By Jeff Nations - email@example.com
STRASBURG -- Long before the personal records, the district and regional championships, the two dazzling state championships -- before all that, there was doubt in Katlyn Ayers' heart.
Strasburg's Ayers, the defending Group A state champion in both the 800- and 1,600-meter runs, felt most definitely off even as she won her customary events at the annual Shenandoah County meet. Ayers felt ... well, slow.
"It was just scary," Ayers said. "Districts were a week later, and my times weren't dropping. Everything I did was awful. My times were terrible."
Not to fear -- by the time the Bull Run District meet rolled around, Ayers was back to her old self. She won district titles in both events, and followed up a week later by doing the same at the Region B meet to set the stage for one last trip to Radford for the Group A state meet.
By then, Ayers was in a much better frame of mind.
"It was definitely reassuring, to come back like that in the district meet," admitted Ayers, the Northern Virginia Daily's 2012 Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
During that brief moment of faltering faith, Ayers repeated what had become almost a mantra she learned from Strasburg head coach Glenn Proctor and distance coach Jeff Rudy -- "trust in your training."
In Radford, that adherence to the regimen paid off twice, as Ayers scored a pr in successfully defending her title in the 1,600 (5 minutes, 6.35 seconds) and then tallied another in winning her second straight 800 (2:17.40).
"Her progression at the end of the year went just like a script -- a perfect script, in fact, for her," Proctor said.
Ayers' efforts in those events, plus her anchor leg in the Rams' sixth-place 1,600 relay (along with Hannah Clinedinst, Marissa Sager and Kirsten Campbell), helped Strasburg earn a runner-up finish at the Group A state meet. Now she's off to UNC Greensboro, where she'll run cross country and run track for the Spartans next year.
"She has, I think, for a long time and since she was exposed to sports at a young age -- she has always had ambitions of playing something and she wanted to compete at the collegiate level," Proctor said. "That has been like a lifetime dream for her. It's just something she always wanted to do."
At one time, Ayers may well have thought that meant a softball career. She served as Strasburg's top pitcher for two seasons during the spring before finally making the switch to track as a junior.
Watching Ayers run in Radford, only one conclusion could be drawn from Ayers' decision to focus on her running -- wise move.
The 1,600 was a relative breeze for Ayers, who beat her closest competitor, Wilson Memorial's Hannah Rose, by nearly four seconds.
The 800 was another matter. Leading early in the race, Ayers was startled to see Amelia's Jasmine Mitchell dash past for the lead. It took a bit of doing, but Ayers eventually reeled her in for the victory.
"I had never really run an 800 like that before," Ayers said. "Jasmine pushed me to do a 63 [second] first lap. I usually do a 67. It pushed me."
Also a two-time state champion in cross country, Ayers didn't run the 3,200 this season as she concentrated on the shorter distances to work on her speed and help the Rams maximize their point potential.
"We ask our kids to put team first, me second," Proctor said. "She bought into that philosophy. We knew we had some girls who could score and be productive at that distance.
"She just knew she could make a greater contribution running the 800 and 1,600 for us this year."
Ayers isn't sure what events she'll be running after cross country season at UNC Greensboro next year. But as always, she'll be ready to step up and give it her best effort.
"They haven't really told me the events I'll be running," Ayers said. "I don't think I'll know that until track season comes along."