It’s back-to-back state titles for Battle Mountain’s girls 3,200 relay team
LAKEWOOD — Sometimes, it’s almost too fast, which is a really strange thing to say at a state track meet.
“When they’re up at the line, there’s nothing you can do,” Battle Mountain coach Rob Parish said. “You’ve put your heart and soul into and given them what they need. You almost want to slow those moments down. A 4-by-8 (relay) is only nine minutes, but you want to slow it down and enjoy and savor it. It’s years in the making.”
Yet there really is no slowing down Battle Mountain’s girls 3,200-meter relay squad. Gabby Trueblood, Alex Raichart, Lizzy and Naomi Harding blasted the field on Thursday, May 17, at Jeffco Stadium in Lakewood, the site of this weekend’s state meet.
The quartet logged a staggering time of 9 minutes, 16.13 seconds, besting second-place Niwot by 11.3 seconds for back-to-back titles in the 4A 3,200.
The 2017 edition of the Huskies won its 3,200 title in 9:24.34, so that school record came tumbling down. The ladies led at every exchange of the baton. Each runner had splits of 2:20 or better.
It was domination.
“It’s so cool,” Lizzy Harding said. “I’ve been with these girls for my entire cross-cross-country and track career. We’ve grown closer and closer, and trust them with everything. We’re best friends who are also teammates.”
Welcome to the show
It should be noted that it’s really hard to make this team in the first place, much less win a title. Naomi Harding rightly pointed out that Battle Mountain probably could have had a second 4-by-8 at state. The program is that deep.
Battle Mountain’s great 3,200 teams — the 2008 boys and the 2017 girls, champions both — had three runners and needed a fourth.
Sofia Piliero did it last year, and Gabby Trueblood won the in-house competition this year to join Raichart and the Hardings.
“It was pretty crazy in the past few years,” Trueblood said. “I felt like I’ve been stuck on sprints in the 4-by-4 and the 4-by-2. With all the cross-country I’ve run, I felt like I had a good 800 in me. I worked during the winter and it paid off. All the girls on the team are nice an super supportive.”
In theory, Trueblood’s job was to keep the Huskies close and hand it over to the new incarnation of The Big Three. Yet, Trueblood had a shot at the lead position with 150 meters to go in her leg.
“I figured it would be easier with the exchange with Alex, if we were in the lead,” Trueblood said.
That’s a good of a reason as any.
The invocation of the The Big Three in the past has been Jonny Stevens, John O’Neill and Tony Crisofulli, the core of two cross-country state titles and a 4-by-8 win in track. (This sound familiar?)
Stevens was the stud; O’Neill the late bloomer and Crisofulli, the 800 artist and space cadet before any race.
While the roles don’t match to the current edition of Battle Mountain girls running — be it fall of spring — Raichart’s got to be part of any moniker like Big Three or Big Five (if one includes Elizabeth Constien and Grace Johnson).
What hasn’t she done during this run of titles?
So it was really OK when Niwot challenged and took the lead during Raichart’s leg.
“Alex had run a very smart first 400,” Parish said.
That is running speak for she still had quite a bit in the tank. Niwot took the lead in Raichart’s second 400 and, just like last year, she took the lead for good as she approached the exchange with Lizzy Harding.
“I’m not used to running up front,” Raichart said. “It’s a different feel. I knew I couldn’t good too hard in the first lap and a tried to stick with (the plan). When (Niwot) came up on me during the last quarter, I was like, ‘I can’t let you pass me now.’”
Raichart caught her prey and handed off to Harding with a five-meter lead.
Getting the lead to the Hardings has been a comforting sight for Battle Mountain track fans. Lizzy and Naomi can close.
“I’m getting pretty spoiled having two Hardings in the bullpen,” Parish said.
Yet with as much confidence as she had in Trueblood and Raichart, Lizzy wasn’t assuming any scenario.
“If you’re prepared for just one situation and something else happens, it kind of freaks you out,” she said. “You have to be ready for anything, if you’re leading or if you need to chase someone down.”
Two minutes, 20 seconds is the standard for intervals in the 3,200 relay. Trueblood and Raichart both hit 2:20 and then the Huskies were getting faster. By running a 2:18, Lizzy was expanding Battle Mountain’s lead to 20 meters.
When it came to what is becoming the annual tradition of the Harding handoff, the race was pretty much over by the time Naomi got the baton. But just in case anyone was worried, Naomi slammed the door with a 2:15 800.
“It an amazing feeling,” Naomi said. “We’ve been training since the middle of the winters when we were doing those hard runs on Tuesday afternoons and then we’d have a another hard workout on Wednesday mornings. It just makes the effort more worth it in the end.”
Or as Raichart put it, “Once Naomi got (the baton), we were good to go.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.