The two-time middle school running champion lagged behind five others in one of her first major high school races.
Even though Kaley Richards could jog faster than the competition through seventh and eighth grade, she finally appeared overmatched for most of the 1,000-meter run Saturday at the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association Invitational at Reggie Lewis Center.
For 600 meters, the newbie was outshined by four veterans and a fellow rook.
Then, the jolt. The 5-foot-3-inch Lowell High freshman doesn’t drink soda, so caffeine played no part in this. Richards says it’s just pure drive: She believes she wants it more than anyone.
On the final lap, she started spinning her wheels, passing four runners before surging past Lexington senior Kristen Fiore to take first place in 3 minutes 4.02 seconds, a personal record.
“She tends to have that extra gear you need at the final lap,” said Lowell coach Tim Patterson. “She keeps herself in the race. In the middle of the race, she makes sure she watches the front, doesn’t get too spread out so she’s in touch.
“You could tell she has that naturally ability. She will always be able to go in that last lap.”
Afterward, Richards was confused.
“It’s weird that I’m a freshman,” Richards said. “I was just talking about that with the other freshmen. We feel like we can’t get any better. But all my teammates keep telling me I’ll keep getting better and better.”
Patterson was just as confused. But for a different reason.
“I’ve never had a freshman run this fast,” said Patterson, who is in his eighth year on the Lowell coaching staff. “So I have no idea how fast she can go. When I tell you we’re doing the most basic of running — she runs 3 miles a day — that’s it. That’s all we do.
“What you see with her is all natural. When she starts to mature and get older and stronger . . .”
Last weekend at Yale, Richards ran the best mile of her life, coming in at a 5:18 thanks to a stunning final 200 meters that she ran in just 33 seconds.
“That [her 200 split] is two seconds better than mine,” said Lowell junior Randy Nong, who won the boys’ 1,000 in 2:39.07, three seconds shy of the meet record. “She almost beat me. Just blows by people. She’s unbelievable.”
Richards will compete in the 4 x 800 during Sunday’s MSTCA Elite Invitational. Patterson said she’ll also compete at New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York next month.
Nong will compete in the 4 x 800 for the Lowell boys Sunday.
“I’m having my best year yet by far,” he said. “You can’t drink soda. I just quit caffeine completely. It’s better for you. I used to be a five-can Coke drinker. I quit. Makes a big difference.”
In the girls’ 2-mile, no one was close to North Andover junior Danielle Voke, who won in 11:33.63, which was 11 seconds better than her nearest competitor and 44 seconds faster than her seeding time.
“I used to swim competitively, but I decided to focus on running this year,” Voke said. “I never tried before. I was never putting in the effort before. It’s awesome.”
Bridgewater-Raynham senior Sarah Barnett impressed with a meet-best long jump of 16 feet, 5½ inches. She also finished third in the 55-meter hurdles with a 9.12 mark. Needham’s Robin Kelly won that race in 8.95.
In the boys’ high jump, Lowell junior Mike Holder and Westford Academy sophomore Qadir Barnard-Pratt each broke the meet record by clearing 6-4.
Oliver Ames junior Dan Moverman set a boys’ record with a 4:27.89 mile.