EUGENE, Ore. — Waverly Neer was never known for a tremendous kick during her high school athletic career.
But she sure picked the right time to come up with one.
Neer, a recent Culver Girls Academy graduate, outsprinted Kayla Beattie of Woodstock, Ill., in a dramatic homestretch drive to win the women’s 3,000-meter run Saturday night at the U.S. Outdoor Junior Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Her winning time — 9 minutes, 16.23 seconds — is equivalent to running two miles in less than 10 minutes.
Beattie was just a step behind at 9:16.39.
“I’m extremely happy, ecstatic even,” said Neer of her first outdoor national championship. “It was a great way to top off my high school career. All I was thinking the whole race was, ‘I can do this, I can do this.’”
Held in conjunction with the U.S. senior championships — where Plymouth graduate Morgan Uceny won the women’s 1500 earlier in the day — the Outdoor junior meet highlights up-and-coming athletes, age 19-and-under, America’s future Olympic hopefuls.
Neer, the Indiana high school state champ in the 1600 and 3200-meter runs, and Beattie, the Illinois state champ in those same events, squared off just a week earlier at the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina. In that two-mile race, Neer finished fourth, and
Beattie was one of the three girls who beat her.
It wasn’t going to happen again. Neer stuck to Beattie like glue throughout Saturday night’s race, and the two separated themselves from the rest of the field with two laps to go.
A long, back-and-forth grind ensued, with Neer repeatedly attempting to take the lead and Beattie repeatedly fighting her off.
“Of course, we were both really tired, but I just remembered all the 200s I’ve been doing, and the fast 100 strides, and I tried to draw upon that and finish well,” said Neer.
As they came off the final turn, Neer moved outside and the pair sprinted down the homestretch, with Neer edging ahead — barely — at the end.
“Waverly can close pretty fast, but she hasn’t been a kicker,” said Culver Academies coach Mike Chastain. “She hasn’t been in a position where she needed to do that very often.
“Closing speed isn’t necessarily about leg speed. It’s about how strong you are at the end,” added Chastain. “Waverly’s speed has improved as she improved her strength and power this season.”
Asked about Neer’s comment regarding the 200s and 100s, Chastain chuckled. “Yeah, we made her do a lot of those at the end of hard workouts,” he said.
With her victory, Neer qualified to represent the U.S. at the Pan American Junior Championships later this summer. However, she is passing up the opportunity.
“I won’t be attending the Pan-American’s,” Neer stated. “I have a bit of a break, then I will attend Columbia University in the fall.”