Monday January 21, 2013

AUSTIN DANFORTH

Assistant Sports Editor

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- They are tantalizingly close and they know it.

So just how badly do Raheemah Madany, Leniesha Williams, Taylor Hockemeier and Shelby McLenithan want to become the fastest high school girls relay team in the history of Vermont indoor track?

"Really bad," they answered in unison.

The intent is there. The potential is there. The tricky part? The difference between success and failure -- currently 0.28 seconds -- can be measured in the blink of an eye.

But Mount Anthony Union High School's best-ever 4x200-meter relay team has at least two, if not three more chances to edge the state-record time of 1 minute 49.13 seconds set last winter by a powerhouse South Burlington squad.

"We're going after it," said Madany, a sophomore. "We can definitely get it."

The Patriots posted their top time this season (1:49.40) on Dec. 22 at Dartmouth College. They neared the mark again (1:49.46) on Jan. 12 when they took third at the Dartmouth Relays.

"Two-tenths of a second, that's a lot in sprinting. But they've been at 1:49 and some change -- they can get it," said Mount Anthony coach Bob Kurtzner. "I keep telling these guys they're a 1:48 team."

With no competition pushing them in a small meet at Williams College on Saturday, the group finished in 1:50.34 to win by 14 seconds.


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They are keen on going lower when they return to the 200-meter oval at Norwich University for their next two races, the second being the state championships on Feb. 16.

"The [hand-offs] are on a straightaway, the turns aren't as tight, and it's a little better surface than this," Kurtzner said, referring to Williams' smaller, 180-meter track that forces the baton to be passed in the turns.

"The relay is really important to those guys," he said. "I'm trying to get them to focus on what they can do individually that will bring more to the relay."

To close the gap on the state record, Madany, Williams, Hockemeier and McLenithan -- who already have one state title under their belt after last year's 4x100 outdoor championship -- must master the transitions from one leg to the next.

"A lot of it is on the hand-offs. We practice hand-offs a lot," said McLenithan, the lone senior in the group.

The earlier the receiving runner can hit full speed with the baton, the easier it will be to shave time off the final number. Clean, stress-free hand-offs allow each runner to be faster, Kurtzner said.

"We're trying to get three steps into the zone and they've got the baton. Right now, they're all around four to five steps," Kurtzner said.

"The out-going runner can't be concerned with anything going on behind them, they've just got to scoot," he said.

Kurtzner pointed to the Mount Anthony 4x100 boys state championship in 2010 as a group that maximized its potential with near-perfect passes.

"They all ran a time in a relay that was, individually, they all should've been running 11 seconds in the 100 meters," Kurtzner said. "There was only one kid that could run close to 11 seconds on that relay team."

And once it's time to race, the mental aspect takes the baton from a week of preparation. The goal is relaxed intensity.

"Act like you want to win it, instead of you want to get it over with," said Hockemeier, a sophomore.

"Don't doubt yourself. Focus," said Williams, a junior.

The Patriots will see where they stand against the rest of the state this Saturday in a tune-up meet at Norwich.

South Burlington no longer has the services of star Mollie Gribbin, but returns talented sophomore Kayla Gilding. Essex, the reigning champion in the 4x200, will also be gunning for them.

"Essex has got a lot of kids and they're still going to field a pretty good [4x200] team. They're going to be coming after us," Kurtzner said. "I tell these guys they've got a bulls-eye on their back. None of those northern teams want a southern team to beat them."