NORTHFIELD — Abbey Nechanicky's constant smile brightened the finish line on an overcast, chilly Saturday morning in Northfield. The Wayzata senior won the Class 3A girls' cross-country state title with a time of 16 minutes, 47.7 seconds.

"She's a happy leader, and that smile is by choice," Wayzata coach Addy Hallen said.

Nechanicky, ranked fourth in the nation by, is the fourth Minnesota girl to break 17 minutes in a 5,000-meter race. Now she has done it four times, in her past four races.

Teegan Anderson, Nechanicky's classmate, took ninth and marveled at Nechanicky's championship efforts.

"You just look at her and you're like, 'Wow, I wish I could be like that,' " Anderson said.

For her final high school race, Nechanicky said she just wanted to have fun.

"It's my last cross-country race on Minnesota soil, so I wanted to leave my mark and be with my team," she said.

Wayzata took the team title (39 points), followed by Minnetonka (89) and Mounds View (127). Hopkins sophomore Sydney Drevlow finished as runner-up for the second consecutive year with a time of 17:39.8. Forest Lake sophomore Norah Hushagen came in third at 17:48.6.

Nechanicky hadn't run in the state meet since her freshman year, because there was no championship event in 2020 and most of her 2021 season was wiped out by injury. She was glad to be back. Being away from running last season made Nechanicky realize just how special the sport is to her.

"Now I just can't stop smiling," Nechanicky said. "I'm just so grateful."

No matter how much Nechanicky is hurting or pushing herself during a race, she always has that smile. It's something she learned, Hallen said, from a future University of Colorado teammate and past two-time Class 2A Minnesota state champion, Emily Covert. Hallen said Nechanicky told her Friday, " 'Emily used to run with a smile on her face, and when I was in eighth grade I wondered how she could do it. And now I get it.'

"I think it's just pure joy."