Tristan McWilliam always had taken the lead in his distance races, hoping he could hold on late.
That strategy didn't work so well for The Out-of-Door Academy runner at the 2021 Florida High School Athletic Association State Track and Field meet. In the Class 1A 3,200 meters, he faded to 11th. In the 1,600 meters, he didn't even qualify for the finals.
McWilliam wanted 2022 to be different, so he dedicated himself to training harder and he changed to a strategy where he would stay near the front, but would let someone else set the pace.
And when everything was on the line in the 1,600 meters at the 2022 state championships May 14 at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, it was McWilliam who passed the tiring runners.
The senior won the gold medal in the 1,600 in 4:17.97, out-kicking Cambridge Christian junior Baxton Legg by 0.48 seconds. The time is a personal best and an ODA record.
"That moment of crossing the finish line was pure relief," McWilliam said. "I am kind of in shock. It is still sinking in. I was expecting to finish second or third because everyone had better PRs than me. But I am certainly happy with it."
McWilliam, who also finished third and set an ODA record in the 800 meter run (1:56.43), said he stayed near the front of the pack in the 1,600 before turning things up a level with two laps to go. Once there were 150 meters left, McWilliam said, he knew he had it won.
"I was basically kicking (sprinting) the entire previous lap," McWilliam said. "I knew I was the only one who could sustain that (pace) in my group. I gave all I had to the very end and it worked out."
The knowledge that McWilliam's opponents could not keep up with him stems from jockeying for position with the same names — like Legg, Oak Hall's Caden Montini and Indian Rocks Christian Mateo Luna — over the years.
The elite runners have good rapport, McWilliam said, but they all want to win. It made getting the upper hand at the state meet even sweeter. McWilliam thanked his coaches for pressuring him to give 100% of himself to his senior season.
McWilliam, who will run at Embry-Riddle University next year, was given the starter gun's bullet from his race as a souvenir. It's a cool memento — but nothing beats the feeling of gold around his neck.
On the girls side of the state meet, Lakewood Ranch High senior Grace Marston ended her high school running career with a silver medal in the Class 4A girls 3.200 meter run, finishing in 11:03.58.
Marston led for seven of the race's eight laps but was overtaken by Coral Park High senior Penelope Sosa on the final lap. Sosa finished in 10:59.28. Marston said she did not expect to be in front of the pack for so much of the race, but the race's initial slower pace gave her the opportunity to try to steal the race. It almost worked.
"Being so close to first is tough," Marston said. "I was fatiguing (on the last lap) from the other races I ran today. But I am proud of how I did."
In addition to the 3,200-meter run, Marston competed in the 1,600-meter run, in which she finished third (5:01.48), and ran the anchor leg of the 4x800 relay, helping the Mustangs to an eighth place finish (9:41.10). She said the relay probably hurt her in the chase for gold, but she would not have made the trade if it meant hurting her teammates.
Marston, who will run at Georgia Tech in the fall, said the team aspect of track and field is too important to her and the eighth-place finish meant a lot to her teammates.
"It was worth it to be with my team on the podium," Marston said.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.