The name Sydney Neal was nowhere to be found on the 2010 O'Fallon Panthers girls cross country postseason roster.
Two years later, a faster, stronger and more mature Neal is on pace to perhaps become the top runner in school history.
Neal, one of the BND's co-players of the year in cross country, already the Panthers' record-holder on a 3-mile course with a time of 17 minutes, 22 seconds.
"I was on the cross country team as a freshman. I just didn't make varsity,'' Neal said, smiling. "I've improved since then.''
"I kind of felt more into it this year since last year I was kind of the new kid on the block. This year I knew what to expect.''
O'Fallon coach Neil James expected another solid season from Neal. And she didn't disappoint.
Neal won her second second straight regional title on her way to shattering her school record of 17:56 over 3 miles with the 17:22 she ran at the Class 3A state meet, where she placed 32nd last month at Detweiler Park in Peoria.
Neal's rise to elite runner status began a year ago. As a relative unknown, Neal won the regional title, then a week later captured the individual crown at the Class 3A Pekin Sectional.
Another regional title came this season and she placed fourth in the Normal Sectional.
Neal thrives on the pressure at the bigger events.
"Last year she was new and a surprise," James said. "This year there was pressure and she had to learn to deal with that. She handled that pressure very well.
"I also think Sydney and Sam (Samantha Lapp) set the tone for the rest of our girls when they went up north and did well in the bigger meets.
"They led the way for other girls on the team to adapt the attitude that we're just as good as the runners we're going to see at the state meet. That they're no better then us.''
Neal credits alot of her success to a better diet and more extensive training in the offseason.
"I tend to eat a lot of sweets at times, so my diet isn't the best. But it has gotten much better,'' said Neal, the daughter of Kathleen Wyatt. "Overall, I trained a lot harder this summer and so I was in much better condition when we started practice.
"The workouts this summer were tougher. We increased the mileage from what we did last year.''
Nothing however could prepare Neal, Lapp and the rest of the Panthers for what they would run into at the state meet.
It was a day when (Glen Ellyn) Glenbard West senior Madeline Perez ran away from the field of talented harriers in a time of 16:02.
The time is the best ever recorded at the state meet. The previous record was 16:22 set in 2010 by Kayla Beattie of Woodstock.
"The pace was unbelievable. I didn't know girls could get times like that. I didn't fathom that,'' Neal said.
"My goal was to be in the top 25, but I didn't realize it would be so hard until I got there. Last year my time would have been in the top 25. But this year, the pace was just so fast.''
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com