Anna Bowles' 2009 state championship cross country race started after a disappointment the year before.
As a sophomore in 2008, Bowles finished second at the Class AAAA meet despite having run a minute faster on the course during practice two weeks before.
"One thing about Anna, she's a tough kid," said Ken Bowles, Anna's father and Lakeside's community coach. "She's come away from some very competitive situations and she's learned. And that's what she did last year."
Anna, now a junior, used the lesson to win the Class AAAA girls cross country individual title in Carrollton, Ga. She started behind Lakeside-Dekalb runner Meghan Wetterhall, who beat out Bowles for the title last time. Anna stayed behind Wetterhall for more than a mile before moving ahead. And unlike a year ago, she was able to stay there.
"I went out probably too fast last year," Anna said. "That definitely influenced my race this year."
"I took it out easier and hung behind the first girl (Wetterhall) for the first half of the race. Once I felt like I could pull ahead, I did that," she said.
Anna's state title helped propel the Panthers' girls to a second-place finish in the team competition. Her time of 18:28 was the third-best of any classification and was 17 seconds in front of Wetterhall.
Anna said her victory wasn't part of a personal goal to beat Wetterhall, and that Wetterhall was an "amazing runner. She's really sweet."
Anna said finishing on top was a result of applying what she had learned from last year's race.
"I really wanted to get it this year," said Anna, who finished third in the state as a freshman two years ago. "I'd been working all season for that race. I was just a lot more focused."
Anna will compete in one more race during the fall cross country season, though it's not a team event. The Foot Locker South Regional will be held in Charlotte, N.C., during Thanksgiving weekend. With the pressure off after her win at state, Anna can focus on her goal of finishing under 18 minutes and finishing top 10, the benchmark to qualify for the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego.
Anna finished 22nd at Foot Locker last year and was the top girls finisher from Georgia.
"That's kind of a fun way to close out the season," Ken said. "If it happens, great. If not, it's not because she didn't try."
Ken finds it hard to talk about Anna without crediting others in the Panthers program, including coach Jerry Meitin. He said the high level of competition among Lakeside teammates helped push everyone to what was probably the best season of the program's history.
Anna's sister, freshman Sarah Bowles, and junior Katie Townsend both finished in the top six at the Class AAAA meet. The Panthers boys continued their surprising season with a third-place finish at state.
"Once you have somebody on the team that has excelled on the level Katie and Anna have, the others start to believe," Ken said.
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