Peabody senior Catarina Rocha didn’t follow a single runner into the chutes during the MIAA season, as she usually strolled in with a padded finish.
On Saturday in San Diego, at her third consecutive Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, the tables turned. Anna Rohrer, a sophomore from Mishawaka, Ind., finished the 5K race in 17:24.8, with Rocha second in 17:29.0.
But it took some work to get there for both. Rohrer was tripped up and hit the ground in the first 400 meters, making her move at the 2-mile mark. Rocha, after spending most of the race in fourth place, needed a hard kick the last 200 meters.
In last year’s championship, Rocha took seventh place after finishing 31st as a sophomore. But for Rocha, it’s not about the final place, it’s about making it to San Diego year after year.
“You know, you’re top 40 in the country and no one can take that away from you,” said the two-time Globe Division 1 cross-country runner of the year.
She earned her invitation to this year’s race after leading the pack in the Northeast Regional on Nov. 24. This came after she ran an undefeated Northeastern Conference season that included her second consecutive state title.
Rocha said she trained and planned for her final high school cross-country meet as if it was any other race.
“Just doing the same thing I do every race and be confident and run it like any other race,” she said.
Even though she had run the Balboa Park course twice before, she acknowledged it was the hardest race of the season because of the competition.
“I knew everyone was really good,” Rocha said. “I knew going into it runners were going to be around and to stay with them because it’d help me push through.”
In the boys’ race, St. John’s of Shrewsbury senior Jonathan Green repeated his 2011 performance — in almost the same time. The state Division 1 champion finished 22d with a time of 15:45.2. In 2011, he finished in 15:45.4.
Edward Cheserek of Newark also repeated, winning the race in 14:59.
Green, who verbally committed to Georgetown University to run cross-country and track, said he had mixed emotions about the season’s end.
“I’ve been doing this the last three years, it’s been a big part of my life,’’ Green said. “But I’m excited for new challenges.”