LAKEWOOD — Their seed times weren't all that far apart but Fairview's Marlena Preigh knew what type of competitor she was up against in University of Wisconsin-bound Broomfield senior Madison Mooney during the 5A girls 800-meter state championship race.
Even the six-tenths of a second difference in their season bests was going to be hard to make up if Preigh was to upset the favorite.
Preigh pulled it off, winning the race with a time of 2 minutes, 9.19 seconds while Mooney finished runner-up one second behind her. But right up until the end as Friday's home stretch crowd at Jefferson County Stadium cheered, Preigh felt the Broomfield star could catch her at any moment and it took the most incredible and taxing kick of her life to prevent that from happening.
"I knew from the beginning of the season that there was a possibility I could be a contender," Preigh said. "But even on the last 100 when I was pulling away, I was never convinced that I was going to win it. It wasn't until I crossed the finish line and I didn't see anyone on either side of me that I knew."
Preigh won gold as a member of the Knights' championship 3,200-meter relay team last season but Thursday's was her first individual championship.
After the first lap of Friday's race, Mooney was in third and Preigh was in fourth. Both girls made their move at the turn and passed the leaders, but Preigh got out from the lead pack faster and more cleanly than Mooney, who made a valiant effort to close the gap in the final 100 meter but couldn't catch Preigh in time.
Preigh's unprecedented kick landed her the state title as well as a personal-best time by a second. She pushed herself so hard that the finish also left her dizzy and nauseous for nearly an hour after the race, so much so that she was visibly uncomfortable and struggling to stand atop the podium while waiting to receive her gold medal between races on the track.
"Going into the turn onto the last 100 stretch, there were like four of us there," Preigh said. "I really just wanted to give it all I had. My dad tells me lots of things before a race but what I really took away today was that the last 100 meters, or whenever I chose to kick, to just make the decision and give it everything I had. I've never kicked that hard and it paid off.
"There were so many talented girls in that field. I knew that whatever happened, whether I beat Madison or she beat me, I would be really happy because she's so talented. If she beat me, then I really wouldn't have been able to complain because she's such a great runner and she's so nice."
Mooney was the favorite to win the race in part because of the 2:10.19 she ran at the St. Vrain Invitational on May 11 that is the 15th fastest 800-meter time in the nation this season. She also led the Eagles to a title in the 3,200-meter relay the day before. Preigh's seed time of 2:10.79 is the 25th best time in the nation.
"I'm a little disappointed because I wanted to win but I'm still really happy with second," Mooney said. "I did my best but I didn't put myself in a great position coming around the last curve. I got a little boxed in between a few girls but Marlena had the best kick and she was able to get far enough ahead that no one could catch her. Kudos to her and I'm looking forward to the mile tomorrow."
On Saturday, both Preigh and Mooney are expected to compete in a 5A girls 1,600 final that is littered with talented runners in from the BoCoPreps.com area.
In the 1,600, Mooney is even more heavily favored to win than she was in the 800. She leads the field with a seed time of 4:55.24, which is 1.9 seconds faster than Mountain Vista's Jenna Fitzsimmons and 6.36 seconds faster than teammate Katelyn Mitchem. Preigh is seeded fourth in the 1,600, Legacy's Brynn Siles is seeded fifth, Fairview's Isabella Bowland is seeded sixth and Boulder's Lauren Neugeboren and Claudia Burgess are eighth and ninth, respectively.