ANDERSON — Alex Buck was seeded 13th in Saturday's girls cross country semistate at Fort Wayne, and Pendleton Heights coach Melissa Hagerman knew that would get under her sophomore star's skin.
So she brought up the numbers during her prerace meeting with the team, then watched Buck go to work.
One year after breaking her foot on the same course, Buck set a personal-best time of 18 minutes, 18 seconds and finished second overall behind Penn's Maddie Woods.
Led by Buck's heroics, Pendleton Heights finished in third place as a team and advanced to next week's state finals for the first time in 25 years.
"Gosh, I can't even explain it," Hagerman said when asked how she was feeling during a phone interview. "I'm really proud of these girls. They proved when you want something you just have to keep working and go get it."
The Arabians won the regional title in each of the past three seasons but could not advance past the very difficult semistate field in Fort Wayne. Two years ago, Hagerman added an invitational in Fort Wayne to the regular season schedule in an effort to give her runners an extra look at the semistate course.
On Saturday, everyone's hard work paid off.
"Finally, I've got that monkey off my back," Hagerman said with a wry laugh.
The heavy lifting was done by a rapidly rising star.
Buck won a regional championship in the 3,200-meter run last spring and advanced to the state track and field finals in June. She likely would have earned her second consecutive trip to the state cross country finals today except for the fact that she broke her foot during the second mile of the semistate race last year.
Undeterred, Buck finished the race in the top 40.
"She had unfinished business on this course," Hagerman said. "She came down here today with a mission, and nothing was going to stop her. That's just the kind of kid she is."
Freshman Ali McCarty finished in 22nd place for Pendleton Heights, running a personal-best time of 19:26. She was followed by freshman Emma Hall (42nd) and sophomore Monica Dudley (61st) in a young Arabian lineup that is just starting to fulfill its potential.
Senior Maddi Hinton (65th), freshman Faith Baer (87th) and senior Chelsea Blackwell (98th) rounded out the Pendleton Heights finishers. All but Hinton and Blackwell will return next season.
"That was their graduation gift," Hagerman joked of her seniors, "to get to state."
The Arabians' boys team finished in 16th place, led by Tyler Flood's 60th-place showing. No area boys runners will compete in next week's state finals.