At this stage of Satellite senior Ashley Shiver’s decorated running career, there are few surprises the multi-time state champion can muster.
Yet it was Shiver who provided the biggest surprise in a full day of racing at Little Everglades Ranch, improbably - but successfully - defending her 3A state championship with an out-of-nowhere, personal best of 17:34.
“I was really not sure about this race,” said Shiver, who had not run faster than 18:38 all season. “I just wanted to go out with a good stride and feel it. I didn’t really have a strategy.”
Perhaps not, but after rolling through the mile mark in 5:34, Shiver had to hold off senior teammate Juliana Stern’s finishing surge to secure the wire-to-wire victory.
“It was so awesome,” said Shiver, who beat Stern for the first time this season. “I can’t tell you how proud I am her. She‘s a great teammate.”
Despite the Scorpions 1-2 finish, they saw their streak of three consecutive state team titles come to an abrupt half at the hands of first-time champion Chiles. The Timberwolves not only delivered the 10-year-old school its first girls state title in any sport, they did it by posting the most-lopsided victory in 35 years of FHSAA girls cross country history.
“I thought a great day would be five (finishers) in the top 15,” said Chiles coach Scott Gowan, whose team had finished second to Satellite each of the past two seasons. “We had five in the top 10.”
Freshmen Lily Williams and Carly Thomas finished third (17:51) and fifth (18:20), respectively, to help show their veteran teammates the way to the top of the podium.
Sophomore Jodie McGuff (18:44), senior Kaia Hampton (18:45) and junior Kendall Andrews (18:47) - part of last season’s second place lineup - came came charging across the finish line in eighth, ninth and 10th place, respectively.
The Timberwolves finished with 35 points, 103 fewer than the Scorpions (138). Only two boys teams had ever won FHSAA titles by more than 100 points in the history of the meet.
“We’ve been really hungry and it’s been over a year,” said Hampton, the lone senior in Chiles’ lineup. “I think he (Gowan) stepped up the training schedule. … We couldn’t have had better timing, with the two freshmen coming up and everybody having such great heart. We’ve got a great team, we really do. It’s awesome.”
Gowan acknowledged that Williams and Thomas helped push the team to new heights.
“I figured they could come in and be in our top five this year and really help our nucleus we had coming back,” Gowan said. “They exceeded that expectation. They were not in the top seven, they were 1-2 every meet this season. … It made everybody better. The competition makes everybody better. You work hard or you go home. Our girls worked hard, they got better each week. Those two (Williams and Thomas) made our other girls even better.”
Six of the Timberwolves’ seven runners posted personal-best times over the 5-kilometer course, including sophomores Stephanie Reynolds (19:47) and Alex Pearson (19:50), who were 36th and 37th. Chiles put all seven runs across the finish line in front of Satellite’s third runner, sealing the lop-sided margin.
Williams hopes the Timberwolves’ first title is a harbinger of things to come; perhaps a run worthy of matching or eclipsing the Satellite streak they snapped.
“We’re going to come back next year and want to hold it and keep it,” said Williams. “We’re going to work real hard for that.”
Chiles’ 18:29 team average was tops among all four classifications and bodes well for next week, when they will head to Cary, N.C. to participate in the NXN Southeast Regional.