(Photo By Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Bolles rising senior Caitlin Collier is our Girls Distance Athlete of the Year. Collier, a six-time individual state champion in track and field heading into her junior year, started the season out with some sprint work. Yes, one of the nation's mid distance runners ran the 200 and 400 meters to open her season. 26.15 and 56.71 aren't too bad for rust busters.
Bulldogs Head Coach Dan Dearing and Collier elected to take the Florida high school season relatively easy. Collier competed in both the 800 and 1,600 at the Flagler East Coast Classic and then her home meet, the Bolles Bulldog Classic, before starting the state series. The standout ran 2:05.39 to win regionals prior to winning her fourth straight 800m title. She completed the trifecta at state with new personal bests in the 1,600m (4:50.48) and 3,200m (10:30.39).
While most of Florida's fastest athletes were winding down, Collier was heating up. Nearly a month after winning state, she tested her fitness against a professional field at the Nike Festival of Miles. Sitting near the back with 400 meters to go, she picked off runners, and sprinted to the front to win in a new PR and state record time of 2:03.32. Her undefeated season continued after Collier bested a field of college athletes three weeks later at USA Juniors in 2:03.63.
"Being undefeated for the season was not a particular goal for me," Collier said. "I just went into the season trying to do whatever I could to help our team. I knew that might involve me running in various distances in the postseason and worked hard to be ready for that."
Her personal best of 2:03.32 puts her as the third best for girls under 18 in the world according to the IAAF rankings behind Keely Small of Australia (2:01.46) and Lydia Jeruot of Kenya (2:03.17). No matter who she faces off against in Peru at the Pan Am Junior Championships, Collier is excited.
"After running in some really hot conditions, I'm looking forward to representing my country and having a chance to run a PR," she said.
With so much individual success, national rankings, and state titles, it's the bond with her fellow Bulldogs that is the highlight of the year so far.
"The high point for me was helping the team win our third state championship in the last four years," Collier explained. "Watching the 4x4 at the was a lot of fun because my teammates who worked hard all year ran great and helped bring home the team title."
So how does arguably Florida's best distance runner ever stay focused with one more race left as a junior and a whole senior year ahead of her?
"I still have some time goals that I have not accomplished," she said. "There are a lot of other great distance runners in Florida that I have not had a chance to race against, so I hope I get that opportunity next year before I graduate."