Huskies’ 4-by-8 brings it home
DENVER, Colorado ” It was blisteringly fast, but it will last for a lifetime.
The Battle Mountain boys 3,200-meter relay team scorched the field Friday at the 4A state meet at Jeffco Stadium, laying down a school-record time of 7 minutes, 52.9 seconds, nearly 6 seconds ahead of Sierra (7:58.7).
Tony Crisofulli, Connor Tedstrom, Jonny Stevens and John O’Neill are the 4A state champions in the 2-mile relay.
“It was great,” Crisofulli said of being on the highest step of the podium. “It’s like being on top of the world.”
While there were other races Friday and some big ones coming up today, this was the exclamation point for the superb high school careers of the team’s three seniors ” Crisofulli, Stevens and O’Neill. They have book-end state championships for the 2007-08 school year ” having won the brass ring in cross country last fall in Colorado Springs, as they depart to compete at Portland State, Colorado and Colorado State, respectively.
“It’s such a fantastic thing as seniors to end their careers,” Huskies coach Rob Parish said. “They’ve got some races tomorrow, but to go out in that way is very special. I had a feeling the kids wanted to do this, put a ribbon on the box. Then they’re ready for the next step. All three of them are going to have phenomenal college running careers.”
And don’t forget sophomore Tedstrom, who ran a spectacular second leg. While the state title came Friday, this has been building for years at Battle Mountain in the 3,200 for years ” the Huskies had finished seventh, fourth and second in Denver the last three years “with different faces in different places and Tedstrom is the latest in the chain.
“It’s awesome,” Stevens said. “It’s been a long time in coming ” Shea (Phelan), Grant (Stevenson), (Travis) Landauer, Tyler Thompson when I was a freshman. Every year we’ve gone I thought we had a chance. It was pretty exciting to get it.”
Over and out
While the best 3,200 times posted by the contenders coming into the state meet indicated that the big event might be tight with the winning time coming in at roughly 8 minutes, the showdown itself was happily anti-climactic for Battle Mountain.
All but Crisofulli ran personal-record split times in their 800s. All but Tedstrom were at least 2 seconds under the coveted 2-minute mark for their intervals.
Crisofulli took the Huskies out perfectly, giving the team the lead 500 meters into the race. Tedstrom, in his debut with “The Big Three” of Battle Mountain distance running, lost the lead, but kept then-front runner Mullen within 15 meters. And then it was off to the races with Jonny and John.
Stevens took the lead in his second lap, and O’Neill promptly slammed the door, as the Huskies won going away by a stunning 5.8 seconds.
“I probably looked over my shoulde one too many times,” O’Neill joked. “There was no tape (at the finish), but I leaned as hard as I could.”
The Huskies shattered the old school mark of 7:58 (Connor Drum, Phelan, Stevens and Derek Byron in 2006), which ordinarily would be cause for major celebration. But this was Battle Mountain’s first win at the state track meet since Mark Churchill won the pole vault in 1998, so the record will likely be a footnote to Friday.
Since the 2005 team was the first to start the downward progression, the Battle Mountain 3,200 record time has dropped roughly 37 seconds from the old record of 8:29.45 set by Duncan Allen, Chris Isbell, Tavias Sims and Carl Aucuff in 1992.
Battle Mountain’s experience showed in the race. State competitions always go out too fast and the it is critical to balance speed and endurance. Crisofulli, the squad’s best pure 800 runner, did just that.
“At the 200-meter mark, I found my spot,” he said. “We were going fast, but I was thinking, ‘Hey, I could take this over.'”
Parish, having coached Crisofulli throughout his career, sensed that the senior wanted to break from the back early, but was pleased with his patience. At 500 meters, Crisofulli said goodbye.
“Tony took it out nice and perfect,” O’Neill said. “With about 250 meters to go, he broke people’s hearts and took off. It is always great having Tony start. He’s aggressive whether he’s racing against rivals or teammates.”
Tedstrom was next and he lived up to his billing as being not the average sophomore.
“It was absolutely amazing how Connor did this race,” Crisofulli said. “He was telling me he was a little nervous before hand. I told him, ‘You’re going to do great.’ He just focused and set his mind on it.”
Tedstrom laid down a 2:02, a personal record. He surrendered the lead to Mullen toward the end of his second lap, but most importantly, kept Battle Mountain within 15 meters, going Stevens’ and O’Neill’s 800.
“Connor ran well as a freshman last year,” Parish said. “I saw what everyone’s watched in soccer and hockey with Connor. We’ve been blessed to have so many kids who have heart and want to work hard, but only some athletes have the ability to perform under pressure. I know his other coaches say this about him, but he cemented himself in my mind as a gamer.”
Going to the tape
While no one ever wants to lose the lead, the race was shaping up perfectly for Battle Mountain ” 15 meters behind with Stevens and O’Neill in the wings is like a 3-0 fastball right over the plate.
To make things better for Battle Mountain, Mullen’s third runner went out too fast and that played right into Stevens’ hand, and into some pre-race planning.
“We had watched all the videos of our relays (Wednesday in practice) and we would see what would happen to guys who went out too hard,” Stevens said. “They just hit the wall. It looks like they’re going backwards. We knew where we needed to be in each spot in the race, and then we never let the pressure off.”
Stevens took the lead for good in his second lap and gave O’Neill a nice cushion.
“Jonny was great. He opened the lead to 20-25 meters,” O’Neill said. “I knew as soon as I got the baton, he had worked so hard to get there and I wasn’t going to let anybody pass me. I was nervous because I usually have someone to run when I’m running an 800, but it didn’t matter with so many people cheering.”
While one always envisions an anchor leg to be a battle to the death, O’Neill could have likely cruised. Nevertheless, he closed it out in style.
“There’s always an unbelievable anchor leg out there,” Parish said. “I started to feel a little comfortable when John got out quickly. He’s developed a great closing kick and he ran well all the way through to the finish line.”
“Even though he had a 30-meter lead, we were all over the infield yelling at John to go fast. Watching him run it was unbelievable, though. He kept his stride absolutely dead on. He made it look like it was the easiest thing in the world.”
O’Neill’s split was a 1:58 and the Huskies were off to the podium to accept their gold medals.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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