Lakeside’s Meghan Wetterhall won the triple crown of high school distance running as a freshman – a state championship in cross county, and state track titles in both the 1600 and 3200 meters.
Then came the inevitable comparisons to former Chamblee sensation Emily Reese, who won four straight state titles in all three events from 2004-07.
“I’ve never compared Meghan to Emily, but when (Meghan) won three state titles her freshman year, I can see where people might do that,” Lakeside track coach Bill Chadwick said.
But Wetterhall has forged her own identity in distance running circles.
She now has four state titles, having added the Class AAAA 1600-meter championship to her trophy case this season as a sophomore. With two high school seasons behind her, Wetterhall isn’t thinking about Reese or winning more state titles.
Simply enough, she just thinks about running.
“It puts so much pressure on you, I decided not to think about it and take it one race at a time,” said Wetterhall who will run Junior Olympics qualifiers again this summer.
She participated in Junior Olympics last summer and placed in the top 10 nationally in three events. Wetterhall has her sights set on improving after placing fourth in the steeplechase, ninth in the 3000 meters and 10th in the 1500 meters at the national Junior Olympics in 2009. The national meet is at the end of July.
“I just want to improve on what I did last summer,” she said. “And I want to get better for next track season. I’d like to break five minutes (in the mile) and 11 minutes (in the two mile).”
Wetterhall set a personal record in the 1600 meters at the state meet three weeks ago with a winning time of 5:03.260, four seconds faster than she had ever run that distance. She placed fourth in the 3200.
“It took a lot of perseverance after she got beat (in the 3200), to turn around and then beat the same people she just lost to,” Chadwick said. “She keeps everything in perspective. I know there’s still pressure, but she doesn’t let it bother her.”
Wetterhall kept pace with the leader in the 1600 and then took the lead through the final turn.
“After the first race, I told her just have fun,” Chadwick said. “She seemed to relax and ran much better. She sat on the leader’s shoulder until about 150 yards and then outkicked her.”
Wetterhall’s speed has improved since she started running with a club after her freshman season. She started running track in seventh grade and added cross country her freshman year at Lakeside. She joined a group of about 10 runners who train and enter meets in the offseason.
An all-around athlete, Wetterhall also was a member of the Lakeside swim team this season, and Chadwick also used her on the 4x400 relay team during track season.
“I’ve always loved running,” Wetterhall said. “I guess after the first meet, I saw I was doing better than most of the other Lakeside runners. When I won state in cross country, it was totally unexpected for me. That’s when I decided to join that second group.
The club keeps her in shape for the high school season, and the time she has dropped is the reward. Her performance last summer in the Junior Olympics put her in the national spotlight.
“It’s good experience and keeps me in shape for cross country,” Wetterhall said. “It helps me mentally, too. More experience you have the better you’re going to be.”
Wetterhall shaved four seconds off her 2008 state championship time and has the potential to flirt with Reese-like numbers. Reese’s best time in the 1600 at state was her junior year when she ran a 4:48.51. Reese’s winning times the other three years were in the 4:50s.
Wetterhall isn’t paying attention to those kinds of statistics, but she doesn’t mind the comparisons.
“I didn’t know her, but I had read about her and heard about what she did,” Wetterhall said. “I would love to be as good as she was. Any athlete would want to be compared to someone like that. I’m not bothered by that at all.”