After record-breaking regular and postseason performances, four WAHS girls indoor track standouts caught a train to New York City to compete in the 2017 New Balance Nationals Indoor track meet March 10-12. The competition featured more than 3,600 high school athletes from 40 states vying for All-American honors and championship medals in 46 different events.
For Zoe Clay, Julia Berg, Averi Witt and Faith Reid, calling the trip a groundbreaking experience would be a radical understatement. Due to the event’s size, the schedule was hectic, but that was counteracted by a sense of cultural awe. “Running at nationals was kind of stressful, but going to the city was really fun,” said Clay.
After arriving at the enormous Armory track center in upper Manhattan, the girls hit the town. While in the Big Apple, they visited Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, checked out Times Square, toured Liberty Park, went to Rockefeller Center, where they pondered night views of the city from the 70-floor facility’s Top of the Rock observatory, completed warm-up exercises along the Hudson River overlooking the George Washington Bridge and navigated the city via subway. “It was pretty overwhelming at first, but then we just got used to it,” said Clay. “People-watching on the subway was definitely the best.” Berg said she loved the freedom of being able to easily get where you wanted to go when you wanted to go there—all minus a car. Coach Cherie Witt accompanied the girls on their adventure.
On the track, the WAHS runners were all business. They were entered in the Championship Distance Medley, the Emerging Elite Mile, and the Championship four-by-800-meter relay. “As they watched the first of three heats in the distance medley go out blazing fast, I could tell they were all thinking,” said Witt. “‘What have we gotten ourselves into?’ But once their own race went off, it was clear that we were right where we belonged—in the fast heat at the most important high school track meet in the country.”
Averi Witt took it out smart, biding her time at the back of the pack before turning on the afterburners and bringing the team up to sixth place at the hand-off with a time of 3:39.0 for the opening 1,200 meters. Next, Reid finished the 400-meter segment with a solid time of 61.56 seconds to keep the team close to the leaders. Then Berg ran a personal best time of 2:19.81 in the 800 meter stretch and was followed by Clay, who also finished with a personal indoor record of 5:04.48 in the final 1,600-meter leg. “Our total team time was 12:04.84, which was easily an indoor school record, and beats our outdoor school record by 10 seconds!” said Witt. With the performance, the girls placed 11 out of 46 teams competing in the event.
The next day Averi Witt competed in the Elite Mile. Running in the first of three heats, her goal was to break the WAHS 1,600-meter record. “By the midpoint Averi had taken the lead, which she held for most of the second half,” said coach Witt. “Unfortunately, she was out kicked on the final lap.” Even so, Averi managed to run a 5:00.18 mile which, when adjusted to reflect 1,600 meters (which is slightly shorter than the mile event), was 4:58.44. “That means she broke [WAHS’s] old 1,600 record set by Annie Taylor by almost 3 seconds,” said Coach Witt. “She managed to place seventh out of the 37 girls entered in that event.”
Three hours later the team ran the four-by-800-meter relay. Despite a jumbled first handoff, the girls clocked in with a time of 9:29.4, which bested the school and state record-setting effort they’d logged just a few weeks before. “We placed twentieth out of 31 teams in that competition. The time marked the third school record we’d set at the meet,” said coach Witt.
The girls described the experience as a profound capper for the season and, to some degree, the schoolyear. “It was really cool to not only break our records, but to get to witness so many other people breaking national records as well,” said Clay.
“These girls have put in so much hard work to get to this level,” said Coach Witt, “and it’s awesome that they ended the season on top of their game at the biggest indoor venue in the country. They had never run at a meet quite like this, yet that didn’t stop them from performing their very best. These four are such amazing competitors.”