Anna Bowles and Katie Townsend seemed to come out of nowhere last year.
As freshmen, the Lakeside cross country standouts both finished in the top 20 at the Class AAAA state meet. Bowles finished third and Townsend finished 18th.
The Panthers pair aren't sneaking up on anyone this year as sophomores, but they won't have to.
Bowles and Townsend prefer to run out front.
"They are such competitors," Lakeside cross country coach Jerry Meitin said. "They really have a desire to beat the person in front of them."
Bowles and Townsend continued to impress when they hit the track last season. Bowles won the 1600 meter and 3200 meter runs at the 2008 Region 3-AAAA meet, with Townsend second. Bowles finished second in both distance events at the GHSA state meet, with Townsend taking top 10 in both.
Bowles and Townsend finished first and second, respectively, at a Sept. 4 meet at Blanchard Woods Park.
The two ran together as teammates at Riverside Middle School, but didn't start practicing together until the past track season.
"We're both kind of around the same pace," Bowles said. "It's nice having someone to push you."
Meitin said the team runs about 30 miles each week. Bowles puts in some extra work with her father, Ken Bowles, who is a Lakeside community coach.
Anna Bowles said she runs about 40 miles a week, but that her father makes sure she doesn't overexert herself.
"I just try to stay calm and think about the pace," Bowles said.
Bowles and Townsend often run with the boys squad during practice, not at the front of the pack, but enough to push themselves on their hill work. The pair's success has led to an increased interest from their fellow students. Meitin said his team has grown significantly since last year.
"We have twice as many participating," Meitin said. "Partly because of what they've done."
Both have set goals for lower times this season. Bowles, whose personal best is 19:03, said she'd like to come in under 18 minutes. Townsend's personal best of 20:23 came at last year's state meet. She said she'd like to run in the low 19s.
Bowles' best so far this season is 20:19 and Townsend has run 20:55. The times are good enough for top 15 in Class AAAA, and Meitin expects them to improve when the team moves away from the tough Blanchard Woods layout.
The girls are friends, but they're very much competitors. Meitin said Bowles is intent not to let anyone beat her, not even Townsend.
Townsend said she's benefited from running with Bowles, but doesn't view it as a rivalry.
"I just run against myself," Townsend said. "She's very good."
The duo should soon have someone else to push them. Bowles' sister, Sarah Bowles, an eighth-grader at Stallings Island, is expected to join the Panthers squad in 2009.
Meitin said if the younger Bowles were running with the team now, she would be its solid No. 3 runner.
Sarah has proved a good running mate for her sister at home, but Anna has found no reason to go easy on her.
"She's my sister," Anna said. "I don't want to lose to her."
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