Mya Trober found herself in unfamiliar territory running against girls from five states. It wasn’t the competition that made it strange for the Blue Springs South sophomore, or the fact that she was running on a cross country course far from home.

It was all unfamiliar because Trober was doing something she had never done before: Run way ahead of the pack.

“It was definitely different,” Trober said. “That was my first time leading a race.”

Trober, of course, has won her share of races, but never going away and never as convincingly as she did in taking the freshman/sophomore girls race in the Nike Cross Nationals Midwest Regional last Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind. Trober topped a field of almost 200 girls from Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan, covering the 5-kilometer course in 19 minutes, 4.2 seconds. The runner-up finished a good 20 seconds behind her.

“It was weird being up there by myself and not having people around me to push me,” Trober said. “Once I started gaining distance on the girls behind me it kind of got a little mentally hard because I didn’t know if I should push the pace or I should drop the pace. It’s going to take some practice to learn.”

Trober has learned plenty already, and the Nike race was just another indicator of just how far she progressed during her sophomore season. After capturing her first race, she didn’t win again until she surprised a talented field in the Suburban Big Six championships. She followed that with second-place finishes in the district, sectional and Class 4 state meet, finishing behind state champion Carolyn Ford of Columbia Rock Bridge in each race.

“I think after conference definitely I was like, ‘OK I can do this,’” Trober said. “We started getting a little more serious since were entering the state series. We started working harder and I think I just found myself wanting to work harder and be up there with them.”

Blue Springs South girls cross country coach Ryan Unruh saw Trober’s potential “when she was in eighth and ninth grade,” but he didn’t want to put too much pressure on her early. The plan, Unruh said, was to develop her gradually, with an eye toward conference and the state series.

“The timing was perfect,” Unruh said. “Everything just felt like it fell into place this year. We didn’t try to force anything.”

Running in the freshman/sophomore race was part of the plan too. Trober won’t get to run in the Nike Cross Nationals because only runners from the championship race at each regional qualify. But she did get a taste of national competition, which is what Unruh wanted for her and the sophomores (McKenna Ledgerwood and Amy Woolsey) and freshmen (Maggie Boley and Caitlin Grover) who ran with her in Terre Haute.

“For her to go out and just be able to take control, she couldn’t have done that last year at this point,” Unruh said. “She wasn’t mentally or physically ready to do that. And our whole goal at this race was to get her ready to run at the championship race at a high level next year and get her team to that point as well.”

Trober will return next fall as one of the top runners in the state and the leader of a Jaguars team that should compete for a Class 4 title. And she will certainly gain a lot more experience at being the leader of the pack.

“I’m definitely excited for next season,” Trober said. “I just want it to be here already.”