On the final lap's first turn, Gerlach sat in fourth. On the back stretch of that lap, she pulled into third. It wasn't until the final turn that she revved it up again to prevail over Lake Braddock's Hannah Christen (Burke, Va.) by .05 seconds.
Her time is the fastest by a Pennsylvania girl in the event this season. Gerlach was seeded ninth in a field of 25 runners.
"I know it has to come down to guts," Gerlach said after the race. "In my training, I really focus on the last part of my workout to really go hard, and I think that's what really helps me in these races, to kick like that."
The finish improved on Gerlach's fourth-place showing in last year's event at the carnival, though she clocked in more than two seconds slower than her personal record of 9:40.42 registered in that race.
"I was seeded ninth, so it's great, I think, to do it like that," the Penn State-bound runner said. "I don't think I had a bad race, just think I need to train some more."
Sophie Chase, also of Lake Braddock, won the race in 9:37.86. North Penn's Meghan McGovern placed fifth in 9:46.30.
Gerlach led for a portion of the race, but was overtaken by Chase shortly before hitting the 1,600-meter mark.
"The pace was really slow in the beginning, and that's why I took [the lead], but right as Sophie went by me, I was like, 'I don't have it,' but still focused on the next girls," Gerlach said.
"I could tell who was behind me. When they started coming, it was like your last time in high school at Penn Relays, really try to do something. I think coming in second was great."
The race featured runners from eight states and one from Canada, on a day when attendance reached 23,075.
"Just to make it here is amazing. The experience is amazing," Gerlach said. "It's just amazing to look around, all these people, everyone's cheering for you. I feel like this is more than nationals. This is an amazing race."
Survive and advance. In relay action, three area girls' teams qualified for Friday's 4x800 Championship of America.
Strath Haven, Downingtown East, and West Chester Henderson advanced from the preliminary field of 72 to the 12-team final. Strath Haven's time of 9:15.92 was good for fifth overall. East (9:19.07) and Henderson (9:20.97) were eighth and 11th, respectively. Jamaica's Edwin Allen, the event's defending champion, turned in the prelims' top time, 8:58.51.
Allie Wilson, a sophomore, and senior Hannah Grossman are holdovers from the Strath Haven quartet that placed fourth in the championship race at last year's carnival. They team this year with junior Megan O'Dell and sophomore Kristen Miller.
Strath Haven led entering the final 400 meters of its heat before Wilson, who is battling a head cold and had not trained for several days, fell into third on the back stretch of the final lap.
"Our goal is to get top-five, which is medals," Strath Haven coach Bill Coren said. "And we're going to have to run well to be top-five."
Contact Evan Burgos at firstname.lastname@example.org.