Batavia’s 400-meter team has sights set on state

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It’s been awhile — 2007 — since Batavia’s girls track team sent a 400-meter relay team to state. It could be time to do it again.

Coach Justin Allison has a foursome that appears capable of joining some very fast company.

“Nothing’s finalized yet, we’re still playing with (the lineup),” Allison said Tuesday at his team’s dual meet at Metea Valley. “It’s always a fun challenge to try to piece them together.”

The Bulldogs, a traditionally strong area team, have had only two relay teams medal at state and both of them were in the 1,600 (4th in 2008, 7th in 2004).

The 400, the shortest sprint relay that requires four burners who can bond and make smooth exchanges of the baton while running full speed, hasn’t been a strong suit.

Last weekend at Oswego East, junior Catie Ross, freshman Hannah Schlaman, junior Audrey Jonke and senior Taylor Stieve looked the part, finishing in 49.98 seconds to finish second to Bolingbrook (49.78).

Batavia’s 400 relay teams have made it to state five times in the past 15 years while the Raiders have sent 12 in the same span.

“Our last exchange (Saturday) wasn’t the best, but I was pleased with everybody,” said Allison. “We’re knocking on the door this year.”

Stieve, a self-proclaimed Navy brat who has moved 11 times in her life and is in just her second year here, said it would be “awesome” to get to state in it. Though she excels in both hurdles and a number of individual events, Stieve appears locked in to the lineup, even though running it for the first time this season.

“Saturday was the first time in (six) years since we broke 50 seconds,” she noted.

The time was just .54 of a second off the state qualifying standard of 49.44 and just .6 of a second off the school record (49.3) that was set in 2001 by the quartet of Kassandra Harris, Debnique Oregon, Kristy Nelmark and Megan Garrity.

Those record holders ran a 49.42 in the state prelims but did not qualify for finals.

“I’m pretty good at making new friends, so it wasn’t bad for me,” Stieve said of her latest move.“Track is kind of my way of finding my way into the school.

Athletes tend to have the same kind of mindset. Being around people that you click with, that helps.”

Schlaman, who Allison calls “our top sprinter right now,” had no trouble either.

“Coming in and having the girls embrace you as one of the family members, it’s amazing,” she said.

The group gets along great, as does the entire team which numbers 107, noted Jonke.

“It’s everyone, whether they’re jumping or throwing or running,” she said, noting she likes being part of a team within the team.

“Your teammate running towards you with the baton gives you more adrenaline. It’s a little more special than an individual race.”

Success in the event comes down to “executing the exchanges,” Allison said.

Noting one slipup can be devastating, Schlaman said it can be “nervewracking. But we practice it over and over.”

Stieve said coaches told them to “have tunnel vision for your teammate that you’re handing off to. Don’t worry about the people next to you, don’t worry about if you’re winning. What matters is you and your hanfoff and your team and your personal best, not necessarily to win the race.”

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