HOT SPRINGS -- The two most important parts of a cross country race, according to Ali Nachtigal, are the first 400 meters and the last 400 meters.
The latter part is what led the Rogers junior to her third consecutive state championship as she pulled away late to win the Class 6A state individual title during Saturday's race on the Oaklawn Park infield.
Nachtigal ran the 5,000-meter course in a personal-best 18 minutes, 28.4 seconds, which was more than 22 seconds faster than second-place finisher Grace Litzinger of Fayetteville.
"I'm just so blessed," Nachtigal said. "I can't even fathom that it happened. It was completely God-given.
"I really didn't do a whole lot differently. I just did what I did last year. It was a perfect day with not a whole lot of wind. I just stuck with Grace and worked together, then I just kicked when I felt like I needed to go and get a strong enough lead."
Nachtigal and Litzinger were almost side by side through the first half of the race, and they were by themselves at the halfway point. It wasn't until the final half-mile when Nachtigal took off and became the first girl to win the largest classification three consecutive times since Springdale Har-Ber's Elise Reina did it in 2013-15.
"You just go for it for the first 400 meters, then do it again in the last 400," Nachtigal said. "The crowd will just carry you through it."
Bentonville found a measure of revenge in winning its second consecutive team title as the Lady Tigers edged second-place Fayetteville by a 36-38 margin. It was the same margin of victory that Fayetteville had over Bentonville in last week's 6A-West Conference championship.
Bentonville and Fayetteville each placed four runners in the top 10 and were still in a 24-24 deadlock at that point. The difference came in the fifth runners as Bentonville's Madison Galingo -- a freshman who was moved up from junior high this week -- took 12th place at 19:56.4, while Fayetteville's Jade Devine was 14th at 20:10.2.
"I thought our girls ran hard at conference," Bentonville Coach Randy Ramaker said. "I'm not going to hate on them for their conference performance because they ran well. This was a state meet, and the state meet is always different.
"Kortney Gage ran really well. She ran out of her mind. We moved up Madison Galingo, and that proved to pay dividends because we had a couple of girls that didn't run as well. We didn't have anybody that won the race, but they stuck that five together enough ahead of Fayetteville."