HIGHLAND — During his long and successful career, Highland cross country coach Doug Bradley has seen many top athletes come through the Mississippi Valley Conference.
But he hasn't coached many more talented than Bulldogs' sophomore Allison Zobrist.
Champion of the MVC, Zobrist became the first female in school history to win a regional title and the first runner -- male or female -- to win a sectional championship.
But it's what Zobrist does at the end of a race that makes her unique.
"After she finishes a race, Allison will actually stand and shake the hands of her competitors as they walk through,'' Bradley said. "She's not one that is going to intimidate the other runners with a cold stare. That's not Allison. She's got friends she's run against throughout the state. Allison is a real social butterfly.''
A butterfly who, in less then a year, has gone from being a relative unknown to one of the best around.
After placing 107th in the Class 2A State Cross Country Meet as a freshman, Zobrist bettered that finish by 101 spots last month at Detweiller Park in Peoria as she earned the sixth- place medal.
Zobrist's time of 17 minutes 35 seconds was a minute behind Mailin Struck of Riverside-Brookfield, but good enough to make her the Belleville News-Democrat Class 2A Runner of the Year.
"I was happy. My goal was to finish in the top five. But I'll take sixth,'' Zobrist said. "The pace of the race was really fast and so I was kind of scared to make my move too early.
"I just tried to run my race. I have a good kick. I wish it was stronger, though. It usually depends how the race is going as to how much I have left at the end.''
Zobrist left Detweiller Park that day as the top cross country runner in school history. Current Collinsville coach Darryl Frerker previously had the highest finish, placing 10th in the 1981 boys state finals.
Still a relative newcomer to running, Zobrist got her start when older sister Jessica Zobrist began competing.
"Being the little sister, I wanted to do what my sister was doing,'' Zobrist said. "Once I went out, I just really liked it. My sister? She quit.''
Zobrist began making a name for herself last spring in track when she broke the school record in the 1,600 meters with a time of 5:15 and qualified for the Class 2A state preliminaries in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.
With that boost, Zobrist ran summer track for the first time and qualified for the 16-and-under finals at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics National Championships in Greensboro, N.C.
But Zobrist did much more then qualify for the finals in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters. Zobrist placed second ion the 1,500 with a time of 4 minutes 45.11 seconds, and seventh in the 3,000 with a time of 10:44.41.
"I had never run summer track before, it really surprised me,'' Zobrist said. "I was competing against girls my own age, but doing so swell, that really helped my confidence.''
That lift in confidence was obvious to Bradley.
"Not only did she finish second in the 1,500 meters, but her time was better than those run in the older age division,'' Bradley said. "I think the big difference in Allison this year was confidence. Last year as a freshman, I think she was very tentative in cross country.
"Allison just had a phenomenal year and, hopefully, I think she'll get even better.''
The elevation in confidence also has caused Zobrist to reassess her goals beginning with track and field in the spring of 2014.
"I want to win a state title in either of my events --1,600 or 3,200 meters,'' Zobrist said. "And I'd like to win a state title in cross country. What's my favorite? I guess it depends on what season we're in.
As for long-range goals, Zobrist will go west to college if she has her pick.
"I have a University of Oregon backpack,'' Zobrist said, smiling. "That's the dream school for me.''