A minor achilles injury kept Grace Boone out for much of the indoor season, at least until now.
And that's brilliant news for the Pulaski County (VA) High School senior, who remains as talented as any mid-distance runner in the state of Virginia, because that means she won't miss her last VHSL Group 4A Indoor State Championships.
But on the flip side, it's bad news for the rest of her competition, who will now have to face a motivated athlete who's gearing for a comeback of sorts. She's a four-time champion at 500 and 1,000 meters who's looking to net her third straight title in each event.
There's a good chance the Virginia Tech signee not only does that, but potentially goes after two state records, too.
"Grace isn't scared of anybody," said Sirak Ogbagabir, Boone's coach at Pulaski County. "She's very respective. But when you put her on the line, oh man, she's a completely different animal.'"
Boone will get a chance to go after her best marks at a familiar place, too. The VHSL Championships, which will be streamed LIVE on MileSplit, are just an hour away in Roanoke.
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WATCH LIVE: VHSL State Indoor Championships On MileSplit
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After missing all of January, she's raced twice over the last month as she's tightened up her race fitness, though those efforts have been conservative in comparison to her career best marks in December, when she raced to a US No. 12 mark of 1:15.34 in the 500m and a US No. 23 mark of 2:55.48 in the 1K.
The goal ultimately is to be healthy come spring, when Boone, who PR'ed a time of 2:07.46 last June at 800 meters, could potentially go after the state record of 2:04.94.
Indoor success, however, presents the foundation an athlete can use to bookend one season to the next, which is why this weekend's performances will matter in the grand scheme of things
"Obviously, team wise, Grace helps us in so many different ways," Ogbagabir said, "but I want to prepare her for what she's going to be doing in the next chapter of her running life, so it's kind of a mixture of trying to keep her healthy and strong, and also trying to work with her through this part, the high school aspect, to make sure she's as successful as possible.
Boone enters as the top seed in the 500m, by two seconds, and her overall time is under the meet record of 1:15.45, which was last set by Kara Lyles in 2015. Her PR in the 1K is just as impressive, and it's also narrowly under the meet best of 2:55.77, which was produced in 2016 by Maddie Rennyson.
Hitting those PRs, in relation to Boone's recovery schedule, is probably a tough ask. But special things can often happen in big meets, and considering the career of Boone, it's not out of the question.
One shining example, Ogbagabir said, was the week before states in cross country, when Boone smoked a 400m workout in the only way she knew how: Getting faster with each rep.
She went 69, 68, 67, 66, and then followed with 64, 63, 63, 60.
Boone followed with a fourth-place finish in 18:46.00, a year after not even qualifying.
"She's just scratching the surface, Ogbagabir said, "especially in the distance events. She's got more left in her tank."
Ultimately, those are the signs that give Ogbagabir hope. He believes Boone is a one-of-a-kind athlete.
"There's always something we can adjust and find to get better," he said. "We're working on things right now to get her stronger, something to add to her arsenal as an athlete, where sometimes athletes get to a certain point and that's it, but Grace is unique. She doesn't get complacent.
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Contact Cory Mull at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at him @bycorymull