The Internet Home of Track & Field

 True cross country fans know our sport is more of a team event than most outsiders realize, yet there are plenty of individual standouts as well.  So, while honoring the tradition we have started at DyeStat with Interval Sessions, which introduced you to the top individuals in both track and XC, we launch Fall 2009 with "Star Squad Spotlight," giving you a chance to get to know not just the top individual runners in the country, but also the best teams.

 squad | chiles fl girls
by SteveU, DyeStat Senior Editor

Getting to the top is hard.  Staying at the top – and climbing a new mountain – can be even harder.

In 11 fast years at the new Chiles HS in Tallahassee FL, Coach Scott Gowan has taken the boys and girls XC programs to amazing heights.  His boys were SE#1 and US#17 in 2003 – the pre-NXN days – and have five times been 1st or 2nd at 3A state.  His girls, however, have been the big story the past two years.  Before 2008, they had three 2nds and two other top-6 finishes at state, including runner-up spots in 2006 and 2007.

The Lady Timberwolves realized they needed to work harder to make the next step, and in 2008 did so in mind-boggling fashion as the extra effort and some fast freshman resulted in an historically dominant victory at Little Everglades.  The girls also made their first NXN Southeast appearance, finishing a respectable 7th.

Now in 2009, the challenges are greater yet.  Chiles has been unbeaten, and hopes to repeat their 3A crown this weekend, but has done so despite losing nearly half their top seven.  If they accomplish that goal, the US#23/SE#2 Lady T-Wolves will go to Cary (the “new mountain”) with hopes of improving on 2008 and maybe – maybe – getting to Portland.

On the eve of their state title defense, DyeStat Senior Editor SteveU catches up with Coach Gowan and varsity standouts Lily Williams and Kendall Andrews to get the scoop from the Florida Panhandle.

Your squad has been dominant through the Florida season for a second straight year.  What have been the highlights so far and the key challenges the team has overcome?

Lily Williams: My personal favorite highlight has been winning the Pre-State Invitational. It was a really big meet and there was a lot of pressure for us to prove that we were still as good as last year. It was fun and super exciting to race against Winter Park, and win, because they are great competitors. Challenges-wise, we have had a few injuries that have hurt our performance. Two of our top 7 from last year have been hurt all season and we don't have as much depth as last year. We have had to overcome that by working extra hard to compensate. Also, we lost one of our key runners about three-fourths of the way through the season, so that has been a big blow, but we have been able to pull together and realize how important this is and learn how we can't stop for anything.

Coach Gowan: Each year we try to travel and compete in some of the top meets in Florida and Georgia, including a great meet here in Tallahassee that FSU hosts.  We defeated a very good field at Pre-State, which included the #1 ranked teams in Florida from Class 1A, 2A and 4A.  In our program, we never really look at a regular season meet and rest up a whole lot and say we need to try and win the meet.  But, for this meet, I wanted the girls to understand that the best teams would be there and it was a chance to compete on the state meet course.  Other highlights would be winning both the District and Region meets for the seventh straight year.

The challenges we've had to overcome are probably like most other teams in that we have had a few athletes get injured.  Our #6 and #7 runners from last season's state title team have both been injured for most of the season.  They ran 19:47 and 19:50 at state, and I was expecting both of them to contend for the top 25 at this year's meet.  We had to replace them with less experienced runners and lost some depth we thought we would have at the beginning of the season.  The bright side is that it has helped our younger girls gain some valuable experience of running varsity that they would not have gotten until next year.

Coach, can you talk about the history of the cross-country programs here at Chiles?  Particularly the girls and since you became coach?  What were some of the biggest factors that went into the progression of the program from 6th in the state in 2004 to 1st last year?

Coach Gowan: I left Port St. Joe High School, another school in the Florida Panhandle, after being there for 13 years and took the Chiles job when the school opened in 1999.  For the past 11 years at Chiles, I have been the head coach of both the boys and girls cross country and track and field programs.  Chiles is an outstanding school with a fine academic reputation and I am very proud to say that most of our cross country athletes are honor roll students.

As for success, both the girls and boys programs have worked very hard during my years here and have come to be ranked among the top programs in Florida.  Our boys were state champs in 2003, 2005 and 2006 and were state runner-ups in 2002 and 2007.  The 2003 boys averaged 15:53 and had five among the top 19 at state.  They were ranked #1 in the Southeast and #17 in the U.S. by The Harrier.  This was the year before NXN and, if NXN would have been around, we would have been selected to make the trip to Portland.

As for the girls, they were state runner-ups in 2003, 2006, and 2007.  Last season they got over the hump and won their first-ever state title – which was also the school’s first in any girls sport.  Our girls are now in a select group of 5-6 schools in Florida that are good year in and year out.  We are the new kids on the block, as a result of being a relatively new school, and we are trying to develop a tradition of having great teams each year like the top programs.

As far as us progressing and getting better, the athletes now know how hard they must be willing to work if they are going have a chance to compete for a state title.  Also, the administration and the parents have been very supportive of our program and have helped me a great deal.  We could not have accomplished as much as we have the past several years without them..

Kendall, you’ve been in this program a few years and seen a lot of the growth.  From your perspective, how has the team grown and developed since you’ve been here?

Kendall Andrews: We have always focused on hard work.  When we were state runner-ups in 2007, we were very disappointed, and everyone knew we were going to do what was necessary to win the title.  Last year, when Lily Williams and Carly Thomas showed up as freshmen, they were breaking 19, and they showed the veterans that running at that level was not impossible.  It showed us we were capable of much more.  They really helped increase the expectations of everyone.  Then we went to NXN regionals and that showed us there was even more room to improve because there is an even bigger picture than Florida.

Coach, what do you feel are some of the philosophies of your training plan and overall program that have been most integral to the success you’ve had?  This could include anything from mileage, key workouts throughout the season, off-season training, health and nutrition practices, and so on?

Coach Gowan: First, you have to run year-round if you expect to be a good distance runner.  After cross, we take 1-2 weeks off and rest before we start our winter training and buildup for track.  We start our base phase again, which includes circuits once a week in which they go through a series of stations then run an 800 at the end.  We do these because they give you strength and make it hard for you to quit or give up during a race.  I know the benefits of the circuits and really love them.  The team, on the other hand, is unanimous in that they hate them.  To gauge our progress during the winter, we do a 5-mile time trial the third Saturday in January, a 2.5-mile time trial three weeks later, and a 1200-meter time trial one week before our first track meet in March.

We have four phases in our cross country training, beginning in early June (after 1-2 break after track) and ending the third weekend of November at the state meet.  The base phase is a typical mileage buildup.  The second phase is lactate threshold training, the third phase is VO2 Max training, and the fourth and shortest of all the phases is the peaking phase.  We have 5-6 training sites that we drive to on different days that have soft surfaces and we never have to do any of our training on pavement.  Also, we have the luxury of running on flat land or hills at all of our training sites.

During the summer, we use a 3-1 routine (3 weeks increasing distance, 1 week coming down and lowering mileage) throughout our base-building phase, using the fourth week as a chance to recover before we add more mileage the following week.  Something we added this summer is that on Tuesdays and Thursdays we went to the pool where we learned all the swim strokes and actually went through a organized swim workout two nights per week.  I really like this and I feel it is a great way to get in a second workout, adding overall conditioning and strength, without beating up the body.

Athletes that come to me as a freshman and have never run before go through a 13-week walk-run program that I got at a clinic that was designed by Jack Daniels.  I found that by doing this program, they suffered fewer injuries and were ready to begin training with the rest of the team when school starts in August.  We've had a few athletes that ended up as All-State and scholarship runners that went through the Daniels walk-run program as freshman.  As for our mileage, it increases each year that the athletes are in our program.

Believe me, they get tired of hearing me talk about rest and nutrition because I constantly stay on them about this.  We encourage our athletes to have their serum ferritin levels checked at least twice a year because I have found that some of our athletes’ iron levels become too low during heavy training and their performance suffers.

Kendall, what are some of the team’s favorite workouts?  Are there any that have kind of become a Chiles tradition, that you either look forward to, or maybe dread if they’re really hard?

Kendall Andrews: I don’t know about “favorites,” but there are definitely some Chiles traditions.  The one that immediately comes to mind is 5 X 7 minutes at 5k race pace.  Another dreaded workout is anything on Sunny Hill Road.  Ask any Chiles alum about Sunny Hill Road and you are bound to get a heavy sigh.  There is one hill that has gained a few nicknames over the years.  Most recently, “The  Beast” and “Icee Hill” (you’re supposed to imagine an Icee at the top).  But we know that the hills give us an advantage, especially over other teams in flat Florida where the only hill is a bridge to the beach.

Last year you had one of the dominant state meet performances in state history.  What did you and the girls that came back learn from that experience last year that they’ve been able to carry over?

Lily Williams: Last year, we learned that winning is fun. Not to sound short or silly, but it truly is. We have carried over that motivation to work hard this season to defend what we won last year. We all want to repeat at state again and show some of our new runners what it is like to be on a state championship team. We also learned from our experience that your team is your family and no matter how good you do individually, if your team doesn't perform well then that isn't fun.

Coach Gowan: According to the cross country historians, our girls 2008 state meet performance was the best ever in Florida since girls began competing in cross country back in 1974. We had five girls place among the top ten (freshman-Lily Williams, 3rd-17:51; freshman-Carly Thomas- 5th-18:20; sophomore-Jodie McGuff, 8th-18:44; senior Kaia Hampton, 9th-18:45 and junior Kendall Andrews, 10th-18:47) and averaged 18:29.

It is not so much as what we learned last year, but what we learned in 2007.  After being runner-up in 2006, and also again in 2007 where we lost by just 13 points, we found out that we were just going to have to turn it up a notch and work a little harder.  We had good teams before, but after being second two years in a row and feeling terrible once again in 2007, the girls were more than willing to put in more work.  After winning it all last year, the girls have worked hard over the winter, in spring track and also the summer to get back to Little Everglades and try to win another state title.

You followed your state title with a 7th at NXN Southeast last year that was “solid,” but not quite at that peak level of state.  With the confidence that I would think the team has for success against your Florida 3A peers, and with your high ranking in the region, is there more anticipation and more focus on NXN this year?  How important is it for the team to earn a berth to Portland now?

Kendall Andrews: Our focus is always on state meet, first and foremost.  We look at the NXN as extra and are encouraged not to think about it until we have taken care of state.  We will take what we get at NXN, and hope to have a better performance than last year.  You never know what will happen with injuries and sickness, so we are focusing on state.   It was great to get the experience of running there last year.  You are clearly running with the best of the best at that meet.

Coach Gowan: Our goal for the girls the last several seasons is to be the top team in 3A first, and then the top team overall in Florida.  If we can accomplish this, then I feel it was a great year. 

As for NXN, the problem for us is that we are competing for the fourth straight week (after district, region, state).  When you combine that with the third overnight trip of the month, as well as the long drive that we make to Cary (625 miles one way), it is a tall task.  Don't get me wrong, qualifying for NXN would be great, but anything that we can accomplish after the state meet is a bonus.  The rankings and everything that Dyestat and Nike do to promote the meet are great.  They give you an idea how you stack up against teams you do not normally run, but unless you face these teams head-to-head, it is difficult to say who the best team in the South is.  But then again, this is why the Nike Southeast Regional is such a great meet.

Last fall at NXN Southeast, we were tired, had a couple of girls who were sick, a little injured and probably out of gas after a great regular season and state meet series.  We found out real quick that unless you are completely healthy, you do not stand much of a chance against Tatnall, Collins Hill and all the great teams from Virginia.  Jodie McGuff, who had been suffering from a back injury for several weeks but was able to gut it out at state (18:44), could barely walk at Nike just one week later and could only manage to run 21:47.  Also, Kendall Andrews was sick at Nike and Lily Williams had her only non top-five finish of the year.  Realistically, we could have not beaten Tatnall and Collins Hill on that day, but I do feel that like we could have finished at least third if we have been healthy.

Finally, if you were to make it to Portland, and meet other teams there from far-away states who asked you, “What is it like to train and compete in Tallahassee, Florida?” what would you say to them?  What are some of the best things and biggest challenges, both in terms of physical conditions and what the running community is like there? 

Lily Williams: Training is Tallahassee is awesome. There are tons of trails, dirt roads and greenways, etc. to train on. I used to get sick of going to some of the places we go to again and again, but I realized that we really have it nice here. I have run in other places around the country and there aren't nearly the multitude of trails that we have here to run on. The running community is great. Everyone in it is totally enthusiastic and supportive of all of the local high school teams. And despite what you have heard about Florida being flat, we run some places where people dread to go because it is so hilly. "Sunny Hill" sounds innocent, but it really isn't. Other than that though, the only problems we ever really have is the occasional thunderstorm or the grass not being mowed enough to run in.

Coach Gowan: To add to that, we do have to deal with very hot temperatures and high humidity for much of the year, but the tradeoff is that you can still get outside and train during the winter months.  During our annual summer team camp trip to Appalachian State in July this past summer, we visited Zap Fitness and met Coach Pete Rea and all the runners that live and train there.  Pete told me his Zap Fitness team would be back in Tallahassee for 6-8 weeks beginning in January for winter training and they selected Florida's capital city because of the mild winter and great running venues.  I do remember seeing Anna Willard and Dathan Ritzenhein with Zap Fitness on one of their earlier trips here while we were out training.

The running community in Tallahassee is great and the local running club, Gulf Winds Track Club, is very supportive of high school cross country and track and field athletes.  Also, FSU is just across town and Coach Bob Braman and Coach Karen Harvey are two of the top distance coaches in the country.  Having FSU so close to us also gives us the luxury of attending college cross country and track and field meets and seeing great runners without having to leave town.  We sometimes see the FSU team out training while we are out on the trails at practice, and I think that is a good motivator for our athletes in that one day they know that that could be them if they work hard.

Photos(from top): Team after winning '09 Pre-State; Kendall Andrews and Jodie McGuff; Lily Williams; Coach Gowan giving starting line instructions; team after winning state last year.  All by Steve Andrews from andrewsphotogallery.com/.