Mallory Liggett was too busy gasping for air to worry about smiling.
"I'm really excited," she said, sucking in oxygen between words. "But I'm just trying to catch my breath."
Liggett's time of 20 minutes, seven seconds Wednesday afternoon may not have matched her record time of 19:24 two weeks ago at John's Island, but it was good enough to deliver her first career win for Hilton Head Island High at the Beaufort County Championships. She teamed with teammate Colton Hennessey, who won the boys division with a time of 16:38, to clinch a sweep for Hilton Head High at Honey Horn Plantation.
"It's the Beaufort County Championships," coach Bill Wrightson said. "Our goal is to win all three: county, win the region and win the state. We don't always do it."
They checked off one of those feats this year. The Seahawks proved dominant once again, as both the boys and girls teams placed four runners in the top five finishers. Abby Gross took home silver, as she finished 13 seconds behind fellow eighth-grader Liggett, while Cisco Ferre's time of 16:43 was just five seconds off Hennessey's.
"My strategy was to get a good pace in the first two miles and then really pick it up on the third one," Liggett said. "But it was pretty windy, and it was kind of sunny."
Hennessey said he and some of the other boys runners treated Wednesday almost like a workout ahead of this weekend, when the Bodyshop Invitational on Saturday in Columbia will bring in some of the state's top runners. His finish time was a nearly a minute off his personal best of 15:42, but the senior still left encouraged as Saturday nears.
"It was like an 80-percent effort," he said. "I usually run the first mile at race pace. Today I came through at like five flat. The next two (miles) are more of a tempo pace."
Bluffton finished second to Hilton Head High in the team standings in both divisions. Lea Tierney's time of 20:51 ended up good for third on the girls side, while Evans Beach finished seventh for the boys at 18:07.
Beaufort High's Brandon Pratt, who clocked in at 17:19, was the lone male runner not from Hilton Head High to finish in the top five. The Eagles' standout finished third.
The Seahawks will look to avenge last year's runner-up finishes at the state meet in the next few weeks, where Wrightson's team has excelled in recent seasons. Both teams took home titles in 2009, while the boys added championships in 2010 and 2011.
Hilton Head High runners believe the possibility of another pair of titles is real.
"That's the goal, to win it as a team," Hennessey said. "We've been excited, we've been talking about it all year. We'll have morning practice and we'll just talk about it. It encourages us to work harder."
The boys have been the consensus No. 1 team in the state throughout the season, but the girls likely will have to tangle with James Island if they are to claim another championship. Getting back injured runners Carly McGlinn and Frankie Schoning could help the Seahawks become the favorite.
They'll have a chance regardless, though, as long as they have runners like Liggett, Wrightson said.
"She's incredibly talented, to be able to do as well as she's done at that age," he said.
BEAUFORT COUNTY CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Wednesday, at Honey Horn Plantation, Hilton Head Island
Team scores: Hilton Head High 19, Bluffton 50, Hilton Head Prep 61
Hilton Head High: 1. Mallory Liggett 20:07, 2. Abby Gross 20:20, 4. Ciara McMahon 21:20, 5. Rebeka Parent 21:29, 7. Rachel Friend 22:06
Bluffton: 3. Lea Tierney 20:51, 9. Riley Chafer 22:54, 11. Scottie House 23:16, 14. Hannah Hundley 23:24, 15. Casey White 23:27
Hilton Head Prep: 6. Maren Czura 21:56, 8. Tori Herman 22:21, 12. Laurel Woerheide 23:21, 21. Grace Orie 24:31, 25. Olivia Light 24:48.
Battery Creek: 19. Zakiya Cobban 24:13, 23. Quamecha Morrison 24:37, 38. Neelia Heath 27:46
Beaufort High: 13. Alexandra Zapp, 20. Siobhan Murphy, 40. Ashlyn Houston
Whale Branch: 24. Courtney Matt 24:39
Team scores: Hilton Head High 20, Bluffton 64, Beaufort High 70, Hilton Head Prep 127, Whale Branch 137, Battery Creek 140
Hilton Head High: 1. Colton Hennessey 16:38, 2. Cisco Ferre 16:43, 4. Sam Beattie 17:42, 5. Eladio Wilkinson 17:48, 8. Ben Gilman 18:16
Bluffton: 7. Evans Beach 18:07, 13. Rory Witkowski 18:29, 14. Anthony Chissell 18:32, 18. Ryan-Michael Livingston 18:44, 23. Dylan McMahan 19:02
Beaufort High: 3. Brandon Pratt 17:19, 19. Zachary Wilkson 18:54, 20. Jordan Burnsed 18:59, 22. Andrew Taylor McDaniel 19:02, 24. Jordan Callender 19:03
Hilton Head Prep: 6. Jackson Henz 17:53, 32. Jackson Richard 19:26, 39. Ryan Nimmer 20:28, 46. Joshua Williams 20:43, 48. Aiden Sanz 20:47
Whale Branch: 27. Devonta Glover 19:12, 28. Wesley Murphy 19:13, 31. Christopher Conn 19:23, 38. Karlton Washington 20:27, 64. Thomas Vicuna 23:31
Battery Creek: 12. Erik Barbosa 18:27, 35. Liam Anderson 19:48, 40. Brayden Smith 20:31, 50. Dalton Mickel 21:09, 58. Tyrek Byson 22:16