"It feels weird," admitted the Mavericks senior who went wire-to-wire to capture the Bronco Roundup in 9:47.2 over the Kit Carson Park 2-mile course that includes one challenging hill.
"It felt better than previous early-season meets. It felt like I felt in midseason meets a year ago, so it's a great way to start the season."
Niednagel couldn't even tell you his time in this event a year ago (9:46.2 for third) simply because he was too busy adjusting to La Costa Canyon after transferring from Dana Hills. He didn't have to do much more than follow the Stanford twins-Jacob and Garrett-who are now at BYU.
By season's end he was the team's highest-finishing runner in the state championships in fourth place, so he figures if he feels this much better without the kind of competition he had a year ago, this sky is the limit.
"We haven't done any speed work and over the summer we increased our mileage from 50 a year ago to 60 this year," said Niednagel, who is mulling numerous college offers. "You get pushed at the state meet so you have a better time.
"Mentally, I'm more competitive this year. I was thinking during the race about what I wanted to do which allows me to run with more consistency. I've just had a year of growing and I felt good. There's nothing quite like racing."
Since he ran well over 3200 meters in track (9:01.76), he was asked how the longer distances he'll have later this year in races like Mt. Carmel in two weeks and Mt. SAC will affect him.
"Whatever the race (distance), you run it," he said, shrugging his shoulders.
"We push each other," said Barclay, "it's always the team. We find ways to work together to enjoy running and we're getting better every day."
DIVISION I GIRLS
It kind of looked like it after she won the frosh-soph race in 11:55 and then spent the next 20 minutes trying to recuperate.
However, success over the cross country courses and in track, stole some of that soccer enthusiasm as she realized she might be pretty good at this running thing.
Stepping up to the varsity race this year, she sped to a winning time of 11:39.8 - 16 seconds faster than she clocked a year ago. Even better, she recovered quickly right after the race.
Famous on the track for sitting back and then running down competitors - even the likes of Kristin Fahy - in the final 400, Farmer was no different in the Bronco Roundup as she settled into sixth place at the midway point, then made her move coming down the hill.
"The others went out fast but I had a plan," said Farmer, who is now 6-1. "I didn't let the pack get too far ahead, I wanted to stay within striking distance. I was feeling awesome, so when we went down the hill I let my long legs propel me into the lead.
"With about 1000 yards to go my legs were really burning. I knew Ashley (teammate Ashley Learn who finished second) was there and she's a machine."
In the team race, Mt. Carmel bunched its runners to score just 44 points for a win over Cathedral Catholic.
DIVISION II BOYS
San Diego's Henry McClish feels like he was cheated his junior season when he suffered an injury and then lost his coach, Ed Ramos, for the entire year when the long-time mentor suffered a heart attack.
Ramos is back and so is McClish as he won the Division II title in 10:02.6, leading the Cavers to the team title.
"I was hoping to break 10-minutes and I got close," said the senior. "This year it's back to business and I'm very happy (Ramos) is back."
McClish was asked if he knew about some of the legendary San Diego High runners of the past-Foot Locker National champion Marc Davis and Olympic marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi-and he just smiled.
"I'm going to do my best but it's pretty hard to set goals with runners like that," he said.
DIVISION II GIRLS
Despite running in considerably warmer weather than the Division I race, she nonetheless clocked a fine 12:03.3 to win by almost 16 seconds.
"I talk to myself or sing when I run but I couldn't think of good tune so when I was going up the hill for the last time I said, 'you really slowed down, pick it up.' I used to play the violin so I speed up whatever song I'm thinking of to match my pace.
"I don't talk or sing out loud, though, I need to save my breath for the race."
Santa Fe Christian for the second straight week looked very strong by winning the team race, low-scoring El Cap 66-71.