Lake Braddock Secondary School senior Liana Epstein wobbled with each step after finishing first overall with a time of 17:53 in the girls' varsity cross country race at the Monroe Parker Invitational at Burke Lake Park on Sept. 12.
Pacing back-and-forth to avoid muscle cramps, the exhausted senior slowly collected herself before taking time to think about her latest triumph.
"My plan was not to go all out, but to try to be controlled," the reigning regional champion said. "I just kind of stuck my feet in the water to get a feel of what I could do. Then I picked it up every mile."
Epstein entered the final leg of the 2.98-mile race with a commanding lead, but it was a crucial pass during one of the courses' most difficult stretches that Epstein overtook West Springfield High School's Paige Kvartunas to gain the lead.
"It was crowded going through the woods and the race started to spread out along the pavement," she said. "There was a huge gap between [us], so I picked up the pace to catch her."
Epstein’s familiarity with the Burke Lake course didn’t hurt. The Bruins regularly train at Burke Lake and it is regarded as their home course.
"I know my weaknesses and strengths when it comes to running this course," she said. "I have more leg speed than the other girls and I know when to use it here. It helps in the last parts [of the race] when you have to finish strong."
Epstein's strategic finish helped the Lake Braddock girls earn first place in the team competition with a score of 77. Head Coach Michael Mangan said that this is just the start of a strong season for the senior and her team.
"We're a long way from her best performance," Head Coach Michael Mangan said. "That will come at the end of the season. She hasn't had her best race yet."
Other top runners for the Bruins' girls team were senior Kelly Hagan, who finished ninth overall with a time of 18:52, and senior Amanda Parker, who rounded out the Bruins’ girls top finishers in 12th place with a time of 19:03.
"I'm proud of the girls, they really worked hard out there," Mangan said.
The boys' team also had a strong day on the course. The Bruins' boys finished third overall in the team competition with a score of 161. Senior Alex Clark finished fourth overall with a time of 15:45. Junior Luke Sohl finished eighth for the Bruins with a time of 16:03 to round out the top finishers from Lake Braddock.
"[Both teams] had a great day," Mangan said. "We know where our conditioning is and I'm excited about the season."
Although West Springfield High School runner Paige Kvartunas was unable to hold off Epstein's late charge, she did manage to turn in a second place finish with a time of 18:04.
"[The race] went well, but the pace was tough and I just tried to hold on as long as possible," Kvartunas said. "I was in the lead and then [teammate] Alex Watt ran with me, but [Epstein] passed me and I just tried to keep going with her."
Kvartunas said she did not have the energy to keep pace with Epstein, but she did manage to hold off Edison High School junior Myah Hicks.
"After I was passed by [Epstein] I just tried to hold my position and beat the other teams out here."
The Spartans finished with two girls in the top 10 as senior Alex Watt took fourth place with a time of 18:09. The Spartan girls finished in third place for the team competition with a score of 108.
The boys' team finished 10th overall in the team competition with senior John Locke tying his teammate, junior Colin Taylor, with a time of 16:17.