If someone had told La Quinta High School girls' cross-country Coach Larry Price that another runner would threaten Kristin Harkins' dominance this year, he probably would have shrugged it off as an idle remark.
But two Aztec girls pushing Harkins?
For the last three years, Harkins has been the top female cross-country and track athlete at La Quinta.
Now, with stiff competition from junior Kathy Cannon and senior Maryanne Mejia, that status is in question. Earlier in the season, Mejia broke Harkins' school record at Mile Square Park, but Harkins wasn't in the race.
Then Cannon emerged in the Orange County Championships at Irvine Park last month. She defeated Harkins to win her heat, finishing with the sixth-fastest time overall and the top time for juniors.
The new developments brought some increased attention to the school's cross-country program. Students began debating which girl would be the winner of the Garden Grove League title last week.
"That's been the exciting thing," Price said. "There's no predicting what they'd do. It's every coach's dream to have three girls switching back and forth. There's no way I could have bet on who would win. It more or less came down to who wanted it more."
Last Thursday, Cannon crossed the finish line first. Her time of 17:55 broke the school record at Mile Square Park. Harkins was second and Mejia third.
It came down to Cannon and Harkins in the last half mile. The odds favored Harkins, who has a faster time in the half, but Cannon won by three seconds.
"We all wanted it a lot," said Cannon, who is in her first season of organized cross-country competition. "And I think the track season will be good. We all did that (switching back and forth) last track season."
There could still be two more cross-country races for La Quinta this year. Today, the Aztecs run in the Southern Section 2-A preliminaries at Mt. San Antonio College. The top four teams in each heat advance to next week's final.
"I think the race last week did somewhat bother Kristin," Price said. "After you've been No. 1 for three years, it's kind of hard to lose to someone. I think she'll be out to run this race and get that No. 1 position back, even though she hates the hills at Mt. SAC."
Either way, Price is in a no-lose situation. With three runners pushing each other and bettering their times, the La Quinta team benefits.
Cross-Country Notes Approximately 1,900 runners will compete in the Southern Section preliminaries. The first race (boys' 3-A) starts at 8 a.m. The girls' 2-A competition should begin around noon.