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Mixing up a good relay

Ryan Slabaugh

Eagle Valley has a few, actually. But it took just the right amount of ingredients for them to find a pair of relays that are on track to qualify for state and have already broken a school record.

The first, speed, might be the essential ingredient – like chocolate to a cookie –but it needs the others for support.

“It’s not always the four fastest on the best relay team,” Devils coach Jeff Shroll said. “From a coach’s perspective, chemistry is more important than speed.”

This season, Eagle Valley has a boys’ 800-meter relay team and a girls’ 800-meter medley relay that have shown plenty of speed. Both teams are anchored by defending state champions, Chris Gamble (110 hurdles, 330 hurdles) and Kim Smith (800). Last Saturday at the the Devils home invitational, Gamble and his crew broke their own school record for the third time – this time cutting off a second and a half. The girls were only off the school mark by two seconds.

“We’ve been together since middle school,” Gamble said. “We know Mike (Ray) gets nervous and jumps out of the blocks. Wes (Griffith) likes to cuss a lot. You learn little things about each other that I swear makes the difference between a good handoff and a mess.”

The other link for the guys is senior Jay Miller, who has the dubious honor of starting off the four-man relay. Shelby Vernell shares the honor for the medley team.

“It’s the starts,” Vernell said. “You only have to worry about one handoff.”

Therein lies the second part, coordination, and the third part, strategy. The coordination comes in when a runner is sprinting full-speed and has to, without losing a step, hand the slick, metal baton to his or her teammate while the teammate is also running full speed.

It’s as hard to do as it is to explain. In the 800 relay, a good set of handoffs can mean seconds – an eternity for a race usually determined by fractions of a second.

“I think it was my sophomore year at the regional meet and we thought we should be able to make it to state,” said Ray, a senior who runs the third leg. “I wasn’t quite able to get it to Chris. I ended up diving for it and ended up six inches short.”

The team was disqualified. Coordination is a must. In that situation, it’s more important than speed.

The strategy comes in when the coach decides who runs the certain legs of the relay. If you follow the book, the best starter should go first (obviously) and hand off to the fastest member of the team, who hands it off to a solid runner with good hands, who gives it to the second fastest runner.

“If you talk to four different coaches, they’ll give you four different ways to make up a team,” Shroll said.

The strategy for the medley is a little easier. Two runners run the 100, followed by a 200 and the anchor runs the 400. Vernell and Katie Wick are sprinters – so they run the 100s. Laura Sandoval runs the curves the best, so she does the 200. And Kim Smith is the distance runner, so she runs anchor for a team that has only ran together twice, but also has never lost.

“The first meet we had a couple injuries so I threw Kim Smith into it,” Shroll said. “I said, “I’ll be…She can run a 400.’ She’s the key that’s been missing.”

Smith enjoys the anchor leg.

“I see Laura coming at me and I just go,” Smith said. “Before I get it, I hope we get the handoffs down and we close to the front. If we’re in first, I feel we need to finish in first.”

The final ingredient, chemistry, makes the entire formula work. It makes sure the handoffs are solid, the strategies work and the speed is a non issue.

“I want to run with someone I can get along with,” Smith said. “You want someone that will bust their butt.”

The team atmosphere – what creates chemistry – offers a break from the individual perspective that drives the image of track and field.

“It helps you compete with each other,” Ray said. “Why do you think we run so fast? We want to get in the paper.”

And the season has just begun. Both teams have their sights set on the school record and qualifying for state this weekend in Palisade. It could happen, too, if they they have the right reaction.


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