FORT WALTON BEACH -After the 2011 season, Fort Walton Beach cross country standout Ivy Chastain was rewarded for a standout junior season when she was named the Daily News Runner of the Year.
Now, a year later, Chastain is back. And this time, she has company.
Following a season where the duo helped drive Fort Walton Beach’s girls’ program to a second-place finish in Class 3A, Chastain and FWB teammate Emma Rudman have each been named the 2012 Daily News Runners of the Year.
“I like it better,” said Chastain of having a teammate win the award with her. “It’s great to always have your friends with you. I’m just really glad that we get to do it together. I thought she would get it, and I was excited for her…Then I found out we were both going to do it and I thought ‘Wow, that’s really awesome.’ ”
Rudman, a freshman, earned the award one year after finishing a sterling middle-school career.
Once Rudman showed up on the FWB varsity squad, she teamed with Chastain to give Fort Walton Beach a lethal one-two punch ahead of the pack, a duo that became instant friends and powered the Vikings to a second-place finish at the Class 3A state meet, the highest finish in school history.
"It was really great to have a teammate like her that kept pushing me all year long," said Chastain. "I really don't like running by myself, and with Emma, I didn't have to."
For Rudman, the move from middle school to varsity was a daunting one, but eventually she found her rhythm as part of a team that won district and regional championships.
"I really didn’t know what to expect when I got to varsity," said Rudman. "But I was confident that I would be in the mix. I knew Ivy was a great runner. I was just trying to find my place."
“We came together”
It didn't take long for Rudman’s place to become evident. After setting a goal of reaching a personal-best time of 18:45 by the time the season ended, Rudman led the Vikings to the finish line in seven of 10 races this year, including seven of the first eight in the regular season.
Chastain, meanwhile, continued her torrid pace from her junior season, finishing right behind Rudman three times early in the season to help the Vikings earn team victories week after week.
Still, it wasn't until midway through the season until the two really fell into sync.
"I kind of knew Emma before the season started because I had seen her at my sister's races in middle school," said Chastain. "But at first this season, we didn't really run together. We ran separately. But as time went on, we started to bond as friends. From that point on, we ran together."
That bond brought the two closer together and pushed the FWB girls' team to new heights. Down the stretch of the season, the pair finished back-to-back in four-straight races, including the county meet, district championship, region championship, and ultimately, the Class 3A state championship in Tallahassee where Chastain placed ninth in the state and Rudman 10th. Their times at state were nearly identical, as both posted times of 18:42, with Chastain edging Rudman by .003 seconds.
"At the beginning of the year, we didn't run together as much," said Rudman. "But once we became good friends, we began to lean on each other a little bit. We both have different strengths, and I think we worked well together. For me, personally, I'm very goal-oriented. When I started the year, I wanted 18:45 and at state, we both got to 18:42. That was a big deal to me."
To Chastain, the state meet in Tallahassee was a manifestation of a season's worth of effort. Behind the duo of Chastain and Rudman, the Vikings placed behind only state champion Estero.
"She and I had a vision of a perfect race," said Chastain of the state final, "and we came pretty close."
“I won't know what to do”
Now, the duo that shared running space and post-race accolades all season gets to share the spotlight one last time as co-runners of the year. For Chastain, the chance to share the honor with a teammate is just as special as last year's solo win.
For Rudman, the honor was another new experience in a season full of them.
"I really didn't think about it much," said Rudman, "but when I found out, it felt pretty good."
Next season, Rudman will return as the odds-on favorite to lead Fort Walton Beach's loaded team back to the state meet, while Chastain hopes to find a place to run in college.
"It's going to be different," said Rudman. "In middle school, I ran out front a lot, but with Ivy here, I haven't had to do it in high school yet. I have gotten used to running with her. I'm going to miss it."