Haley Yost didn't mind how she finished at the Colonial League meet last year, but it was the way she finished at the District 11 Class AAA meet that struck a nerve.

Yost followed a fifth-place finish in her first-ever league meet with a 17th place finish at districts, just one spot away from qualifying for the PIAA State championship meet.

Yost used that disappointment as a motivational tool for this season.

"Last year was definitely good for me with what happened because it made me want it that much more," the Northwestern sophomore said. "It made me want to work that much harder.

"It helped me realize that you just can't show up on the first day of the season and expect to do well throughout the course of the season, especially when it comes time for the postseason."

Each time she went out for a run during the offseason and regular season. Northwestern coach Chris Stitzel saw the desire Yost had built from her near miss,

"She had it in the back of her mind when she started the season this year that last year she just missed out on States," Stitzel said. "One of her goals was to simply train harder than she had the year before. She was definitely shooting to get back to the postseason and go farther than she did.

"If we didn't make it as a team, she wanted to go to States individually."

A good offseason, as well as an intense regular season training regimen, soon led to brighter things for the talented runner during the course of her sophomore season. Her performances, as well as her drive and strong work ethic, helped Yost capture this year's TIMES NEWS Girls' Cross Country Athlete of the Year title.

After a slow start because of allergy and respiratory issues, Yost brushed aside her medical distractions and made her way to the front of the Tiger pack.

During the first four meets of the regular season, she recorded a seventh, a 10th and two fifth place finishes.

During the last league meet at Pen Argyl this past October, Yost had an outstanding performance earning a first-place finish in the meet. This helped the Tigers finish off an undefeated 26-0 regular season and capture the Colonial League title.

Yost continued her stellar performance as she ran a personal best time of 19:53.50 at leagues, and claimed the silver medal, finishing behind only defending girls' champ, Elizabeth Chikotas of Saucon Valley.

While earning a silver medal at leagues was a highlight to her running career, it wasn't her most coveted medal. Yost said it was her medal from Districts that carried the most meaning.

Yost improved dramatically on last year's heartbreaking experience at Districts by placing fifth and earning a spot at the PIAA State Championships in Hershey.

Making her District performance more memorable was the fact that Yost got outstanding support from her teammates as Northwestern earned a team silver medal and a place at the State meet as well.

Although the trip wasn't the best showing for Yost who finished 144th of 285 runners or her team, it was a learning experience that will help prepare her during her junior season next year.

"I think that it shows that all of us know what we want," Yost said. "For now and for years to come, we just won't stop giving our all. We keep running. We keep trying hard. We don't want to leave the name of Northwestern go bad when it comes to the sport of cross-country.

"We want people to know that we're not going to slow down even if we lose people to graduation. We're just going to come back even harder the next year."

Yost was glad to continue the recent trend of Northwestern girls capturing the TIMES NEWS Cross Country Athlete of the Year awards. Since the inception of the award in 1991, Tiger runners have received the honor seven times. Yost joins recent graduate Lindsay Kerr (2008, 2009) and current teammate Emma Kemmerer (2010) as part of a four-year run by Northwestern athletes.

With two more years left in her high school cross country career, Yost might not be finished yet.

"She was training hard early in the season and all of a sudden it just clicked half way through the year," Stitzel said. "She knew what her goal was. She knew she wasn't going to attain her goals without some hard work. Her work ethic speaks for itself. All the hard work she did really paid off for her this year.

"She put in the extra mile and just trained hard to get where she wanted to be."