When University High senior Ben Hutchens thought about the prospects for a return to the state Class 3A track and field meet in the 4x400 meter relay, his thoughts turned depressing.
“I really thought we were going to suck in the 4x400,” he said. “I was the only one coming back. We had three seniors on last year’s team and the juniors who ran No. 5 and No. 6 weren’t going to turn out. So there was no one with any experience whatsoever to run it.”
So imagine the lead-off runner’s surprise to be challenging Mead for the Greater Spokane League title in the event heading into the final week of the regular season, with a showdown with the Panthers in the league championship meet looming dead ahead.
And doing it with a set of newcomers to the event, including a senior who never ran track until this year.
“I played baseball until this year,” said second-leg runner Cole Sorensen. “I’ve really had a great time getting to know everyone and I really like how supportive everyone is. I didn’t expect to come in and be the fastest guy on the team or anything, but I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned and how well I’m running right now.”
Sorensen has a personal best time in the 400 of 51.86 seconds – tied with Mt. Spokane’s Jacob Krantz for the best time in the GSL this season.
At the high school level, the 400 meters is unique. It’s too long to be a true sprint race like the 100 or 200 meters. And it’s too short to be a true distance race like the 800, 1600 or 3200.
For most racers, it’s about running as hard as you can for 300 meters and then holding on to the finish. Severe oxygen debt is a given; throwing up at the finish line is optional.
“I actually like running this distance,” senior Corey Tindel said with a wry smile. “I’m strange that way, I guess, but I like it. It’s my favorite event.”
Junior Patrick Miranne wears a sheepish look when he talks about his role on the team – for the life of him, he cannot understand why he’s running the anchor leg instead of an upperclassman.
“I do have a good kick at the end, I guess, but mostly I just don’t want to mess things up for them,” he said.
“Patrick has this thing that he does in a race that is pretty cool to watch,” Tindel said. “He will sit on the shoulder of the fastest guy in the race and just coast along with them until the end of the race. Then he takes off and beats them to the finish line. I’ve seen other guys get so mad that he’s able to do that and still beat them.”
The group started the season with modest results. And then, in one early GSL meet, boom!
“We dropped our PR by about 7 seconds on one race,” Hutchens said. “It was pretty incredible. All of a sudden I started thinking that getting this team back to the state meet wasn’t so far-fetched. And then the next time out, we dropped it another couple seconds. That’s a nine-second improvement overall.”
Mead still owns the fastest time in the GSL going into this week’s round of league meets, running 3:29.02. University is just over a second back with a best time of 3:30.35.
Looking ahead to districts, when Mead will no longer be a challenger, the Titans must face Hanford, which has a PR of 3:25.41.
“We can still get faster,” Tindel said. “Each of us is getting better each time out and we can still do better with our handoff – that will help us be just a little faster.
“Ben and Cole are doing a great job getting the baton to Patrick and me. Those two guys are good runners. Patrick and I are more racers. That’s a good way to be.”
The consensus is that the Titans just need to get the baton in Miranne’s hands with something close to a lead and the junior can bring the team home a victory.
“It is so cool to see the guys ahead of me run and for me to get the chance to finish a race with a lead,” Miranne said. “That gets my adrenalin flowing and makes me want to run even faster.”