The memory haunts Brittany Dugger daily.
She’s running her signature event at the 2A District track meet, the 100 meter hurdles. She owns one of the fastest times in the state in the event and is the odds-on favorite to win not only this meet, but also the following week at regionals and to stand on the medal stand at state.
But things go horribly wrong. Instead of streaking toward the finish line, she is falling, and the memory of that fall runs in slow motion in her mind. With a thud, her junior season is all over.
“I got too cocky and I pushed too hard,” she admits now. “I’m the kind of person who hates to lose. I don’t like to finish second, ever.”
A year later, Dugger is sitting in her room at a Tacoma hotel, waiting with teammates Alyssa Harmon and Brittany Aquino for the start of the State Class 2A girls track and field meet. The preliminary heat for the 100 hurdles is some five hours away and Dugger is trying to relax ahead of the first of what should be two state races.
A standout soccer player as well as track athlete, Dugger’s high school career now boils down to these last two races.
“I hadn’t thought about it in those terms until you just asked me about it – but yeah, it feels kind of good that it is,” she laughs. It’s an easy, relaxed laugh – good news for someone who has spent a year thinking about finding redemption and exorcising a haunting memory all in one final race.
“I learned a valuable lesson,” she said. “I’ve learned to relax. I don’t have to push so hard in every single race.”
An All-Great-Northern League first-team forward, Dugger sat out the fall girls soccer season, going all in on her final track season.
“I really wanted to concentrate on track,” she said. “I loved soccer because all I did was run. It was the best conditioning program I’ve ever been on. If you look at my times this year, you can see that I struggled early on because I wasn’t in condition the way I used to be.”
Dugger finished fourth in her first meet of the season, the West Valley Invitational, finishing in 17.5 seconds. She knocked more than a second off that mark her next time out at the Quad City Invitational, running 16.48.
By her second league meet, Dugger was back in form, running 15.34 to win for the first time this season and no one has beaten her since. By the fourth league meet, she ran her first sub-15-second race, clicking 14.84 seconds to win on her home track.
In the preliminary heat at this year’s district meet, Dugger exorcised her first set of demons by posting the fastest Class 2A time this season: 14.8.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking and it feels like there’s a lot of pressure on me,” Dugger said of being the one runner everyone will be watching at state. “The whole drive over I kept pretending that this wasn’t the ride to the state meet. I didn’t want to think about it.”
Still, she admits, the pressure has been on now for several weeks – especially in light of the way the regional meet was set up. With 16 total berths available in each event, the Great Northern League was allocated only two slots from the district meet.
“I’m still mad about that one,” she said. “We have some great athletes who are so worthy of being here for the state meet, but they never got the chance because of the way the regional was set up.”
In particular, she’s still fuming that her freshman teammate, Zoe Novakovich, is not there. Novakovich’s best time in the hurdles was good enough to put her in the regional final – in fact, GNL hurdlers owned the four fastest times in the event and seven of the top 10.
“I’m running for them – the ones who didn’t get the chance to run here but deserved to,” she said. “That’s one of the things that makes me want to go out and win.”
Her relationship with Novakovich has been one of the highlights of her senior season.
“There were some very good hurdlers at East Valley back when I was a freshman,” she said. “But I didn’t have a relationship with any of them the way I have with (Zoe). She’s already very fast and I know that she’s going to do nothing but get faster over the next three years.”