When she was able to break the 18-minute mark Nov. 2 at Centennial Park in Santa Ana, Laguna Beach High girls' cross-country runner Natasha Strickland finally could exhale.
"I was really surprised and excited," Strickland said of her Orange Coast League-winning 17:36.88 time that was roughly three seconds off the team record, set in 1996 by Lindsey Buwalda. "All I wanted to do was break the 18-minute mark."
Strickland is a goal-oriented senior whose achievements this season have been more impressive considering she's been running with bursitis in her hip.
"I've gotten my endurance and my speed close to when I didn't have bursitis," Strickland said.
Strickland has been leading the pack for the Breaker program since her sophomore year, when she ran 19:07 in the Division IV state meet. As a senior, she's hoping for a chance to return to Fresno's Woodward Park after a disappointing 2010 campaign that saw her and her team miss the cut.
Strickland's road to Fresno begins Saturday at the CIF Southern Section preliminaries at Mt. SAC. Like anything Strickland does, she's got big plans for the final stages of her high school career.
"I'm hoping to break 18:30, which would break the school record for the Mt. SAC course," said Strickland, who earlier this season ran 18:47 at the venerable course. "At state, if we get there, I want to break 19 minutes for a 5K (course)."
Strickland has the skills to back up such talk.
"In my opinion, she's the best in team history," Laguna Beach Coach Steve Lalim said. "She's the most motivational person on our team. She's not real outspoken, she just leads by example and by her work ethic. She's finding her stride. What's incredible (about her 17:36 run) is she did it by herself, there was no one pushing her."
Lalim, who has seen Strickland run and grow each step of the way the past four years, has seen her develop quickly.
"She's got a good team behind her pushing her," he said Janie Crawford, Eliza Romero, Carlee and Marisa Merchant. "I hired a coach, Mike Berger, for the intent of pushing her. She wants her team to get to the state meet. She's tasted it and she wants to get back."
Said Strickland: "I want us to make it to CIF Finals and make it to state. I just want us to qualify, not to finish in any one spot. I think the girls have gotten the mindset of how bad the seniors want to get back to state."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times