NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — Natalie Bierbaum is surprising herself.

She really didn’t know what to expect in her first year of high school cross country.

“I was cross training a lot. I was hoping to be around mid-18’s (minutes),” Bierbaum said. “My first race was under 17:30. I was very happy.”

Not only is the freshman happy with her times, she’s happy with her results. She’s winning races for U-High and has emerged as the team’s fastest runner.

But she admits she’s not doing it alone. She’s being pushed by sophomore teammate Zoe Carter.

“Whoever is in front, we chase each other and push each other to win,” said Bierbaum.

Case in point, at the East Peoria Invitational on Sept. 24, Bierbaum finished first and Carter second. Then a week later at the Peoria High invitational, Carter won the race and Bierbaum was runner-up.

“It feels great having a great duo like that. She helps me out. I can keep my eye on her the entire time,” said Carter. “She helps push me and knowing I’m behind helps push her.”

The two lead the Pioneers into the postseason with regionals starting Saturday. And they hope they’ll be pushing each other at Detweiller Park at next month’s state meet in Peoria.

“The goal is Top 10 at state,” Carter said. “We’re both trying to go for the school record (time). We’ll see who gets that.”