Alejandra Lopez won her first district title last week. (Photo by Andre Panse)
Alejandra Lopez won her first district title last week. (Photo by Andre Panse)

In all her achievements in distance running, a state championship has eluded Alejandra Lopez.

In each of her first three years, the Kennedy senior has finished in the top 10 of the state cross country meet and in both distance races at the state track meet. In the 2A track meet last spring, she was runner-up in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters.

So Saturday’s 3A/2A/1A cross country meet at Lane Community College represents an opportunity for a breakthrough for Lopez, who enters with the No. 3 time in the classification. Her best of 19 minutes, 47.6 seconds ranks her behind Oregon Episcopal senior Stephanie Finley (18:39.6) and Catlin Gabel junior Lila Fenner (18:47.0).

“I don’t like people to beat me,” said Lopez, who placed eighth in the state meet as a freshman and fifth the last two years. “If there are more people I know there, more competition, I’ll have more adrenaline and run faster.”

Lopez won the Special District 2 meet by 17 seconds last week, her first district title. It is the seventh consecutive year a Kennedy runner has won the meet, following Lauren Stokley (2012-13) and Kailyn Cantu (2014-17), who now runs at Western Oregon.

“It has been a great influence on her because she ran with Kailyn for three years,” coach Steve Ritchie said.

Ritchie said that Lopez “does a really good job of pacing herself, even when she’s ahead of the competition. And when there’s someone challenging her, she knows when to pick it up. It’s a great skill she has.”

It’s an instinctive feel, according to Lopez.

“I get out in front and I kind of lose track,” she said. “It’s like there’s a song playing in my head, and then all of a sudden I start to focus and know when to pick it up.”