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Track notes: Northwest ready to blaze in 400 relay

Published May 15 at 4:49 p.m. | Last updated May 15 at 4:51 p.m.

The story of how the Northwest boys 1600-meter relay team came about as a Class 6A title threat is one that coach Ron Russell enjoys telling. All four runners have their unique story and how all four came to form into one is still astonishing to Russell.

Alvin Saisi, Cortez Carr, Mitchell Shurtz, and Deron Thompson have teamed up to run a season-best time of 3 minutes, 22.65 seconds, which is currently the second-fastest time posted this season in Kansas and also the No. 2 time in 6A.

It’s the fact that this unit is all so unlikely that tickles Russell. The Grizzlies will compete in the City League meet at Northwest on Friday.

“If you would have asked me during Mitchell’s freshmen year if he would ever run on a 4x4 team, I would have said there’s no way he’s getting on that team,” Russell said.

But Shurtz, the lone non-sprinter, worked to improve his foot speed in pursuit of becoming a better runner and soccer player. He is now one of the state’s top middle-distance runners and, according to Russell, has run the fastest 400 split on the team.

Saisi took another unusual route. He showed a world of promise his freshman season, running a leg on Northwest’s 1600 team that came within one-hundredths of a second of a state title, but a severe knee injury sidelined him. After intense rehab, Saisi has enjoyed a revival of sorts this season.

Taking one look at Carr, who stands all of 6-foot-8, would give the suspicion that reaching the top-end speed required to excel in the 400 would be unattainable for someone that tall. He has happily proved that theory wrong.

“And he gives us the intimidation factor,” Russell said. “Seeing a 6-foot-8 kid coming off the curve and down the straightaway is pretty scary. The other teams know to get the heck out of the way.”

The team is complete by the addition of Thompson, who Russell claims to have begged to run on the team since he was a freshman. After three years of waiting, Russell is getting his wish.

And there’s nobody in the state Northwest would rather pass the baton to than Thompson to entrust with winning a race.

“It’s a pretty formidable team when all four of them can break 50 (seconds),” Russell said. “And having Deron as the anchor, we know if we’re even close at the end that he’s going to step up and deliver for us.”

Depth by design — There are more than 20 members of the girls team at Garden Plain, but it seems like triple that to most Class 3A coaches. That’s because nearly every member on the Owls competes in at least three events.

Noelle Dooley, the defending 3A champion in discus, throws discus, runs the 100 hurdles, high jumps, and is on the Garden Plain 400 and 1600 relay teams. Samantha Hendryx is most successful in the long and triple jump, but also runs sprints on the track. Lizzie Costello throws the javelin, then runs both hurdle races and sometimes runs a leg on a relay.

“We probably look like chickens with our heads cut off at most meets,” Garden Plain girls coach Eric Rockers said. “We’re running around everywhere trying to watch them.”

Last season the Owls won the 3A title with a peculiar score of 41 1/2 points, the lowest total to win a 3A girls title since Osage City won in 1986 with 36 points.

Garden Plain remains a threat to repeat with talents such as Emily Puetz (throws), Bethany Renyer (jumps), Adriana Redmon (400), Emerson Tice (sprints), Lauren Costello (hurdles), Libby Heimerman (pole vault), Madison Schmelzer (sprints), Paige Hoheisel (freshman), and Kenzie Thimesch (jumps).

The missing piece – When Greg Slade assumed control of the Campus track and field team, he immediately identified three runners – Reagan Brown, Janae Molinar, and Kyra Ivy – who could break 65 seconds in the 400. All that was missing to form a competitive 1600 relay team was a fourth.

After some persuading, Slade found that piece in an obvious candidate: senior Jessica Anderson, a three-event state qualifier from last season that specializes in the hurdles.

“We were missing that one last piece to the puzzle and we thought Jessica could be that piece,” Slade said. “Ever since we put her on it, they’ve just clicked.”

Campus has improved on a near-weekly basis, running a season-best time of 4:16.80 to win at the Arkansas City Invitational on May 2.

The Colts, who will compete in the AV-CTL Division I meet at Valley Center on Friday, have the fourth-fastest time of the entrants in the Class 6A Maize regional.