Both of their paths to statewide track and field glory started in the chill of late fall.
Lakeside junior Anna Bowles zoomed to the state cross country title, running the third-best time in any classification. Her running talent and the performance of her teammates boosted Bowles' preparation for the 3,200 meters this spring, when she ran the best time in any Georgia classification.
Westside junior D'Andre Smalley burst into the state's running consciousness by winning the Class AAAA title last fall. It gave him the confidence to turn back a fierce opponent in the closing stretch of the 3,200 meters several months later.
They give you a medal, T-shirt and hat if you win an individual Georgia High School Association track championship. Smalley and Bowles each took home this haul in May, when both area athletes won the Class AAAA state title in the 3,200 meters. For claiming the area's only individual GHSA state titles in Class AAAA or higher, Bowles and Smalley are The Augusta Chronicle track athletes of the year.
Bowles, who shaved about 23 seconds off her personal-best time as a sophomore in the 3,200, won the race in 10:46.19 at the state meet in Albany. She finished second in the 1,600 in 5:03.93, only .67 behind the winner. Bowles took over the lead of the 3,200 for good at about the midpoint of the two-mile distance, blowing past initial leader Megan Wetterhall of Lakeside-DeKalb.
"I pushed her harder than she was used to," Bowles said.
Bowles was part of a strong Lakeside cross country team that finished second in the state. Sister Sarah finished fifth, and junior teammate Katie Townsend fought off dehydration to finish sixth. Ken Bowles, Anna's father and an area track enthusiast, said he noticed each runner worked hard to improve heading into spring track season.
"The dynamics of the season started well before the race," Ken Bowles said. "Katie picked up her commitment and her game. They were kind of like magnets; they (attracted) the other to a higher level."
Smalley had finished fourth in the state in the 1,600 meters the night before his 3,200 triumph. Warren Enriquez, from Starr's Mill, beat Smalley by .07 to finish third in the 1,600 at the state meet in Jefferson, and the two battled for the title in the two-mile race.
Enriquez, who looked to be at least six inches taller than Smalley, burst outside in the final 125 meters and appeared to take a small lead. Smalley refused to give in, and out kicked his taller opponent to the finish line.
During cross country season, Smalley would often train with the team, then return home and run additional miles on his own. Smalley said this spring he mostly worked with the team at school, then stayed at the school for additional work after practice, which proved to be the difference during the final stretch in his title run.
"I didn't have much left," he said. "I had started to sprint past the last curve, but he came past me. I just had to catch back up."