Even when former Chiles track star Justin Cromartie was mowing down opponents in the 110 and 300 hurdles last year, and even when current senior Avery Bartlett was winning 800-meter races and scoring in many other events, the Timberwolves’ boys track team slid under the radar.
And then it won the 2014 FHSAA Class 3A state title by three points over Miami Northwestern on the strength of Cromartie and Bartlett’s impressive state performances.
Since 110 hurdle state champion Cromartie graduated and Bartlett’s body is slowly recovering to the point of being a challenger in the final four weeks of the season, Chiles track coach Scott Gowan isn’t expecting last year’s successes to be easily replicated.
“The next year is always different. You start over brand new,” Gowan said.
“It’s nice we were able to have a great finish last year and were able to win a state title, but this year is a new year and last year doesn’t really count. We started well at our meet, we ran well at Bolles and won that. We’re not at 100 percent, but we’re getting back there. We have time at the end to do that and big meets coming up.”
Chiles was basically an also-ran at this past weekend’s FSU Relays as the Timberwolves’ 4×800 team didn’t run and Gowan leaned on his distance depth in light of Bartlett’s absence. But senior Tyson Murray ran a 3200 in 9:23 that was just two seconds off a Chiles school record, and several others ran well.
“We had a good day (Friday) and a good day (Saturday),” Gowan said. “Everything is coming along right on schedule, but the key is everyone needs to be healthy. We’ve had some sickness. We’ve had terrible weather, as everyone else had, to train in this year. It’s not been the greatest season to train. But we’ve had some bright spots.”
The bright spots extended over to the girls team where Chiles junior Emma Tucker— last fall’s All-Big Bend Runner of the Year for girls cross country after an out-of-nowhere third-place state finish— ran her first two-mile race ever in high school in the slower heat of the 3200 invitational. She finished eighth in 11:01.
“It was her first one so we put her in the slower one, but if she’d been in the faster one she’d have fit in nicely and probably finished third or fourth and finished six or eight seconds faster,” Gowan said.
“She was where she needed to be in her first attempt. She finished strong in cross country and everyone knows who she is now. She loves the 800, but I think the 1600 and 3200 are better fits for her. But she’s had a very good track season.”
Bartlett, the defending 800 state champion, is working back to become the horse Chiles’ boys need to make another run to the top of the podium. The Timberwolves host Saturday’s 15th annual Capital City Classic meet before the district, region and state meets run consecutively.
“Last year he had to run four races at the state meet and he may have to do it again this year,” Gowan said.
“I know what it did to him last year and how much it was taken out of him. So believe me, he’s not over-raced and hopefully the plan works.”
Whether the boys can win a state title again, which Gowan views as being possible with better distance depth even without Cromartie’s hurdle points, or the girls make a little noise of their own, Chiles is confident that it has navigated this year’s doldrums in time to unfurl its sails for the final dash to further program prominence.
“Emma ran great, Alexandra Wallace ran her best, Ty Murray just missed the school record, Allan Hernandez ran his best and then we had some young men run (in the 1600 and 3200 consolation) and run their best as well,” Gowan said. “Our 4×400 only ran 3:36, but no one knows how young we are. That was a lot of ninth and tenth graders. So, all in all, great meet and a great weekend. We just need some time to put all the pieces together.”