When Jill Krebs began to think for herself, she became dangerous.
The South Carroll sophomore often had leaned on her best friend, teammate Carrie Braun, for cross country strategy. In other words, Krebs simply followed Braun during the race.
But in the Central Maryland Conference championship two weeks ago, Krebs had to think for herself when she went out fast early and went ahead of Braun -- who had never lost to a teammate in her career.
Krebs analyzed every twist and turn of the course, found a good strategy and beat Braun for the first time -- by 1 minute, 19 seconds. She followed that with decisive victories over Braun in the county and region meets and is on the fast track for Saturday's state meet.
Krebs spent most of this season solidly entrenched as the No. 2 runner for South Carroll. But as the season went on, Krebs kept improving and finally scored her big victory over Braun at the CMC meet, where she took third overall in 19:54.
Six days after the CMC meet, she again beat Braun, this time at the county championship. Krebs won that race -- the first victory of her career -- and finished 37 seconds ahead of fourth-place Braun.
And, at the Class 3A West Region meet on Thursday, Krebs topped Braun again. Her time of 20:59 landed the sophomore in third place, 40 seconds in front of the ninth-place Braun. Both qualified for the state meet at Hereford in Baltimore County.
Krebs still seems a bit surprised by her sudden success. She said part of it was due to a cold Braun has been fighting, but when pushed, Krebs will grudgingly admit that maybe she is coming into her own.
"Before I was depending on Carrie too much," said Krebs. "Part of it is that this is my first year in cross country, and I [didn't] know how to run the races. I really didn't run my own race, but now I plan out my races."
South Carroll coach Rob Pennington said he immediately knew Krebs would be a big help to the Cavaliers this season. Braun unsuccessfully had tried to convince Krebs -- who is a competitive swimmer -- to run last fall. But Krebs came out in the spring and won the county track title in the 1,600 meters.
Pennington said he thought Krebs might be able to beat Braun -- one of the county's top runners for the past three years -- at some point late in the season. He just didn't think it would happen like this.
"Jill had had a good two or three weeks of practice, and it looked like she was ready to peak. But for those two girls, the [CMC race represented] a big-time difference," said Pennington. "The time for Jill in the CMC meet is more shocking than actually going out and beating her."
Pennington said that is the best cross country time any girl has registered at South Carroll in the five years he's coached there. And he said there could be more where that came from.
With Krebs starting to blossom, and Braun long being a top runner, Pennington said the dueling friends could push each other to new heights.
"They've pushed each other real hard in practice," said Pennington. "I thought it would be good for them to push each other. Carrie has been head and shoulders above the everyone [on the team] since she's been here."
Braun, meanwhile, is truly happy for her friend's success. The pair hung around together, laughing and joking, after Krebs' victory in the county meet. There is only happiness in Braun's voice when she talks about Krebs.
"I knew she was going to beat me sooner or later," said Braun. "The couple of meets before the CMC meet, she had been able to stay with me for a while. But I pulled away from her in the last mile."
Now it's Krebs who's been pulling away. With the strong performances and newly found planning comes confidence and the belief that she can really make a difference.
Krebs said she now understands the game a little bit better. Being a 1,600 runner in outdoor track means she can go out fast in cross country races, but now she has a better handle on exactly how to pace herself.
In other words, a little planning goes a long way.
"Now I know that this is what I do in the races, and I just think this is how I run," said Krebs. "It's still kind of hard to believe. I'm excited, and I just want to do the best I can."