Spotlight Stars of the Week: Waverly Neer and Nikita Kirrlov

Waverly Neer – Senior @ Culver Academies – Culver, IN


Waverly Neer (photo left by Don Rich - PennTrackXC ) didn’t have the sophomore and junior seasons she had hoped for, plagued by injuries, and other obstacles,  the Culver Academies star was unable to perform at her peak. Since then, Neer has made getting healthy a priority her senior season by focusing on her lifestyle and eating habits. 


“I’ve added proteins and extra supplements that help my body recover from workouts. With the breathing issues I’ve had in the past I’ve done breathing exercises to get that under control.”


In her senior year, Neer has been on cruise control. After an impressive 14th finish during cross country season at Foot Locker Nationals, she took a couple of weeks off for a break on her legs and to get mentally prepared for the indoor season.


“After that I began my winter training and a lot of it was endurance training increasing my mileage and getting my strength up which is necessary for outdoor season. I was looking forward to running New Balance Indoor Nationals which was the focus of my winter training.”


Over that period, Neer’s workouts consisted of distance runs and tempo runs. She logged about 42-45 miles a week which is relatively low but she says “it works for her.” Neer’s coach, Mike Chastain, says during that time he saw a different ability in the senior.


“She had more power in her stride, more pop in her step, just her ability to hit tempo runs at a different and more comfortable level.” 


At New Balance Indoor Nationals, Neer won the 5K in a personal best and national record time of 16:35.15. Despite, an early push from Kathryn and Erika Fleuhr of Florida, Neer was able to pull away after 1200 meters. That gave her the confidence boost to bring home the title.


“It was awesome I didn’t know I could run that fast in the 5K. I knew I could go around 16:40 but to go five seconds under that was an amazing feeling. That was the pinnacle of my career, the absolute highlight of my career. To win a national championship and set a national record it was awesome to see all of my hard work pay off in the winter and all four years of high school come together in one single race. 

Neer knew she was on pace to break the record when she heard the announcer telling the crowd her splits and by how much she was under. It didn’t hit her that the record was hers until after she crossed the finish line.


“I was so tired. I was so dead. It didn’t sink in right away but when I looked up and saw my name in the red lights and heard the announcer say new American record, when my head stopped spinning, and my breath came back to me, it just sunk in. I remember looking up to those girls who achieved that and wondered what they did to make them different and now I’m finally that girl that they ask what sets her apart from other people.”


Now that Neer can add national champion to her resume it is fair to say she has joined another level in the running world. Where does she think she ranks among the best of the best in the country such as Aisling Cuffe, Megan Venables, and Molly Grabill?  She says the competition starts with Cuffe and then everyone else.


“Aisling Cuffe is on a level of her own right now and runners across the country and female runners recognize that. She’s an incredible runner and the rest of stack up on any given day it can be any of us. Aisling is at the top at there are a couple of us vying for positions behind her.”


Coach Chastain agrees that Cuffe is at the top but thinks it will be interesting to see what the future holds when the best of the best get together to compete.


“There are some other girls that are pretty tough but I think besides Cuffe, Wave is in the range of most of the others. It’ll be good to see in the national competitions when everyone is healthy to see what happens.


Neer capped off her indoor season with a personal best 10:19.57 in the 3200 at the Hoosier Relays and will now focus on giving back to the sport. At Culver Academies, the seniors are required to do a service project so Neer will travel to Mexico over the schools 13 day Spring Break to complete hers before the start of the outdoor season.


“I’ve raised over 2,000 dollars for a small school in Oaxaca, Mexico and I’ll be purchasing them shoes, backpacks, and school supplies. I believe running never takes back more than you give it and this is my way of giving back, giving them shoes and helping them to find the sport. We’re going to build houses as well for Habitat for Humanity. I’m foregoing the Spring of relaxation to help out other people in need.”


Coach Chastain says that is just a part of the type of person Neer is.


“It’s kind of a special thing she is doing. That’s just the way she is, she is thinking about others and would like to help others. She’s just a good person.”


When she returns it will be back to business on the track. She hopes to take the momentum and confidence from indoor and set higher times and higher goals for herself.


“My number one goal is to always have fun with running and stay healthy. I think if you keep those two at the top of your list everything falls in place where it needs to be.”


Neer’s next big meet will be the Franklin mile on April 15th. That and a possible trip to the Penn Relays at the end of the month will be her two main efforts till they start their state series. Coach Chastain believes Neer, who will attend Columbia University, will be more of a 5K and steeplechase runner at the next level. She says she is just excited for the experience.


“What set Columbia a part was that I clicked with the girls on the team and I appreciated how driven and future minded they were with the progress of the program, it’s something I bought into. I love New York City, it is amazing, and I just wanted to go to school there.”


Neer who plans on studying photo journalism to combine her love for writing and photography says she wouldn’t be where she is without support.


“I want to thank my coaches and teammates for all the hard work they invest into my success.”


It is that success that will have her making big waves in the future.




Nikita Kirrlov – Senior @ St. Pius X (Atlanta, GA)


(Photos by Tim Loreman,


St. Pius X senior Nikita Kirrlov was born in Russia thousands of miles from where he resides today in Atlanta, Georgia. Kirrlov came to the states when he was six years old and found the sport of pole vaulting in seventh grade. It was then that he found out his father competed on the national level for the USSR in the 70’s.


“I didn’t even know he was a pole vaulter. He was at St. Pius and coaching the throwers because there already was a vaulting coach. My dad brought me to practice one time and said I used to do that do you want to give it a try? I was like no, no way. I eventually tried it and he goes do you want me to coach you? At first, I did it to stay in shape and then he was like oh by the way this is my sport.”


Dad’s influence rubbed off on young Nikita and in eight h grade he competed in his first track meet. After clearing nine feet, he realized it is what he wanted to do and that he had found his niche.


My dad and I have been working since I was in eighth grade. It’s really been a progressional thing. As I started, every year since freshman year, I’ve become more and more serious about practice and pole vaulting and have worked much harder this year. Last year, I had two knee surgeries and I was recovering from that.

"This year I took my work so much seriously than I’ve ever taken it before and it’s paid off.”


The hard work paid off for Kirrlov at the Coaches Invitational when he jumped a personal best 17-2. He says his confidence at the beginning of the meet was a little rattled because of the amount of kids in the competition and the wait in between vaults.  The senior won with his opening height of 14-6 and then begin to clear more bars, 15-0, 15-9, 16-5, and finally 17-2, that height coming on a pole he had never used before.


“When it came to my 17-2 vault I picked up a pole I had never used before. It was supposed to be a stronger pole, I went through, and it wasn’t strong enough so we went out and got the strongest pole we had. I realized I had to go for it or not. It was kind of like I winged it if you will. I wasn’t confident in the pole at the beginning of the run but as soon as I got down the runway I was just like go for it, go for it, and I went for it and made it.”


Kirrlov’s mark was a new Georgia state record breaking the previous vault of 17-1.75. As soon as he got vertical he knew he had it and wanted to get down to celebrate as quickly as possible.


“It was an amazing feeling I stood up and everyone was cheering. A good friend of mine who vaults at Georgia Tech was cheering, my dad came up and gave me a big hug, my mom was there and she was crying. It was just a great feeling. One of the best I’ve ever had.”


Two important values his father taught him we’re that of self discipline and patience. Kirrlov believes that are the most important traits a pole vaulter should possess.


“In vaulting you can have times where you jump just your opening height or nothing at all but then there is that magic moment when you have one meet your entire season where everything you work for pays off.”


Was his 17-2 vault that magic moment?


“It was one of them. It was just great to be in front of a crowd. The way the pit was centered it was in front of the stands and I had a whole bunch of people cheering for me. Hopefully, there will be more moments like that this season but that would definitely be one of my magic moments.”


Kirrlov is impressed with his top three national mark but rankings aren’t everything to him. He says is usually competing with himself rather than against others, and as long as he gives it his all, he is pleased.


“If I can attempt a new personal record every meet, even if I don’t succeed, I would be pleased and that would make a perfect season.”