Photo Kevin Clark/Daily Herald
Lake Stevens High School track and field coach Jeff Page heard from the Vikings' cross country coach and assistant track and field coach, Cliff Chaffee, that Lake Stevens was getting a transfer - a transfer who had just won the Class 4A state girls cross country championship as a freshman in the fall.
Star runner Taylor Roe - along with her sister Tiffany and parents, Lawrence and Jennifer - had moved from Everett to Lake Stevens.
The state-champion runner from Kamiak was now a Viking.
“I definitely knew who she was,” Page said. “I had seen her run at the district cross country meet. When (Chaffee) told me that they were going to be moving here, I didn't believe him. I said, ‘No.' Coach Chaffee and I have coached together for over 30 years and he's usually the one who's the skeptic. As you can understand, he was kind of giddy. I was like, ‘I'll believe it when I see it.'”
Months later, Page is seeing it. And he's impressed. Just two weeks into the track and field season Roe already had set school records in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, and posted the second-fastest 800 time in school history.
“She broke two school records in three days. I'm in my 23rd year as the head coach and 33rd year coaching here at Lake Stevens High School and we've never had anything remotely like that,” Page said. “We've never had a school record broken before spring break, much less two in three days.”
In Roe's first track and field meet of her high school career, she ran the 800 in 2 minutes, 17.15 seconds - the second fastest time of any girl runner in the state this spring.
She followed that up with a time of 10:41.9 in the 3,200 at a meet against Arlington a week later. That time is also the fastest in the state this season, nine seconds ahead of the next closest runner. It beat the previous Lake Stevens school record held by former Vikings standout Amber Nickelson, who finished first in the 2002 4A state cross country meet by 33 seconds.
The time also bettered the Arlington Stadium record previously held by former Glacier Peak star and current University of Washington runner Amy-Eloise Neale. “A pretty phenomenal track and field athlete, herself,” Page said.
Two days later, at the Ray Cockrum Relays at Wenatchee High School, Roe set her second school record in three days, running the 1,600 in 4:59.27 - seven seconds faster than the previous mark and good enough for the second-fastest time in the state this season.
Roe cut more than a second and half off that time in the 1,600, her favorite event, at a meet a week later.
“I look at this and this is just unlike anything I've ever seen,” Page said. “Amy-Eloise was an incredible talent and I kind of watched her from afar. ... I knew that she'd gotten the stadium record at Arlington. All of a sudden, I went, ‘Wow.' If she's taking down records by somebody who's that talented, who had this incredible high school running career, well, there's a lot of potential and possibilities.”
While running the 3,200 at Arlington, several other Lake Stevens athletes took notice of Roe - who was way out in front of the competition.
“I was coaching the high jumpers and they have their own event and are trying to prepare for that,” Page said. “As the race is progressing, they look over and start watching and ask, ‘Page, is she for real? Will she be able to keep that up?' I said, ‘I think so.'
“In a way, I think that race was her coming out party for our team. The race is so long everybody had a chance to watch part of it.”
Perhaps even more impressive, it was the first 3,200 Roe had ever run in a school meet. In middle school, one mile (1,600 meters) is the longest race.
“That two mile, they kind of just threw me in,” Roe said. “It was like, ‘Let's do a two mile this week.' I was like, ‘OK.' I didn't know what to expect. I had never ran a two mile in track before. I didn't know what I was doing. I just went out and ran. I knew the record before, but I wasn't necessarily aiming for it. I had a time in mind and I was hoping I could be somewhere around it.”
Stuart Chaffee, the Vikings' distance coach, has enjoyed getting to know his star freshman.
“We knew, when we heard that she was going to be moving in, that we were getting an elite talent,” Chaffee said. “But, at that time, we didn't really know what kind of a teammate she was going to be or what kind of a kid she was going to be. But she's just been awesome. It's been really fun having her around and having her family around the program has been really great as well.
“She's kind of a goofy freshman in a lot of ways,” Chaffee continued. “That's been one of the most fun parts, is seeing that side of her personality. Once the gun goes off she's fierce - she's one of the fiercest competitors I've ever seen. But when she's not in that mode, she's just a goofy freshman. Obviously, she's all-world on the track but she's also been fitting in really well.”
Roe said the secret to her success is pretty simple.
“I love track,” she said. “I just love running in general.”
While she misses her friends at Kamiak, Roe has enjoyed getting acquainted with her new teammates.
“I definitely have to give credit to some of the guys on my team ...,” she said. “They definitely push me beyond what I would have pushed myself. My whole team has pushed me and it's been great.”
Moving to the Lake Stevens area was something Roe's family had discussed for a while. Her parents, who both ran track at the University of Washington, made it official in the winter and Taylor and Tiffany Roe, a junior who is a strong runner in her own right, transferred to Lake Stevens.
“My family decided we wanted to move out here,” Taylor Roe said. “We've always wanted to live out here. I've loved it here. It's kind of tough but this is something me and my family wanted to do. All of my family wanted to do it and you can run track wherever, so I wasn't worried about it.”
Page and Chaffee are just beginning to learn what Roe is capable of doing.
“I think that she's got her best races still in front of her,” Chaffee said. “... I don't think we really know where her ceiling is at this point because she's still so young. She's got all the ability that a kid could ever want. I know that one of the things that she would like to do is be considered one of the premier high school distance runners in the country - not just the state of Washington - but in the country. She's really already there. But I think that continuing to establish that legacy would be important to her.
“She's already won a cross country state title. I think she has the ability to add a couple of track state titles to her resume this spring. We're going to just take it one year at a time and hope that success continues.
“But I don't see any reason why it shouldn't.”