CHAMBERLAIN-Watch out South Dakota runners, the defending girls cross-country state champion is getting faster.

Chamberlain's Ella Byers took the girls cross-country scene by storm as a freshman last year. She won every meet she competed in and won the Class A girls cross country state title by more than 20 seconds. Her state meet time of 18 minutes and 41 seconds was also the fastest time throughout all three girls classes in the state.

In 2016, Byers picked up right where she left off.

In Chamberlain's five meets this season, Byers has won the girls individual title at each race and has a top time of 18:23 at the McCook Central Invitational.

"In practice so far this year, she's faster than I've ever seen her," Chamberlain head coach Garry Winter said. "Everything we've done in practice, she's faster than last year."

Winter added Byers ran a two-mile practice on the track and set the school record by six seconds in practice.

"She really works hard over the summer," Winter said. "She trains extremely hard. Every practice we have, she's out to break a record. I'm really impressed with how hard she works."

For Byers, last year's Gatorade South Dakota girls cross-country runner of the year, preparation for the 2016 season was as simple as copying her training schedule from a year ago. In the summer months, Byers said she does a lot hill training.

The only difference in training from last year to this year has been an increase in miles.

"I've done about the same thing that I did last year," Byers said. "Normally on a day, I'll put on my shoes and see how I feel. If I am feeling good, I'll try and go a little bit faster. I just run until I have to stop, I guess."

The sophomore didn't have a set amount of distance or days she runs during the summer months. Whatever her secret for summer training is, it appears to be paying off early the cross-country season.

With last year's success as becoming the girls state cross-country state champion, everyone knows who Byers is at every race Chamberlain competes in.

Byers said she adds "a little bit" more pressure on herself this year, knowing she has a state title to defend.

"I've done better lately about telling myself to do my best," Byers said. "That's what is important. "It's a little more nerve-racking because I don't know how it's going to be if I slow down or not."

Despite the pressure and extra attention, Byers said she hasn't changed her approach to races. She focuses on herself and doesn't worry about the competition.

"I'm running race my and seeing how I feel," Byers said. "If I don't run my best time, that's OK. I know every race and every course is different."

Breaking 18 minutes

Byers best competition this year might be competing against herself. She's won her first four meets by an average of more than 40 seconds.

That leaves Byers to race against her own times rather than being pushed by another competitor and currently hitting a time under 18 minutes in a 5K race is Byers' top opponent.

"The only new goal she has to run under 18 minutes," Winter said. "Nobody in South Dakota is under 18 minutes and she's came within 20 seconds."

Winter added Byers sees results of other runners at other meets around the state and worries about being beat by the person who won a meet she didn't race in.

"But when we get to the meet, that same person is intimidated by Ella," Winter said. "It works both ways."

The success Byers has had in cross-country brought out four junior-high runners out for the sport in Chamberlain. Winter added Byers encouraged the new runners to train with her over the summer and the young runners have "really impressed" the coach.

With four meets left before the region cross-country meet on Oct. 13-which will be held on the Cubs' home course in Oacoma-Byers and the Chamberlain cross-country team are focused on steadily improving.

"A lot of practices are focused on pace work," Winter said. "We want to increase the pace each time they run."

For Byers, chasing back-to-back state championships will come down to working hard.

"I keep doing my coach's workouts exactly like he tells me to," Byers said. "I'm getting my rest, staying healthy and not getting stressed out."