La Quinta High School distance-running standout Megan Huebner is hoping that the third time's the charm in her quest for a spot in the state cross country finals.
The three-time undisputed Desert Valley League individual champion is looking to advance past Saturday's CIF-Southern Section championship round and into the finals in Fresno, something she has not accomplished in her previous two semifinal trips.
Huebner said she feels like this might be the year.
"I just have to go out smart, not go out too fast, but I feel really prepared," said Huebner, a junior who posted her personal best at Mt. SAC in 17 minutes, 23 seconds earlier this season in the Mt. SAC Invitational Sweepstakes Race for elite-level runners. "This is a challenging course. There are three major hills and the only real flat part is the first mile. There are a few downhills that you can use to your advantage."
After missing out on advancing to state in the past two seasons -- last year she forced herself to run despite suffering with the flu -- Huebner said there is added pressure, but it's self-inflicted.
"I just really want to go out there and do my best," she said. "Last week was one of my better times there, and I think it's realistic that I get to move on, but I need to be in the top five and I'm golden. I just need to run a good race."
Her coach Joann Monachello-Prahl also believes this will be the year for Huebner.
"She looks really good," said Prahl of her top performer. "This will be her ninth or 10th time running at Mt. SAC (Mount San Antonio College in Walnut) and she's more confident. She does really well on those hills."
Huebner, a junior, ran away with the Desert Valley League title this season but also has been one of the top performers in all of Division I.
She set course records at the Inland Empire Challenge at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino with her 16:53 and also established a new mark at the Hemet Invitational at 17:21. Her 17:51 won the Rockin' Rubidoux race as well. All were 3-mile courses. Last week at Mt. SAC, she finished at 17:40 on the 2.96-mile course.
"She knows it's still gonna be hard, but she prepared well, is mentally and physically ready for it," said Prahl. "She has the potential to go where no other La Quinta runner has gone."
In Prahl's 11 seasons, no Blackhawk has advanced to Fresno, but Huebner is convinced she can change that. As a freshman in the CIF-SS finals, Huebner was 10th overall with her 18:41. She's knocked a minute off that time since.
The only team from the Coachella Valley to advance to the CIF-SS finals is Xavier Prep. Both boys and girls' squads compete in Division V as teams are divided according to enrollment for the postseason. Both placed first in last week's prelims race with the Saints' boys outdistancing the 45-team field.
The girls also won the prelims race with junior Valeria Ruiz leading the effort with an overall fourth-place finish.
"All of the top teams, ourselves included, held back quite a bit at the prelims as we were pretty confident that we would qualify through to the finals," said Saints coach Aron Lyons. "I would suspect that our efforts were at about 80 percent, and the same is true for those other top level D-5 programs. We definitely prepare for this time of the season, and we know that we must do well on the Mt. SAC course. Our athletes embrace the challenge of the difficulty of the course."
Lyons added that the Saints will be pushed by Thatcher of Ojai and Vistamar of El Segundo in the girls' division, while the boys' race should come down to Flintridge Prep, St. Margaret and Thatcher. He's looking for the Saints to be among those in the running for the CIF-SS title.
Indio's David Luna also qualified for Saturday's semifinals, but he will not be participating.