SAN ANTONIO, Texas - It all was quite the experience for Petoskey High School freshman Lily Cesario.

More importantly, it was a rather successful and enjoyable one at that.

Cesario, a member of the Petoskey High School cross country team, competed in her first-ever United States Track and Field Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships Saturday at the National Shooting Complex along with her Traverse City Bay Runners teammates.

Cesario placed 16th overall out of 377 other runners in her age 13-14 class, finishing the 4K course in 15 minutes, 2.25 seconds to earn All-American honors in the prestigious race which featured elite runners from across the nation.

Cesario, an All-State runner as a freshman with Petoskey who placed 28th in the Division II Michigan High School Athletic Association in a time of 19:26.7, said her goal was to finish as an All-American (top 25 runners).

Mission accomplished.

“I was hoping to make All-American and I got 16th,” Cesario said. “My time also improved drastically from the qualifying race, so that too was a big improvement.”

Cesario qualified for the national championships by placing with a time of 15:49, good for sixth place in her age division, over the same 4K distance in a USATF Michigan Association Junior Olympic Cross Country Championship race at Cass Benton Park outside of Novi.

At the national championships in San Antonio, Cesario and her teammates went out fast in front of the mass start which included 377 participants.

“The start of the race was really intense,” Cesario said. “There’s 377 girls all lined up at the start, all from different states and it started out in an open field then narrowed down into a smaller path.

“We were all trying to get out fast and have enough room at the front of the pack,” Cesario said. “We had to get out fast and I stayed within the top 25 in the beginning.”

The course narrowed to an approximate 5-yard path at the half mile mark, in which Cesario was around the 25th position.

“I was able to work my way up and the last half mile I moved up about five places and at the finish I sprinted past two girls,” Cesario said.

Cesario mentioned a lot of credit goes to her coach, Katie Kearney, who helped her and her teammates prepare for the race.

“Katie Kearney had a big influence I would say,” Cesario said. “She had us practicing sprinting at the start of the course and it was a course we’ve never seen before, so that was a big help.”

Kearney has also helped Cesario with training regimes and nutrition.

“I’ve been training since spring, around track season, and I ran all summer and Katie Kearney sent me a workout schedule. I workout at least an hour a day,” Cesario said.

“I definitely couldn’t have done it without her. She’s spent individual time with me and has worked on my form, told me about a nutrition program. She’s been a huge influence.”

Cesario said running in 60 degree plus weather in Texas was different, as she had been training in the cold and snow in Northern Michigan.

“It was very different because I’ve been running in 10 degree weather compared to the change where it was 60 down there,” Cesario said. “It was warm, but not too bad. I’d never been to Texas before.”

Cesario said she’ll continue to train through the offseason, plans to play softball in the spring and get ready for her sophomore season with the Northmen cross country team.

That and hopefully another trip to the USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country championships.

“I’m hoping to do well in the cross country season next year and hopefully go to nationals again,” Cesario said.