Members of an increasingly high-caliber Palmyra girls' cross country team are certainly no different in that regard.
Although when one of the Cougars peeks over their shoulder to see who's coming, they usually find a familiar, friendly face looking back at them.
With a thoroughly dominant performance led by sophomore Maria Tukis, the Cougars captured their fifth consecutive Lebanon County Cross Country Invitational title on Saturday morning at picturesque, sun-splashed South Hills Park.
Tukis set the pace for the rest of the field, snagging her first county meet championship by covering the 3.1-mile test in a blistering 19 minutes, 15 seconds.
But as impressive as her performance was, Tukis didn't run away and hide from any of her equally-talented teammates - not that she really wanted to anyway.
Right behind Tukis came a Palmyra pack of Olivia Farabaugh, Miranda Salvo, 2011 county champion Laura Duquette, Mariah Ricci and Devin Strynkowski to help the Cougars take the first six places in the race. And, for that matter, eight of the first nine spots, with Ashley Cypher and Emily Bliemeister checking in eighth and ninth after Cedar Crest's MacKenzie Shiner broke up the Palmyra dominance with a seventh-place effort.
In fact, just 45 seconds separated Palmyra's first five finishers, and the gap between Tukis and Bliemeister was a
Just the way the Cougars like it.
"We have something special," said a beaming Tukis, who seemed just as pleased about the team success as she was about her own individual glory. "We are competitors, great teammates and best friends. I want to beat my teammates, but together we are so strong. I just can't believe it. I am so happy."
The Cougars' tight-knit ways and ability to revel in each other's successes was symbolized by a post-race group hug that also included a very pleased head coach, Barb Mellinger.
Upon joining her team in celebration, Mellinger informed the group she was "as proud as a mom can be."
And as proud as a coach can be, as well.
"I just wanted to get as many in the top 10 as we could, and we did that," Mellinger said. "I'm extremely proud of them. They ran terrific times, and that was also a goal. It gives us confidence for the upcoming meets.
"As a coach, I don't care who wins. I know, individually, they do. But they do understand the tighter we are at the top, the better we're gonna do at the end of the season. And that's what we're working on."
That plan's obviously in good shape, based on the Cougars' performance Saturday and last
That said, there's nothing wrong with celebrating a little individual success, too. Tukis was happy to do that after her win, which she achieved by jetting to the front early in the race and holding on the rest of the way to edge nearest competitor and runner-up Farabaugh by 19 seconds. Tukis also beat her own previous-best time of 19:33 by a full 18 seconds, which only added to the feeling of accomplishment.
"Just relief, all of my hard work has finally paid off," Tukis said. "During the race, there's so many things going through your mind. You try to block them off, and that's what I did and I was able to pull it off. It's just overwhelming."
Believe it or not, there were also some impressive non-Palmyra performances in the girls' meet, overshadowed though they may have been.
Shiner, a freshman, grabbed seventh in a solid time of 20:23 to help Crest to a second-place finish in the team standings. The Falcons' team score of 61 - compared to Palmyra's incredible tally of 15 - was aided by respectable performances by Michelle Kiss (11th), Kyla Waldron (12th), Olivia Hess (14th) and Erica Bachman (17th).
Elco sophomore Abby Dundore rounded out the top 10 finishers and boosted the Raiders to a third-place finish.