Juliette Whittaker didn't have a 3200 time on her resumé that quite aligned with her 4:44 and 17:16 personal bests. She took care of that on Saturday. (Photo by Craig Amoss)
It was almost guaranteed to be a race for the ages. Those in attendance at the Sportsplex on Saturday witnessed a matchup they likely won't forget for the rest of their lives.
John Champe senior Bethany Graham was coming off a cross country season in which she ran 17:04, won the Virginia Class 6 state title by 34 seconds and finished 20th at Foot Locker Nationals. Mount de Sales sophomore phenom Juliette Whittaker ran 17:16 this fall, finished 13th at Foot Locker Nationals and was coming off a 4:44 full mile performance at the Armory last weekend. The stage was set.
Still, as with every matchup between stars, there was a chance the race wouldn't play out as fast as it had the potential to. How many would have been surprised to see the group go through a mile in 5:35 and be settled in the final four laps?
But that's what made this race so special. Whittaker has never been one to be afraid of pushing her limits, even in races she went on to win incredible margins. Graham harbored no such reservations, either - she ran her previous personal best (10:29) at last year's outdoor state meet, a race she won by 24 seconds.
On Saturday, she played the role of aggressor. A sub-70 second opening 400 meters set the tone; by that point, the rest of the field - still running sub-11 pace well into the race - was but a distant memory. It seemed at points that Whittaker was on the verge of dropping off the pace, only to rebound every time and close the gap. They came through 1600 meters in about 5:06. The winner of the invitational mile, Yorktown's Anna Macon Corcoran, ran 5:08.
If anything, the rest of the field helped to put things into perspective. Richard Montgomery's Charlotte Turesson, the state's third-best runner during the fall, ran a personal-best 11:08 - and she got lapped by Whittaker in the final 50 meters.
She was lapped by Whittaker because Whittaker was the one who surged in the closing moments of the historic race. Whittaker is one of the best half-milers in the country, and Graham had tried to build a lead impervious to her closing speed. It wasn't quite enough.
Whittaker finished at 10:23, and Graham a few second behind at 10:27. Both performances beat the old meet record of 10:30.82, set by Lake Braddock's Kate Murphy in 2015 (Murphy ended up running 9:14 for 3000 meters and 4:39 for a full mile in high school). Between her cross country season and Saturday's performance in the 3200, Whittaker has established herself as one of the best all-around distance runners the state has ever seen. Similarly, Saturday's race will now go down in history as one of the best the state has ever seen.