BLOOMINGTON — Despite some weighty expectations and the sweltering heat at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex, Waverly Neer kept her cool Saturday.
Even with temperatures running in the mid-90s, the Culver Girls Academy star managed to break a pair of state records in the 1600- and the 3200-meter runs at the 38th Annual Girls Track and Field State Finals, clocking a 4:43.46 stop in the 1600 meters to shatter the old record by nearly six seconds before setting a new standard in the 3200 in 10:20.66 an hour and a half later.
Neer got a little zen-like advice from head CGA track and cross country coach Michael Chastain leading up to the races.
“It really was miserable,” said Chastain. “We talked about the weather, that the weather is going to be what it is; there’s nothing we can do about it. We will keep you as cool as possible, and you need to think cool and not even worry about it. If you start dwelling on that, that’s going to hinder your performance.”
“’Think cool’ is a phrase that Coach Chastain has come up with. He’s kind of become famous for it; I think he should get a copyright,” said Neer with a laugh. “He really gets me as an athlete, he really understands how I think, and before I went to the staging area in the 1600, he said ‘There are going to be people talking about how it’s too hot to race, its too hot to post fast times, it’s going to be too hot to post records. That doesn’t matter. In your mind, you have to think cool. Don’t let the weather affect you or dictate your attitude towards this race. Keep your mind even and accept what the weather is, and regardless of what it is, know what your goals are and achieve them.’”
In addition to “thinking cool”, Neer kept fresh in between races in an air-conditioned van, but the heat started to take a toll nonetheless around the fifth lap of the 3200 race. As the suffocating temperature and her previous record-setting performance in the 1600 began catching up with her, Neer said she could feel former U.S. Olympian Amy Yoder’s record slipping away from her.
“The heat had definitely taken a toll on my body and sapped my energy. With each lap, I could feel the record slowly slipping away from me as I got more and more tired from the previous race and the previous mile, but I just tried to remind myself of the goals I had set for the season and all the tough workouts and all the people that had been behind me and supported me,” she said.
While the muggy conditions may have made Saturday’s races especially unpleasant, Neer says they may also have been a bit of a blessing in disguise.
“Looking back, I’m glad the weather was so extreme and terrible because people can’t just say ‘She had great weather, and that’s why she broke those records,’” she said. “I was able to break the records in the most extreme conditions, and I think that’s a testament to all the hard work and determination I put into those two races.”
Neer’s record-breaking runs at the state finals were the fifth and sixth records she’s set in this year’s state series after breaking meet records in both events at the Rochester Sectional and the Bremen Regional. Her prodigious state series came on the heels of a national 5K record-setting performance at the 2011 New Balance Indoor Nationals at the New York City Armory on March 10, another standard-setting run in the 1600 at the Goshen Relays — the first of two records Neer broke this spring that were previously held by 2008 Olympian Yoder — and a third-place finish in the 3,000 meters at the elite Penn Relays.
Neer also captured the 2010 IHSAA Girls State Cross Country title in the second-closest finish in the meet’s 30-year history, nosing out Bloomington South’s Nicole Lucas by .7 of a second with an 18:17.5 time for a clean sweep of championships in that state series. She set a new Culver Girls Academy Regional record with a 17:53.9 on her home course before running an identical time at an even more challenging New Prairie course to set a new semistate standard there in October.
Saturday’s state track meet made for a sweet finish to a historic year for Neer at the end of what was for her a sometimes disappointing high school career.
“There have been some highs and lows to my high school career, especially between my sophomore and my junior years,” said Neer. “Reflecting back, I think there’s a plan for you, and you just have to keep your head up because there are better things to come. I honestly cannot think of a better way to finish out my high school career than this past track and cross country season.
“It’s the sweetest ending I could ask for.”
The Columbia signee isn’t finished yet, either, with USATF outdoor national meets scheduled at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina June 16-18 and in Tracktown, USA at the US Junior Nationals at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon on June 22-26.