Presley Case did not crack the top 20 or break 20 minutes in the 5,000-meter race at the Spartan Challenge last season.
Thanks to a strong kick Saturday, the North Scott sophomore accomplished both.
Case dropped 41 seconds from last September's performance on the difficult Crow Creek Park course and finished 10th in the loaded 14-team field.
"I'm pretty happy with that," Case said after crossing in 19:34. "People expect more when you grow up. I've just got to run faster and run harder.
"This does make me a lot more confident than I was last year going into the season."
Naperville North, with four girls in the top eight, accumulated 32 points to walk away with the team title. Edina (Minn.) was second with 45 and Johnston took third at 114.
Class 4A 10th-ranked North Scott was the top Quad-City team finisher in seventh with 180 points, 10 points clear of 12th-ranked Pleasant Valley.
The Lancers placed 11th at last year's state meet. They have all their top runners back from that squad.
Case was in about 15th place approaching the final hill.
"I told myself, 'I've run this whole race so why not get a couple more girls here at the end while I'm at?'" she said.
Abbi Lafrenz was North Scott's second finisher in 35th place. Sommer Clydesdale and Maddie Case were 38th and 40th, respectively.
"We can build on this so much," Presley Case said. "We knew we were going to be good this year but knowing we were the first team in the MAC at this meet is awesome.
"We've worked hard to get to this point, and we're only going to work harder."
PV didn't have anybody in the top 25, but the Spartans had their top three finishers separated by just 22 seconds in Sydney Lear, Mallory Lafever and Maddy Minard.
The Spartans' theme this year is "Fiercely Fit."
"We've got the fitness part down but not the fierce part," coach Jane Wheeler said. "They're still really scared in races and part of that is training. We haven't focused on race sharpness and done very little race speed.
"Hopefully that will come with training. I do think our mindset is way better. Last year when we didn't perform well, we took it as, 'Well, we're not good and they just believed that all year.' This year, it was like, 'OK, here's where we are at and let's move forward.'"
Muscatine's Moriah Morter was 18th and Bettendorf's Trinity Borland finished 19th. Morter crossed in 19:49, a 50-second improvement from last year.
"I felt really good today," Morter said. "It is my senior year, so I didn't want to leave here disappointed.
"Going up the hills, I had enough to push through and catch people this year. I just had a lot of focus."
PV Spartan Challenge
At Crow Creek Park
Team scores — 1. Naperville North 32; 2. Edina 45; 3. Johnston 114; 4. Iowa City West 125; 5. Dubuque Senior 157; 6. Iowa City High 164; 7. North Scott 180; 8. Pleasant Valley 190; 9. Cedar Rapids Prairie 257; 10. Muscatine 275; 11. Bettendorf 284; 12. Rock Island 349; 13. Davenport Central 376; 14. Burlington 462
Top 10 — 1. Sarah Schmitt (Naperville North) 17:49; 2. Emily Kompelien (Edina) 18:07; 3. Alex Morris (Naperville North) 18:12; 4. Bailey Nock (Iowa City West) 18:44; 5. Maria Rickman (Edina) 18:49; 6. Hannah Ricci (Naperville North) 18:50; 7. Jessica McKee (Johnston) 19:03; 8. Claire Hill (Naperville North) 19:06; 9. Sadie Schreiner (Edina) 19:33; 10. Presley Case (North Scott) 19:34
North Scott — 10. Case 19:34; 35. Abbi Lafrenz 20:33; 38. Sommer Clydesdale 20:40; 40. Maddie Case 20:45; 57. Katie Jackovich 21:28
Pleasant Valley — 27. Sydney Lear 20:14; 34. Mallory Lafever 20:26; 37. Maddy Minard 20:36; 44. Lauren Buechel 20:54; 48. Abby Riley 21:08
Muscatine — 18. Moriah Morter 19:49; 52. Rylee Blake 21:14; 60. Emmie Smith 21:38; 66. Emma Maynard 22:12; 79. Lauren Dirth 23:15
Bettendorf — 19. Trinity Borland 19:55; 56. Jenna Nickles 21:26; 62. Madison Temple 21:44; 71. Layken Bytnar 22:21; 76. Nyah Block 22:44
Rock Island — 55. Jayla Hathorn 21:25; 72. Brenna Homan 22:25; 73. Shay Robinson 22:32; 74. Jade Ford 22:38; 75. Dulce Perez 22:41
Davenport Central — 46. Ava Soliz 20:58; 68. Emma Berger 22:17; 86. Elizabeth Barfels 23:52; 87. Baylea Hamer 23:56; 89. Tessa Goodwin 24:03