When Palm Harbor University (PHU) distance ace Haley Thornton takes off in the 1600-meter run, few runners in Florida can go with her.
Wharton’s Brooke Reif knows that fact all too well. At last year’s Class 4A State Championships, the PHU junior ran away from the field, which included Reif.
At the District and Regional meets this season, Thornton did the same.
However, at the Florida State High School Class 4A Track & Field Championships on May 6, Thornton wasn’t able to run away.
Reif simply wouldn’t let her.
Executing the perfect game plan, fueled by the dream of winning a State Championship in her final meet in high school and equipped with one of the best finishing kicks around, Reif ran the race of her life in the 1600, or one-mile race, on the way to that elusive State title.
“I just kept thinking that, as hard as the race was, how great it was going to feel afterwards,” said Reif. “And, it was amazing.”
Although Reif already has a handful of medals from past state meets, including a bronze from last year’s 1600, her last one, finally, is gold. She has had a stellar career at Wharton as a cross country and track runner, winning dozens of races and improving every year. Her winning mile time at the State meet was 4:53, a school record, to go along with her previously set record in the two-mile.
Thornton crossed in 5:00.
Reif is the seventh girl in Wharton history to win an individual State championship, and the first since London Enos (pole vault) in both 2009 & 2010.
The daughter of former college runners Jim (her dad) and mom Rena (who was also the USF men’s and women’s cross country coach and assistant track and field coach for years), Reif has seemingly always been destined for running greatness.
And, she saved her best for last.
Thornton was a formidable foe and, in typical style, wasted little time running to the front in the State championship race. Reif, who will usually hang back in the middle of the pack before making her move later, decided this time she was going to stick with Thornton. “I knew if I let her get too far ahead, I wouldn’t be able to catch her,” Reif said.
The fast pace — the opening lap was 67 seconds and, halfway through, the split was 2:20 — quickly winnowed the field to the two favorites, Reif and Thornton.
Reif stayed 2-3 steps behind Thornton. When the PHU runner tried to push out to a bigger lead, Reif pushed with her.
Because Reif was so close, she thinks that Thornton had to run at a faster pace than normal. Being unable to shake Reif, then, likely proved to be frustrating for the 2021 State champ.
“I knew if I stayed close enough, it would scare her,“ Reif said. “I felt good. I knew if I could stay that close, I was going to be able to pass her.”
With roughly 300 meters remaining, it was time. Using her vaunted kick, Reif surged past Thornton and into the lead.
“What she talked me through before the race is exactly what happened,” said Wharton girls track and field coach Andy Martin. “To see it happen just like that was amazing.”
Reif remembers when she first started running at Wharton, her goal was to be like the older girls on the team.
She also wanted to set a school record. She wanted to earn a college scholarship. And, as she got better, she wanted to win a State championship.
When she packs up to move to run collegiately at the Division I University of Richmond (in Virginia) on June 15, she will have achieved all of her goals.
In her wake, she will leave a legacy for younger runners to strive for, and, of course, a banner with her picture on it to hang in the school gym, alongside all of the other State champions the school has produced.
“My mom told me we have to pick out a picture for it,” Reif said. “I didn’t even know I got one of those. That’s going to be pretty cool.”