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POSTED January 1, 2013 12:36 a.m.

Harleen Pabla definitely is not running just to run.

After earning her second trip to the CIF State Cross Country Championships, Pabla is putting together a career that supports the fact that The 2012 Bulletin All-Area Female Runner of the Year is running with a purpose.

Pabla was able to expound on her success from a promising sophomore year, returning to the postseason and ushering her Manteca High teammates to the brink of a state berth as a team with a fifth-place overall finish in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III race.

That race may have revealed more about Pabla than her season-long success, as she defied all odds and put together the area’s best finish fighting the undeniable symptoms of a head-cold.

Pabla coughed and choked her way to a 13th place overall finish. It was the best finish by more than a half-minute amongst the area runners and showed a level of commitment and desire that is not always recognized with elite distance runners.

“It was really hard, I honestly didn’t think that I would make it this year,” Pabla said of the section final. “I was sicker than sick for like two weeks and I actually didn’t think that I would perform well. It wasn’t my best, but it was so hard for me I was crying when I was done because I really didn’t think I could do it.”

Pabla was the virtual ring-leader of a crew of Manteca Buffaloes that held their own in every event the group encountered. They captured the program’s first varsity girls title in the Valley Oak League since 1998. Their work on the Willow Hill Course in Folsom was remarkable, yet their best effort still left the group on the outside looking in.

A fact Pabla had a hard time coping with.

“We really wanted to make it to state, that would have been my dream coming true,” Pabla said. “We did really good this season though, it’s just sad to know that we were only a few points away from qualifying.

“I really believe that if we train like this again next year we have a good chance of going.”

Pabla hadn’t tapped into her distance running gene as a freshman, making her back-to-back trips to the state meet even more impressive. Under the tutelage and guidance of cross-country guru and coach Rick Cuevas, Pabla has improved dramatically in each of her first two seasons and has her sights set firmly on landing a third trip back.

“It’s really important to me because I was actually the 10th (final qualifier) one this year,” Pabla said. “That just means I have to try harder next year. Everybody is already expecting me to do it, so I have to do it for them as well as for myself. My mom saw on the marquee where I was runner of the year and she said how proud she was of me.

“I feel like I worked hard and I made my family and my school proud.”

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