Whether it be a relay, sprints, or jumps, Buchanan High senior Lauren Fowler is all in as she closes out her senior season. (DeAnna Turner photo)
As milestones go, Lauren Fowler, a member of Buchanan High School's class of 2021 recently celebrated a big one -- graduation on June 3.
As a high school athlete, however, Fowler still has a final exams schedule. A string of June postseason track and field meets will complete her Buchanan experience and begin building toward her future at the University of New Mexico.
Fowler will compete in multiple events at the CIF Central Section's North Area meet June 9 at Clovis East High. Do well there and she'll vie in the CIF-CS Masters Meet, essentially the valley championships, June 19 at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium. Despite CIF's decision to cancel its official state championships, an alternative meet organized to involve the state's best June 25-26 at Arcadia High in Southern California is where Fowler expects to compete.
June is booked.
Fowler, whose passion for track and field never really turns off, is eager to compete and has been training hard to finish her high school career as successful as she envisions.
"I'm so excited for these next few weeks," Fowler said. "I want to PR. I want to win an individual valley title because I've never done that. I want our team to do well. I'm ready to show what I can do."
Already in possession of the Central Section's top 100-meter time of 11.70 seconds, Fowler aspires to lower her school-record time in the event. She has the school record in the long jump at 19 feet, 1 inch, but wants to go farther. She wants to perform well in the 200, an event she won at the May 28 TRAC Championships in a PR time of 24.03. She's part of the 4x100 and 4x400 relays and wants to be part of a Bears championship team.
The last time she experienced track euphoria was as a sophomore when Buchanan won the girls' 2019 CIF state title.
Running in the first event and on the opening leg of Buchanan's 4x100 relay with then seniors Shelby Daniele, Logan Winter and Aleeza Hassan it was a very big deal for Fowler. The group recorded the top preliminary mark in 46.92 seconds and placed second in the finals race in 46.75. Fowler also ran the 100, finishing 16th overall in the prelims in 12.16. Contributing to the team title and getting a podium appearance at the CIF-State Meet, which was held at Buchanan's track, was huge.
"It's one of the best things I've done so far in my high school career," Fowler said. "To be in the event that starts the State Meet, to be out there with the best of the best, to be the first runner and be the youngest member of our relay, it really helped build my confidence. The day after the meet, I remember saying, 'I want to do that again.' I knew I wanted to be on a big stage again. It made me want to work harder. I learned so much from that experience."
It was a shame but, understandably, the 2020 season and State Meet was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last fall, there was still uncertainty if a 2021 spring track season would happen, but it has, thankfully.
Fowler, through it all, never let up.
"I worked out the whole quarantine. I worked with (Buchanan Head Coach Brian) Weaver, I did summer track. It helped me stay ready, get better physically, and morph into the person I am right now. It's been reassuring. I'm getting better. Even though I have things to still work on, I'm running fast right now."
Fowler's success isn't a solo effort. She enjoys being part of something. She works hard, stays focused and appreciates being surrounded by solid coaches and equally talented teammates who provide a nurturing support system. She also reciprocates.
Fowler touts the Buchanan track program as having "the most wonderful people and coaches who are in it for the athletes. Sure, we always want to win, but it goes way beyond running. The coaches want to see us do the best we can. This program has taught me so much more than I thought it would, about relationships, friendships and to remember that what we're doing we need to do it for the next person, those who are behind us, to teach others that track is beautiful and there's a support system. People on our team are all in it for each other. We're each others' ride or die."
Weaver couldn't be happier. He first saw Fowler's abilities when she competed in Buchanan's feeder junior high school's championship meet. "I watched that light, that fire, that spark come out during her eighth-grade year. I saw something special happening."
Fowler began running track in fourth grade when parents James and Priscilla -- high school and college swimmers -- saw their daughter outrun everyone on a soccer field a few years prior. Lauren's grandfather ran marathons, but she is her family's track and field star.
She loves the 100 and long jump.
"They give me the most joy," Fowler said. "I've worked on them the longest and hardest. Having those two school records I knew I could get them -- and I want to keep them as long as I can."
Her success plays into what Buchanan's plan is when student-athletes join the program.
"When someone comes in, we've always said if you're good in the sprints, you should be good in a field event, too," Weaver said. "We try to let kids, when they are younger, try different things. We instill in them to do multiple events, to see what they can do. We want them to be accountable and to be individual thinkers.
"Lauren works extremely hard, she's a competitor. There's never seen a workout she couldn't handle," Weaver continued. "She's run the 100, 200, long jump, relays, and the 400. She tried the triple jump freshman year. I'd bet if we asked her to run the 800 and she'd do it."
That didn't happen -- and won't this month -- but who knows, maybe her versatility will lead to a new chapter at her college track stop in Albuquerque. Known for its distance running success, Fowler reached out to the University of New Mexico last fall to inquire about attending and competing. A few weeks later, track coaches confirmed their interest. She'll take an official visit to campus next month.
"It happened early and I asked her about it. She said she likes everything about it," Weaver said. "That is good enough for me."
Fowler said the uncertainty of a second year without a track season made her proactive in her college search. Several FaceTime and Zoom conversations with UNM coaches and personnel reinforced her commitment.
"It was just something in my gut," she explained. "What made it for me was the people. It felt right. I made an amazing decision. I see it as a chance to leave my mark there and to see just how big of a footprint I can make."
One perk is that UNM will compete in the 2022 Mountain West Conference track and field championships and the meet is scheduled for Buchanan High's stadium. Weaver looks forward to seeing Fowler compete collegiately at her high school alma mater next spring.
But Weaver and Fowler's sole interest in the present is the CIF postseason schedule. Fowler is particularly motivated.
"I'm happy, but I'm not satisfied," she stated. "I know I have more to give and it is all going to come out in these next few weeks."
Ryan Blystone is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplitCA
Inserted photo of the girls 100m invitational final at Arcadia by Raymond Tran