Rumors of a new girl spread quickly at the first cross country meet of the year Saturday at Greenbrier High School.
She was supposed to be some runner from Lakeside, and she was supposed to be fast. Fast enough to keep up with the top Greenbrier girls cross country runners - the ones who finished 11th overall at the state meet last year.
All those rumors were confirmed Saturday morning when Anna Bowles crossed the finish line. The Lakeside freshman took first place in the two-team meet pitting the Lady Panthers against Greenbrier. Her time of 20:36 in the 3.1-mile race beat a field of 28 female runners and also bettered the times of 32 of the 46 boys who ran in the second race of the day.
All that speed and endurance came from a girl running in her first high school meet.
"It's actually my first 5k race. I ran track in middle school," she said.
Her one-mile time of 5:42 made her a standout track star at Riverside Middle School last year, but cross country isn't offered at the middle school level in Columbia County. That didn't stop her from running long distances as a child.
"I started when I was in kindergarten actually," she said. "My dad got me into it."
That's how this up and coming cross country star got her start. Where she'll end up is anyone's guess, but Lakeside first-year cross country coach Jerry Meitin said he hopes his new runner will take the rest of the program with her.
"We are hoping in the next couple of years to build a program as strong as Greenbrier's, and she's the kind of person who could lead us there," Meitin said. "We have an inspiration and a focal point for our training. The girls on our team look at her, and they're amazed. She runs with most of our guys."
Bowles stayed with the lead runners through most of the race. She said that was her strategy from the beginning. She wasn't planning for a first-place finish, but she took a shot with less than a mile to go.
"I wanted to try and stay with the top runner and see if I could keep up," she said. "I think it was right around the two-and-a-half mile marker I tried to push myself and see if I could get a little ahead."
She rounded the final corner greeted by a cheering crowd and a few surprised looks. Bowles won by a margin of 11 seconds over Greenbrier's top finisher, Chelsea Maxwell. Meitin said it's not exactly a coaching strategy that gave Bowles her success.
"She's got a lot of natural ability," he said. "She's got a good fluid stride that you don't really teach. You can try to help with some of that, but she's just got a really good running motion."
With more than two months remaining in the season, Bowles is sure she hasn't seen the last of the Greenbrier girls and other top runners she'll face this year. Instead of trying to beat one particular person or school, she's got her eyes set on other personal goals.
"I would really like to make it to state," she said, "and I'd like to try to hit 18 minutes in the 5k."
That's a milestone that would shake up the cross country scene in the state of Georgia. Last year's Class AAAA girls cross country state champion won the title with a time of 19:33.22.
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