Caylee Phillips is pictured with her medal after finishing sixth at the state meet. (DHI Media/Wyatt Richardson)
It’s rare — really rare — to find a runner who is competitive at 100 meters and also at 5000 meters. Van Wert’s Caylee Phillips has been there and done that.
Phillips is the VWHS record holder in cross country with an 18:34.70 clocking accomplished during her regional championship run last year. She went on from there to run at state but finished a disappointing 46th (20:12.0) after becoming ill on the drive down from Van Wert. Last Saturday she qualified for state again, this time with a sixth place regional run in 18:42.6.
At districts, Phillips is a two-time individual champion (2018, 2019) and one-time runnerup (2017). She won the WBL individual title in 2018 and 2019 — and was fifth in 2017. Needless to say, she has been the individual champion at many invitationals in her career.
Oddly, in track Phillips was competitive in the 100 meters early in her high school career. She was better in the 200 and better yet in the 400, which soon made it obvious that her forte was the middle distances. In fact, last spring she won the 800 at the Defiance district (2:20.01) and at the Piqua regional (school record 2:17.15) to punch her ticket to state where she struggled a bit and finished 16th in 2:25.29.
“At state in the 800 last year, I just couldn’t get my legs to go,” she says of the unusual experience. “I don’t know why. In the last 200, girls were passing me. Those were the hardest moments I’ve ever experienced in any sport.”
There are a lot more highlights in her incredible career. Maybe the biggest was a trip to the state track podium in 2018 as a sophomore along with seniors Megan Braun, Cassidy Meyers, and Julia Springer for a 7th place finish (4:04.67) in the 4x400 relay.
“She truly is a multi-tooled runner, athlete, and person,” said Van Wert cross country coach Ryan Holliday. “I’ve never coached someone quite like her who has the complete package. Her running talent is elite level for a high school runner, but she gets the most out of that through her determination and confidence. She has also grown so much over her four years of high school in terms of understanding what hard work is. Her many strengths come together in an amazing way, and we get to sit back and just watch.”
“Her work ethic and superior leg speed for a middle distance runner,” said track coach Mark Collins when asked about Phillips’ strengths. “And as hard working and talented as Caylee is as an athlete, she is just as gifted as a person.”
(DHI Media/Wyatt Richardson)
The mental aspect of sports — particularly the agony aspect of cross country — came across quickly in my conversation with Phillips.
“It (agony) depends upon how I prepare for it and how the weather is,” she said. “Regionals last year and this year were both super painful. Because I had more competition, I had a lot more to think about, so it’s mentally and physically hard for me. Physically, it’s hard on my body, because I have to put myself in another stage of strength, and it’s hard for me to get there. It’s the feeling and the knowing; there’s a difference. If you feel like you can do it, you can, but if you know you can do it, you will.”
“Not necessarily anymore, but when I was younger, like my freshman and sophomore years, there were a lot of times I just checked out in meets,” Phillips said of the mental aspect of cross country. “It’s the difference between being mature and not. Now I know that every single course I step onto, I have to try my hardest. There was only one meet this year where I kinda checked out. It was at Elida. I gave myself a lot of excuses to check out, and I really regret that, because I feel like I could’ve won that meet, but I didn’t, and it’s my fault.”
It wasn’t always obvious to Phillips that running would be her forte. A tip from Van Wert’s matriarch of distance running, assistant track coach Connie Hoverman, set it all in motion.
“I used to play softball, and I was a cheerleader, but I ended up running cross country and track my eighth grade year,” Phillips said. “I was on my way to a football game in my cheer outfit, walking down the street to the football field, and she (Hoverman) saw me. She was like, ‘What are you doing in that uniform? You should be running,’ and that’s how it all started.”
Phillips enjoys the variety of events in track. A track athlete is allowed to participate in four running events, including relays. The order of events can limit one’s options, but Phillips’ versatility can result in a lot of team points for the Cougars. The 200, 400, 800, 4x200 relay, 4x400 relay, and/or 4x800 relay are possibilities next spring.
Phillips’ goal in cross country and track is to see her picture on The Wall at VWHS. This requires a top six finish at state. She nearly made it with the relay team’s 7th place finish in 2018.
At the Division II state meet on November 2, Caylee Phillips did indeed earn a spot on the wall at VWHS with a sixth place finish, breaking her own school record in the process with an outstanding time of 18:23.4.
In cross country, of course, there’s only one event, and that’s what appeals to Phillips.
“For cross country, the thing that I love the most is my team,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t be running. They brought me to where I am today. My winning regionals last year was because of them. They were on the side cheering me on. That’s what I like about cross country, the team aspect.”
Between the cross country and track seasons, Phillips plays basketball where she started as a sophomore and junior. Despite her successes in cross country and track, basketball doesn’t take a back seat.
(DHI Media/Wyatt Richardson)
“My relatives have always played basketball, so I wanted to grow up to be like them,” she said. “I was always sitting with my parents at the basketball games. My summer is really filled with sports — up at 7:30 a.m., go to cross country from 8 to 10 a.m., then basketball from 10 a.m. to noon, and then sometimes basketball at night too. Then I have two camps in the summer, one is cross country, one is basketball.”
“Caylee brings numerous strengths to our basketball program,” said the Cougars’ new head basketball coach, Hannah Phlipot. “Her overall athleticism, speed, and tenacity on the basketball court make her one of the best defenders in the league. Caylee has three years of varsity basketball experience and has competed at the highest of levels in track and cross country. This year we hope to rely on Caylee’s leadership as an athlete.”
(DHI Media/Wyatt Richardson)
Phillips works part-time at Subway. She is undecided about her college plans.
Phillips is the daughter or Reggie and Amy Phillips. She has six older siblings — Breanna Cansler, Chris Miller, Breanna Grant, Reggie Phillips Jr. (VWHS Class of 2012), Chadd Phillips (VWHS Class of 2012), and Rylee Phillips (VWHS Class of 2019) — and two younger ones — Emilee Phillips (sophomore at VWHS) and Nate Phillips (freshman at VWHS).
Original article courtesy of Times Bulletin.