LACEY — Like the fun-loving jokesters they can be pre-race – chatting about everything in life except for the 4x100 relay they’re about to run – River Ridge’s quartet of Michael Key, Ika Morton, Chris Leiba and DeJuan Frye turn their chatter to silence once the starter yells “sweats off.”
And it’s not solely because they’re focused at the job at hand. When you’re as fast as the Hawks are – with the top Class 2A time (42.50 seconds) entering this weekend’s Star Track XXXII at Mount Tahoma Stadium and a heavy favorite to repeat as state champions in the event – they sprint the one-lap race, exchanging the baton at each leg, without saying a word.
Contrary to what many short-relay teams do, the Hawks don’t use words such as “stick” or other one-syllable words on handoff exchanges.
And that’s by choice, assistant coach Steve Schultz said, because of so much speed coming and going.
“The great ones do,” he said.
Put the Hawks in a great category for high school relays, anyway. The foursome, all juniors, could be in the midst of a dynasty. Three of the four experienced the Hawks’ 2A state title-winning relay team (42.37) from 2013, and now they’re searching for more.
Not only are they after a state-title repeat, but also two records: 42 seconds is the River Ridge’s 4x100 relay school record, set on a 2000 team that featured 3A 100- and 200-meter state champion Alton Hodges as well as future University of Washington receiver Justin Robbins. The other record is the 2A state-meet record of 42.20 set by Pullman in 1999.
Already with their season-best time of 42.50 set at Friday’s 2A District IV championships, the four chuckle on hearing their time
because they know they haven’t ran the perfect race.
They don’t want to just barely beat the record. They said they want 41.7 only because, as Leiba put it, “if we beat it, we want to (really) beat it.”
Added Frye: “It’s going to come out. We all work really well under pressure.”
Morton, Leiba and Frye were part of the Hawks’ state title-winning team a year ago. With the graduation of Joseph Wollor, they recruited Key – a varsity soccer player as well as a cornerback in football – to fill the void. Though Key is a first-time sprinter, head coach Phil Lonborg said he has been “absolutely money” all spring, despite still adjusting.
“He’s the guy that doesn’t get the glory of the anchor, but he’s our glue,” Lonborg said.
Their individual talents have developed into a cohesive unit for the one-lap race. Frye and Leiba will also compete at state in the 100-, 200- and 400-meters, and Morton strengths are the jumps. His long jump (21 feet, 101/2 inches) and triple jump (43-7) are the sixth-best jumps in 2A, and he’ll also run the 200 at state. Key’s focus is solely on the relay.
Communication and friendship, Morton said, is one of the secrets of their success. So is trust and teamwork, which Schultz said leads them to run faster for each other.
“Each one of them has their own special, unique talent that when you combine them together, they’re a special group,” he said.
PREP STATE TRACK MEETS
Star Track XXXII (4A/3A/2A)
At Mount Tahoma Stadium, Thursday-Saturday
1A/2B/1B state championships
At Roos Field, Eastern Washington University, Friday-Saturday
WHAT TO WATCH
As one of the more decorated female track athletes to come from Thurston County, Tumwater’s Brooke Feldmeier could put a stamp on her legacy as a six-time state champion, should she repeat in the 100 hurdles, as well as the 200 and 400. While she’s ranked No. 1 in the 2A 400 (56.73 seconds) while battling with hamstring issues this spring, she’ll have stiff competition in the 200 from league-rival Nike McClure of W.F. West and in the 100 hurdles from Amanda Jaynes of Steilacoom. How good of an athlete is McClure, a WSU basketball signee? She has the state’s top 2A time in the 200 (25.06) and the No. 1 mark in the shot put (44 feet, 2 inches).
Northwest Christian is known for its distance runners, but senior Karen Bulger (Hawaii signee) looks to become a back-to-back state 2B state champion in two events: the javelin and shot put. While her season-best mark of 151-10 in javelin is almost 10 feet off from her personal-best of 161-5 set a year ago, it’s still more than 14 feet farther than Riverside Christian’s Nicole Nobbs’ second-best 2B mark of 137-2. Bulger’s 42-101/2 throw in the shot leads all of 2B by almost three feet.
A hamstring injury means Tumwater senior Lane Russell (Princeton commit) won’t defend his 2A state triple jump title (he also finished second in the long jump last year), but it opens the door for Capital’s Ryan Chase as a possible two-event state champion. Chase ranks second in the triple jump (45-10) behind Russell this spring, and is 2A’s leader in the long jump (22-113/4).
If Olympia junior Peter Kesting did what he did during last weekend’s 4A West Central District championships (4:11.54 in the 1,600), it would put him in serious contention for a 4A state title. He smashed Nate Brennand’s school-record of 4:14 and beat his personal best by almost eight seconds.
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com