EAGLE, IDAHO -- She had been put through a series of 400s at race pace in the days leading up to the Nike Cross Northwest Regional on Saturday to simulate what the lead group would likely go out in.
And then on Friday Sydney Thorvaldson made her way to the one and only hill at Eagle Island Park, striding up the ascent a few times while envisioning her tempo. This was her pre-meet planning.
The Rawlins (WY) High School sophomore remembered how the hill had been the place where others had passed her the year prior, how it had been the moment where she felt like the race got a little away from her.
But there was something more confident about Thorvaldson this time, a sense that she had what it took to win. In the days leading up to this pivotal race, she was prepared.
And when Saturday rolled around, the No. 19 ranked runner in the country certainly proved that notion, tackling that same hill with abandon in the girls championship race before charging ahead for her first NXR Northwest title in 17:24.10.
It marked her third straight performance under 18 minutes following her course record at the Wyoming State Championships on October 20.
"It's been really hard for me to trust my training," the sophomore said after her win, "To see it's all working out is really nice.
A year ago, Thorvaldson caught the nation by storm when she finished third at regions before proceeding to earn an All-American finish at Nike Cross Nationals in ninth overall.
It jumpstarted a year that included three state titles on the track and an appearance at New Balance Nationals Outdoor, where she finished seventh in the 5K in 17:11.97.
This year, Thorvaldson says she's not taking anything for granted. She knows the road back to an All-American finish will be difficult.
However, her hopes remain high.
"It's going to be hard to come up with goals. Last year I had a phenomenal season," she said. "It will be hard to live up to that, but I hope I can make All-American again since I'm going."
Meanwhile, Billings (MT) senior Tiahna Vladic, ranked No. 25 on the MileSplit50, continued her season of redemption, finishing second overall in 17:38.00 to score her third NXN bid in four seasons.
A year ago Vladic had finished eighth in the meet, missing the cut by a few places.
But on Saturday, the Montana athlete--who picked up a scholarship offer from Boise State following the race--commented on that moment in 2017, saying it forced her to answer a critical question. What kind of purpose do these races hold?
Vladic ultimately surmised that championship wins or appearances didn't make her as a runner, but performing at her best, and doing so with nothing left to give, was why competing mattered in the first place.
It was easy to see that effort, too. Once Vladic crossed the line in 17:38.00, she felt to the ground.
Bellarmine Prep (WA) freshman Ella Borsheim grabbed the third position in 17:41.00, while Issaquah's Julia David-Smith was fourth in 17:42.30 and Matty Geddes was fifth in 17:44.50.
The first five individuals all qualified for NXN.
With five nationally ranked teams in the girls championship field, Saturday's action forced teams to perform on the biggest stage yet.
But they didn't disappoint.
Four ranked programs finished within the top five places, making the overall championship one of its most competitive outings in years.
And yet for Bend Summit (OR) in particular, it all meant a little more. The team from Oregon had finished third last year, in a position to grab an at-large berth. But that ticket never came.
So the team trained extensively over the summer. It then worked together to find its rhythm early in the fall and eventually moved up to No. 1 in the national rankings on Oct. 16 following an illuminating win at the Warner Pacific Classic.
While that meet became a turning point in the squad's season, NXR Northwest ultimately became the program's biggest statement.
The Storm girls raced to a supremely dominant 54-point showing, winning by just over 50 points ahead of Portland Jesuit (106) and third-place Boise Senior (118).
"I feel like coming here and winning," said Stella Skovborg, who came through in sixth for Summit, "We've proven our spot on the rankings and we've proven to be a force to be reckoned with and we're going to go to nationals, keep our head in the game and just do our best."
Summit's No. 1, Fiona Max, crossed the line in sixth overall in 17:44.60 while freshman Teaghan Knox was 14th and junior Azz Swanson Borovicka was 17th.
The final two scorers came through in 21st and 32nd, putting a final stamp to their dominant performance.
"A big part of our plan was just to run how we've been running all season," junior Isabel Max said. "We knew we had what it took to get here and executing that was half the battle. We did pretty well.
No. 7 Jesuit, meanwhile, grabbed its second straight bid to NXN following an automatic qualifier last year. The team was inspired by a lot of reasons, including their coach Tom Rothenberger, who had overcome health concerns earlier in the season.
"Going into this race we talked about never being on an island and always running with your teammates," freshman Chloe Foerster said. "We tried to do the first lap relaxed so the second lap we could just keep moving forward and picking others off."
Boise Senior didn't have its best meet, though the No. 6 Brave will likely be in a good position to grab an at-large qualifier. Few teams have as good of a resume as the team from Boise, which defeated No. 4 Great Oak earlier in the year.