OCEANSIDE -- Hannah Riggins is a freshman, so every cross country race is a new experience.
That includes winning a varsity invitational as the Del Norte freshman did Saturday at the Southern California Invitational held over the hilly 3.1-mile course at Guajome Park.
Riggins broke away from a pack of three runners with 800 meters remaining and looked nothing like a 9th-grader clocking an 18:21.5 to beat Poway's Mackenzie Rogers (18:25.2) and Ramona's Amy Brown (18:33.6).
This is a meet that pits each team's No. 1, 2 and 3 runners in the big race with separate divisions for 4-5 and 6-7 runners.
"This course was hard-there were two gnarly hills," said Riggins, who clocked a fine 4:39 for 1500 meters on the track last spring in her second year of running. "I'd never run the course before and those steady, long uphill runs can kill you. I didn't even have a goal coming in.
"One girl took it out hard but I could hear her struggling, Another runner (Rogers) made a move at the bottom of the hill but I made my move near the top and took off with 800 meters to go."
Riggins was a midfielder in soccer for seven years before she tried track in the seventh grade. Instantly successful, she dropped soccer to focus on running but is still a neophyte.
"There is a team dynamic in cross country that isn't there in track," said the 14-year-old. "My dad was my coach until high school so I kind of learned as I went. I know I still have a lot to learn."
"I only ran 1.9 miles for cross country in junior high but running in high school is really exciting. I always run my own race and when I made my move, I never looked back, focusing on staying in front.
"My goal this year is to make it to state where I'd get to compete against the best."
Riggins won her freshman race at the Mt. Carmel Invitational and was 10th at Dana Hills, well behind the winner, Carlie Dorostkar of Canyon Crest.
Meanwhile, San Diego High senior Henry McClish was in a similar situation as Riggins, looking at the entries and hoping to race against La Costa Canyon's Caleb Niednagel.
But Niednagel was at the Clovis Invitational, leaving the boys race wide open.
McClish took off at the bottom of the major hill with about 700 meters remaining and held off a serious challenge by Oceanside El Camino's Antonio Dinis, clocking a 15:42.7 to Dinis' 15:45.8.
The Cavers senior, who comes from the same school that produced Olympians Mebrahtom Keflezighi and Marc Davis, said he learned a lesson at the Woodbridge Invitational a couple weeks back.
"I was in the lead with 400 meters remaining and got passed," said McClish, who again was challenged "I thought, 'not again,' when I heard him coming up. You can't look back and you can't always believe what people along the route say to you.
"Going into the race I thought Niednagel was entered and while he's considered the best runner in the section, you never know in any given race. I saw a La Costa Canyon runner in front early-on but he didn't look that fast."
McClish pulled away to top the hometown favorite.
"He pushed me," said McClish. "I knew he had the home-course advantage--people along the way were saying that. This is a good win on the road and I look forward to racing against Antonio again in the section Division I championships on my home course (Balboa Park)."
"I believe in myself. It was just me and Antonio and at the 2-mile mark (where you make a turn), I saw there was nobody with me. I was injured for state last year so that's my goal-to run at state."