By TIM CREASON South Bend Tribune Staff Writer
Add one more title to Waverly Neer’s long list of athletic accomplishments:
The recent Culver Girls Academy graduate won the 3,000-meter run at the U.S. Junior Outdoor Track & Field Championships late Saturday night in Eugene, Ore.
In a dramatic homestretch sprint against Kayla Beattie of Woodstock, Ill., Neer crept into the lead with about 60 meters remaining and crossed the finish line first in 9 minutes, 16.23 seconds.
Beattie clocked 9:16.39.
Neer's time equates to running two miles in less than 10 minutes. Earlier this month, she set the Indiana state meet record of 10:20.66 at the IHSAA girls track finals.
“I’m extremely happy, ecstatic even,” said Neer in a post-race press conference. “It was a great way to top off my high school career. All I was thinking the whole race was, ‘I can do this, I can do this.’”
Held in conjunction with the U.S. senior championships - where Plymouth graduate Morgan Uceny won the women’s 1,500 and Notre Dame grad Molly Huddle won the women’s 5,000 - the junior meet highlighted up-and-coming athletes, age 19-and-under, America’s future Olympic hopefuls.
Neer’s race concluded at almost midnight in South Bend, but long shadows made the twilight battle even more dramatic at Oregon’s Hayward Field.
Just a week earlier, Neer finished fourth in the two-mile run at the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina. One of the girls who beat her was Beattie, the Illinois state 1600 and 3200 champ, and those two were rarely more than a stride apart throughout Saturday night’s race.
With two laps remaining, Beattie and Neer separated themselves from the rest of the field and began a long, back-and-forth grind, with Neer attempting to take the lead and Beattie repeatedly fighting her off.
Coming off the final turn, Neer swung wide and the pair sprinted down the homestretch, with Neer edging ahead - barely - at the end.
“Closing speed isn’t necessarily about leg speed. It’s about how strong you are at the end,” said Culver Academies coach Mike Chastain. “Waverly’s speed has improved as she improved her strength and power this season.”
“I closed out my final 400 meters well tonight,” said Neer. “I kept thinking about all the 200s and 100-meter strides my coaches made me do at the end of workouts, when I was tired.”
While winners at the U.S. Junior championships qualify to represent the U.S. at the Pan American junior meet later this summer, Neer said she will pass up that opportunity as she prepares to begin her Ivy League career at Columbia University in New York.