BY JIM CAWLEY
FLORIDA TODAY

A solid start quickly faded for Holy Trinity junior Kayla Hale at Saturday's Foot Locker Cross Country Championships National Finals.

I felt really good at the beginning of the race. I felt strong, like it was going to be a good day when I started out, Hale said of her second straight appearance at the prestigious annual event at San Diego's Balboa Park.

By the second lap, I was starting to struggle a little bit, but I still fought as hard as I could to get to the finish.

That finish was 19th place in a time of 18 minutes, 5 seconds. Hale's goal was top-15 in the field of the country's 40 best runners, which would have granted her All-America status.

Realistically, I thought she could run in the 17:55 range -- that would have put her in the top-15, said Holy Trinity coach Doug Butler, who traveled to San Diego for the event. But she ran 25 seconds better than she did last year (21st overall), and that's a nice improvement.

The race was won by Ashley Brasovan of West Palm Beach's Wellington High in 17:20. Hale beat her good friend Brasovan for a second-place overall finish two weeks ago at the Foot Locker South Region qualifier in Charlotte, N.C.

Saturday, defending national champion Kathy Kroeger of Franklin, Tenn., was second in 17:28, ahead of Jordan Hasay of Arroya Grande, Calif. (17:31).

Despite Saturday's disappointment, Hale, who next season can become the first runner from Florida to qualify for the Foot Locker race three times, kept a positive outlook.

Overall, 19th in the country isn't too bad. And it's still a great day, she said.

It's good motivation when I get home, go back to training . . . (it will) motivate me to work harder and get even better.

Said Butler: Every year she has run at least 20 seconds better than the year before. She's one of the top 20 kids in the country -- I couldn't be prouder. Athletes like her come along once in a lifetime.