Amanda Swaak’s first two years running cross-country at Madison didn’t go according to plan.

She felt she possessed the potential to be among the area’s best runners and to qualify for the state meet, but two years into her high school career, she had yet to realize those goals.

On Saturday at the Octoberfest Invitational, Swaak had her breakthrough run. The junior won her first major title with a time of 18 minutes, 43 seconds on the 3.1-mile course at Great Meadows in The Plains.

It was a big day for Madison as fellow Warhawks runner Matthew Calem won the varsity A boys’ race with a time of 15:49, four seconds ahead of Loudoun Valley sophomore Andrew Hunter. Potomac School senior Hale Ross placed third in 15:59. Chantilly’s girls and Battlefield’s boys won the team events.

A year ago, Swaak ran 19:47 at the Great Meadows course. Her desire to improve came after a showing at last year’s outdoor track and field region championship disappointed her.

Over the summer, Swaak ran 250 miles, more than any other Madison teammate — girl or boy — and added core strength training to her workout routine. The only other invitational she’s participated in this season was the Monroe Parker Invitational, where she finished fourth.

“Amanda’s a great runner,” Calem, a senior, said. “She always does incredibly well in the workouts. It’s great to see her having some success on the races as well. It’s a power team, with us finishing first. It’s pretty awesome.”

A year ago, Madison placed both Calem and Laura Sullivan first at the Liberty District championships, which features eight schools. A sweep at the Octoberfest Invitational, with 63 schools participating, is a bit more impressive.

Though he’s seen the potential in Swaak to run a race like she did Saturday, Madison Coach Craig Chasse admitted he was surprised to see her finish first. Megan Wilson (18:55) of Sidwell Friends took second in the girls’ race.

“We knew she would be in the top few,” Chasse said. “We didn’t know she would win with a gap like that.”

Swaak, who said she’s not typically a fast runner, wanted to get off to a quick start on a Great Meadows course that features a downhill stretch for the first half-mile. Strategically, it’s a race where runners want to begin conservatively, due to the risk of tiring out once the course becomes more challenging.

Swaak, however, ran her first mile in the 5:30 range and paced herself to stay ahead of her competition.

“I knew I was better than last year but I didn’t know I could do this,” Swaak said. “I never would have imagined coming in first at an invitational like this. It’s kind of a big shock for me.”