Northwest’s Katherine Chavez crossed the tape at the University Interscholastic League’s state meet in the Class 5A race last November in 11 minutes and 47 seconds.
Her 17th-place finish made her the flag bearer for a fast freshman class throughout Wise County.
”It exceeded all my expectations,” Chavez said. “I’m looking forward to this year.”
Fellow Class of 2015 members Nicole Neighbors and Nancy Torres turned in the best times for the Class 3A bronze medalists Decatur Lady Eagles.
Also part of the youth movement, Lacey Watkins led the Alvord Lady Bulldogs with a 16th place finish in the Class 2A race with her classmate Clara Breashears, finishing 41st.
Joining those standouts is defending District 14-A champion Kayleigh Miller from Slidell as the fast freshmen try to transition into speedy sophomores and lift their squads to lofty heights.
But as Alvord coach Curtis Enis points out, success is not guaranteed.
“It’s starting all over,” Enis said. “Just because you did good last year, it doesn’t make you successful this year. You’ve got to make the same sacrifices. It’s going to hurt to get back there.”
Plus, gone this year is the naive approach to training where everything is new and exciting. Torres said she used that nervous energy to spur her on.
“Last year, I didn’t know what to expect,” Torres said. “It was fun not knowing what to expect.”
What none of the freshmen expected was the success they found along the way, including winning races while turning in some of the area’s best times. Chavez finished the season with the top time, 11:23, from the regional meet. Going into the district meet last year, freshmen owned five of the top 11 times of the season.
“I was surprised,” Chavez said. “I really didn’t think I’d do that well.”
The success from last year had all the freshmen running more miles and training harder and longer than they ever had. Several followed up trips to regionals and state in cross country with extended track seasons.
Breashears ran the two-mile and mile at regionals in track and said she needed a break when the season ended.
“I had to let it go for a bit,” Breashears said. “I’m starting slow this year from the beginning again.”
Chavez ran the 3,200 at the state meet last spring and also the Congress Avenue Mile. She was on fumes by the end of the year.
“I was excited to get to be there, but I was ready to get it over with,” she said.
Her coach George Lutkenhaus and Park said they were careful with their freshmen last year and tailored workouts to keep them fresh.
“You’ve got to understand that they will wear down,” Park said. “As a rule, no matter how fast they are ,you won’t let them run the miles of the others.”
Park said that will change some this fall as they are a year older and stronger and ready to train more rigorously.
While some of the nervous energy is gone, many of the speedy sophomores say they now have something more valuable to help them every time out – experience.
“We’ll be better,” Neighbors said. “We now know what to do and how to pace ourselves. We know we have to keep going.”
Watkins agreed: “Last year was a big experience for us. We know how to pace ourselves and how to compete.”
With that experience also comes knowledge of how much they can push themselves and when they need to take breaks.
“As freshmen, they want to push themselves and fight through things,” Park said. “As sophomores, they understand if something doesn’t feel right they need to tell us to get it taken care of then.”
One problem Park said he’s seen with runners trying to follow up successful freshman years is trying to do too much the following year.
“They want to be a little better than the previous year, and they put too much and put pressure on themselves,” Park said.
Time will tell later this fall to see if these freshmen can match last year’s success.