NASHVILLE -- McMinn County junior Haley Ward spent the past week convincing anybody who would listen that she wasn't going to win the Class AAA state cross country individual title.
Early on in the Percy Warner Park event, as her lead expanded, she wondered when somebody was going to pass her. Even late in the race, she questioned when somebody's kick was going to defeat her.
She's now run out of excuses.
Ward claimed the AAA title, in the process running the best time (18:41.87) of any girl in the event.
"This is just the happiest I've ever been," she said while celebrating with her parents and coach Tim Smith, among others. "I just want to cry."
Sandy Ward shared her daughter's excitement.
"I just can't believe it," she said. "I'm so proud of her."
Haley said that while she led for most of the race, she wondered if she had too fast of a pace.
"After the first mile, I was hesitant because I wondered if other girls were just going at a slower pace, or if they were going to have a fast kick towards the end," she said. "Towards the end of the race, I just told myself, 'It's now or never,' and I just went."
McMinn County honors all of its state champions by hanging a banner in the rafters of the basketball gymnasium. Ward, still somewhat in shock of the victory, did pause to note that soon there will be an addition.
"I really am surprised. I was sixth in times coming into the meet, so I thought that I was going to be in the top three or four," she said. "Now I want my banner hanging in the school so people can always see what I accomplished today."