By CAINE GARDNER
GREENCASTLE -- The stage might be big, but for Greencastle freshman Colleen Weatherford, it's one she feels she belongs on. While the experience might be surreal, it's one she and her head coach are ready to experience.
An added factor that makes tonight just a big step in this young athlete's career is the fact she's only a freshman. Weatherford acknowledged that her emotions might be a little frayed, but she also reaffirmed she belongs on the track.
"I'll definitely be nervous, but I'll be really excited too, that I finally made it to a meet so big and that I'm running in the big meets now. I'm going to try to not let that scare me because I know I deserve to be there and that I can run just as fast as these girls," Weatherford said.
Her head coach Garry Anderson also addressed the issue of age, but thinks her chances are just as good as anybody.
"You know, again, she's young, she's a freshman and she'll probably be more overwhelmed once it actually gets going down there Friday," Anderson said. "I don't look for any big time being overwhelmed, but this is a big stage and she's trained and we had a good hard week of practice.
"I think she's got a good chance to do well down there -- I really do. If you look at times in previous state finals, we went all the way back to 2008 and there have been several girls come out of the heat she's in to advance to the upper heat and place. So, she's got as good a shot as anybody does to sneak in there and possibly get one of those places," he added.
Athletes will notice a few changes at the state finals this season, namely a new surface on the track, a switch both Anderson and Weatherford believe could produce so very quick times.
Weatherford had a chance to get a feel for the track this week and Anderson believes that was something crucial for her to do.
"This year, more than any year, because the track has been redone," he said of practicing at I.U. "It's a brand new surface, they've rearranged some things down there -- they've moved the pole vault and put a different kind of surface down. It's a soft surface, so it was very important to go down there to get her feet on that track, so she can see what it feels like ahead of time and have some idea and not be caught off-guard Friday night."
"It is a lot different. It seems more -- spongier. My coach and I were talking and we think that might be a better thing -- it might produce faster times and everything, so we'll see how that goes," she said.
It's a difficult feat for an athlete to qualify for the state meet their freshman season and Anderson tried to explain the circumstances that make it so difficult. However, he believes Weatherford has just what it takes to make it her home at the end of each season.
"It's hard to say because girls mature so much faster than guys do and I've seen guys go down as freshman and then all of a sudden, things don't work out and they fight all throughout their high school career," he explained. "Now, others go down as freshmen and turn out real well and have return trips to the state finals. I've had several athletes go to the state finals as freshmen and they only went back one or two times after that.
"It's difficult to be a four-time state finalist. But, I think she has all the skills and things that if she really put her mind to it, she could become a four-time state finalist," Anderson said.
After the regional, Weatherford was on the outside looking in, but with a ray of hope. The IHSAA has something called 'call backs' that allow for the next three fastest times from throughout the state to be eligible for state. Weatherford turned out to the third fastest, but had to wait a time to find out for sure.
"He (Anderson) told me about the process -- it's the next three fastest times, so after the regional meet, I went back home and checked all the different times from the different regionals," she said. "My family and I recorded all the times and the next three fastest and realized that I was the third fastest. But, they didn't actually tell us until two days after the regional, I think.
"We actually went and had to call the IHSAA and make sure that I actually made call backs," Weatherford added.
Although the meet could be the biggest of her career to date, Weatherford's head coach has kept it business as usual. Following the old adage, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' Anderson hasn't changed a thing in Weatherford's routine.
"We haven't changed anything," he said. "For example, we still practice in the afternoons just like if we were doing it after school during the season. We still practice as if we were going to a tournament on Friday evening -- the conference, the county. We still practice that way; we haven't changed anything at all. All we have done is tone things down a bit because there's no sense in taking any chances on her going down there overly tired. She's going down there with the idea of doing well.
Having been to the state finals a time or two in his career, Anderson has been trying to prep his freshman for what to expect. And while he knows he can't duplicate the experience, he's giving her a lot of ideas of what to expect.
"I've tried to give her what can she can expect. I've given her several scenarios and 'Yes, she does belong down there. Yes, she's worked hard to get there.' This is a nice thing at the end of the season to accomplish," Anderson said.
For Weatherford, she's keeping her expectations of tonight's meet simple, but if they are met, could mean big things for her.
"So far, I'm just hoping to be able to run with the pack. We've been talking that maybe I can get better than my seed time, so I'm hoping to do that," she said.
Weatherford will compete in the 800 meter run, which begins at approximately 7:45 p.m. tonight at the Robert C. Haugh track facility on the campus of Indiana University.