Her coach told her it was the most likely spot, and Murphy initially accepted it as probable.
But as she moved into third at the GISA Class AAA state meet, the Augusta Prep runner was thinking first place.
“I knew that it was like, ‘Hey, if I can win this, it would be really awesome,’ ” Murphy said. “So I just tried to fight through the pain and try to run.”
Murphy eventually moved to first, and she – and her team – won the state title for the second year in a row. With her 19:47.93 at the state meet, Murphy is The Augusta Chronicle’s cross country girls runner of the year.
It was a triumph despite surgery on her shoulder, which disrupts the running motion.
The shoulder issue meant Murphy, who runs with members of the boys team for training purposes, ran only half or a third of the summer mileage coach Tom Holodak would have wanted.
Though the mileage base wasn’t as big as Murphy or her coach desired, Murphy overcame the rough start of the season.
“She’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached in my career,” Holodak said.
Murphy, a junior, started running competitively in seventh grade, but her wins started a year earlier when she accumulated the most mileage out of all the girls in gym class.
She then finished second at the state meet in both eighth and ninth grade before winning back-to-back titles the past two seasons.
But this year’s championship meant more because it was more of a surprise.
After she caught the third-place runner about halfway through, the No. 3 finish wasn’t the target or the expectation anymore.
She said she remembers going to first with about a mile left. Though some leaders have a tendency to slow down once the top spot is taken, Murphy tries to go even faster.
No one caught her, and she clocked in at more than 22 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion,” said Holodak, using former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich’s famous quote. “That’s the best way to sum it up.”