Two weeks ago, Juliette Whittaker and her mother flew back out to Palo Alto, California.
Nearing the biggest decision of her life, something just kept gnawing at the Mount De Sales (MD) senior, considered by many to be the top target of the Class of 2022's track and field class. In May, MileSplit ranked Whittaker as its No. 1 recruit.
Was she missing an ingredient?
By then, just a few weeks out from the start of the National Letter of Intent period on November 10, she was down to two programs: Virginia or Stanford.
But in August, back when Whittaker went on her official visit to Stanford, hardly any students or future teammates were on campus. It was just Whittaker, the recruits and her potential coaches.
She decided a few months later that she wasn't going to let this four-year decision ride on an unknown. Whittaker and her mother needed that question answered. And so they went on another unofficial.
"I really wanted to meet the team and compare between my Virginia visit," she said.
Turns out, Whittaker later said, that trip sealed the deal.
"When I was there with the team, it felt like I was on the team," she said. "Everyone was welcoming. It was genuine and everyone was kind. I totally saw myself with the teammates on weekends and going to the mall."
On Wednesday, after receiving her acceptance letter from Stanford, Whittaker officially announced her commitment to the Cardinal. Her decision, a major domino in the pecking order of track and field recruiting, only makes the Cardinals' class that much stronger.
Whittaker's inclusion to Stanford's Class of 2026 only solidifies a new vision under head coach J.J. Clark, one that will utilize a bevy of middle-distance and sprinting prowess. Nearly two years since being hired in 2019, Clark's biggest recruiting wins are coming now.
And it doesn't go unnoticed that both Whittaker and Willis are now part of the same recruiting haul. Willis committed to the Cardinal on Oct. 24 and also reached the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic Trials in June.
Both Whittaker and Willis are now in the high school record books for 800m. But they're also close friends. Both girls ran on the 4x800 team that set a new World U20 Best at The VA Showcase in January.
That friendship has only grew stronger since January. The pair even conversed multiple times over the recruiting process.
To top it off, Whittaker said, Willis, Parekh and Stewart were all on the same visit in August, too.
"We acknowledged it in the beginning," Whittaker said of her friendship with Willis. "It would be so cool to be at the same school. But we also wanted the best for ourselves as students and as athletes. Being training partners and friends would have just been a bonus."
While on her official, Whittaker said she took an 11-mile run with the Cardinal women -- including the likes of Victoria Starcher and Zofia Dudek -- that laid perspective on her experience in Palo Alto.
"It was so pretty out there," Whittaker said, remarking on the redwoods. "It was insane."
Whittaker's excellence goes far beyond the 800m, though. In 2019, she qualified for Foot Locker Nationals, becoming an All-American in 13th place. In cross country, she owns a PR of 17:16 for 5K.
But on the track, Whittaker has truly earned her stripes.
* Juliette Whittaker's 2:02 in the 800m from January
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Indoors, she's clocked an 800m best of 2:02.07 to go along with a 1K best of 2:45.49, a 1,500m PR of 4:24.71, a mile time of 4:43.89 and a 3,200m best of 10:23.14.
Outdoors, she's gone 54.91 for 400m, 2:01.15 for 800m, 4:19.79 at 1,500m and 4:38.65 in the mile.
She's been in prestigious races, from New Balance Nationals Indoor and Outdoor, to Brooks PR and the Millrose Games, all the way over to the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Whittaker's father Paul ran at Georgetown, her mother Jill hurdled at Holy Cross, while her sister Isabella is currently a member of the University of Pennsylvania track and field team.
Ultimately, what really drew Whittaker in to Stanford was the culture, from the program's current and historic standards, to what Clark is building. In former stops at Connecticut, Tennessee and Florida, Clark has had particular success working with middle-distance runners.
"The more I thought about it, I thought to myself, 'It would be a cool adventure to go out west," Whittaker said. "I loved the team when I visited. The coaches, too. Coach Clark has had a lot of success coaching the 800m. Stanford is rigorous in academics, but also good in athletics. It had that balance I was looking for."
Interestingly enough, the girls class may even be good enough to classify as their own Fab Five.
"Four of the five of us who went on that official all ended up choosing Stanford," Whittaker said. "That made me excited."