STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
AUSTIN — When the Marble Falls High School 1600-meter sprint medley relay team arrived at Mike Myers Stadium on the University of Texas campus March 30, its No. 1 fan was waiting in the parking lot.
Olympic silver medalist Leonel Manzano, a 2004 Marble Falls High School graduate, had to see Lady Mustangs freshman Bailey Goggans run one of his specialities when he wore the purple and gold: the 800 meters.
Goggans didn’t disappoint as she ensured Marble Falls won its heat for the medley in 4 minutes 3.02 seconds to finish fifth overall in the event.
However, it was how she helped her team in the heat that won over Manzano.
“I tried to keep distance on the curve,” she said of the last curve in the final lap. “The last straightaway, I really tried to sprint.”
The 1600-meter sprint medley relay features legs of 200 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, and 800 meters. Goggans ran the anchor leg of 800 meters.
“So here’s what she didn’t tell you,” Manzano said as the two stood together comparing race notes. “She was in last place, and she was working the entire way. That last lap, one by one, she started to pick them up. With 200 meters to go, she made her move and won by 10 meters.”
“You’re so good,” Goggans said to him after she caught her breath from her 800-meter leg. “I hope to be half as good as you.”
“It’s an everyday thing,” he replied with a smile. “You’re already here. The next step is wherever you want to go.”
Manzano had several words to describe Goggans.
“First thing that comes to mind is fantastic, incredible,” he said. “She has a lot of persistence, a lot of patience. She knows when to execute. Running is instinctive. I’m definitely hoping and looking for bigger things in the future from her.”
Marble Falls head track coach Anthony Torns also was impressed. He noted all four runners turned in great times with new personal bests.
Senior Trinity Ware and junior Natasha Villalobos each ran their 200-meter legs in 26 seconds, while junior Nomi Pegues finished in 400 meters in a little more than a minute.
“Those other three girls ran better than I thought they would have run against the competition they had,” Torns said. “They ran and performed like I wanted them to perform. This is the first time for all of them to run in this great environment.”
To Torns, the Lady Mustangs took a giant step in understanding what it takes for them to perform at their maximum best just in time for the start of the District 26-5A meet, which is Wednesday-Thursday, April 4-5, at Antler Stadium in Kerrville.
What impressed Manzano about Goggans was how quickly she made up ground once she got the baton to start the anchor leg.
The Lady Mustangs were running sixth in the heat. By the time Goggans completed the first lap, she was one of four runners bunched together in second place, only to fall behind shortly after her second lap began.
Then, just as Manzano described, Goggans began to make her move, methodically working her way to the front then simply outsprinting the field to the finish line.
How familiar does that sound to Mustang track-and-field fans?
Manzano is known for his “kick,” that extra gear toward the end of a race that outpaces the other runners to the finish line. It’s what got him the silver medal in the men’s 1,500 meters at the 2012 London Olympics.
That kick is why fans, admirers, and competitors call him “Leo the Lion.” It’s that extra something that separates the competition from the champions.
Manzano sees plenty of that in Goggans.
“She can finish from what looks like in the back,” he said. “She has the patience in knowing when to pick off runners, making a hustle move, and knowing when to finish and when to start pushing and when to hold back. That killer instinct, the last 150 (meters) – she passed the girl in first and sprinted home.”
Goggans got a glimpse of the competitiveness at high-level meets, something Manzano experienced during his years as a Longhorn then as a professional track athlete.
“It was awful,” she said of her anchor leg. “The whole time, girls were pushing into me. It’s hard to run (from) behind without sprinting too soon.”
“She has a lot of patience,” Manzano said. “It looked like she had a great finish. You can tell plenty of what they know or don’t know. She seems to have a special gift.”
The freshman has a list of Manzano’s accomplishments and hadn’t met him until she and her teammates arrived for the Texas Relays.
To his credit, Manzano hopes she isn’t just like him; he wants her to better.
“I think I would be excited to see someone else to come on, especially someone from Marble Falls,” he said. “That would be huge. Sometimes, that does hold you back, comparing yourself against someone else.
“To have another from Marble Falls is truly special,” he said. “Knowing Bailey was going to be here, I wanted to see that and come support my hometown team.”