, pulling seven girls under 2:30.
Looking strong as ever, Hart -- the 2018 FLCCC runner-up -- led the field through the mile mark in an eye-popping 5:09 first mile, with Dudek, Ewert, and Vanderkooi all trailing by a mere 2-3 seconds. Graham had dropped back to a chase pack that included reigning Foot Locker champ Sydney Masciarelli (CT) and Starliper (PA).
A tough second mile slowed the pace significantly as the front pack, led now by Dudek, crossed the marker in 10:43. Hart and Vanderkooi were neck and neck with the leader with Starliper now just four seconds off the group.
Approximately 200 meters later, it was apparent that this had become a four-girl race.
Dudek, Starliper, and Vanderkooi began to pull away as they started up Balboa Park's steepest hill, with Hart holding on just behind them. Just before the hill's crest, Starliper seemingly shot out of a cannon and made the most aggressive move of the race.
Up to that point, at least.
As they careened down the steep downhill, Starliper began picking up speed, but Dudek remained not far behind. At the bottom, Dudek made an even more aggressive move, shooting to the lead and challenging Starliper to answer.
At 3 miles, Starliper had answered and both crossed in 16:12, turning the race into an all-out sprint between two of the country's best.
In the end, it would be the Stanford University commit Dudek for the win in 16:45.0, the fifth fastest time in Balboa Park history. Starliper would cross just behind her in 16:46.8 with Vanderkooi running 16:55.2 for third.
Zofia Dudek of Michigan wins Foot Locker in 16:45! pic.twitter.com/KWB9UhHumJ— FloTrack (@FloTrack) December 14, 2019
Starliper's 16:46.8 made her the fastest runner-up in race history and sixth-fastest runner in Foot Locker history on the Balboa Park course. Vanderkooi's 16:55.2 was the second fastest sophomore time in meet history and fastest third-place finish ever.
2019's race was also the first year there were at least two sub-17:00 finishers.
Hart would hang on for fourth place in 17:14.4, her third straight top-4 finish. Jenna Hutchins (TN) placed fifth in 17:16.1 with Ewert earning sixth (17:16.4), and Masciarelli finishing seventh in 17:19.4.