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Steve Christilaw: It takes four to break relay records

From left, Martin Herford, Taylor Morton, Tevin Duke and Zech Herford are the speedy 4x100 meter relay team from West Valley High School. (Jesse Tinsley)
From left, Martin Herford, Taylor Morton, Tevin Duke and Zech Herford are the speedy 4x100 meter relay team from West Valley High School. (Jesse Tinsley)
Steve Christilaw

It just may be the most elegant expression of pure athleticism in all of sports: four sprinters carrying a light, metal baton once around a track as fast as they possibly can.

At its best, a 4x100 relay team will accomplish the feat in the time it takes to add cream and sugar to your cup of morning coffee, and do it as smoothly as a fine silk sheet.

Consider this: In any given season, a handful of the state’s best sprinters run the 100 meters in under 11 seconds. Four 11-second 100-meter times would give you a 44-second relay team. And 44 seconds in the sprint relay might not get into the finals of a big meet.

It’s not an entirely fair comparison. In a relay, the final three runners start their leg at full speed, with only the lead-off getting a standing start. But it gives you a good idea of the speed involved.

The West Valley quartet of Martin Herford, Taylor Morton, Tevin Duke and Zech Herford are the cream of the state’s Class 2A. More than that, they are one of the two best in the state, owning a season-best time of 42.88 seconds. The group broke the school record at last year’s state track and field meet, placing third with a time of 42.77.

This year, the team has been pushing to go fast all season long.

“People line up against us and they think ‘Oh, West Valley – that little 2A school; we can beat them,’ ” senior Martin Herford said. “And then we blow past them.”

 “We end up running against ourselves more often than not,” said Morton, also a senior. “Most teams don’t even enter a team against us.”

The West Valley quartet had its origin in the 2013 season. Morton, then a sophomore, teamed with Duke and Zech Herford, then freshmen, and Duke’s brother, Terrynce.

That team placed fourth at the state meet, turning in a season-best time of 43.06.

“That group was fast – the one with my brother,” Tevin Duke said. “But it didn’t all come together until we added Martin.”

Martin Herford didn’t turn out for track until last year, but soon found himself anchoring the sprint relay team.

But after last year’s Pasco Invitational, coach Vic Wallace decided to change the order and switch brothers.

“At first we had Zech leading off and Martin running the anchor leg,” Wallace said. “Zech was, after all, our 100 meter guy. But we figured that Martin ran the curve well so we moved him to lead-off and Zech to the anchor. We knew there was more speed in this team and that change made the difference.”

Just weeks after making that change, the group broke the school record.

“We didn’t win state, and that kind of eats at us,” Zech Herford said. “That drives us to get better.”

The four runners make their lap around the track look effortless, with long strides churning up huge chunks of the distance with a smooth efficiency. But it takes lots of practice.

“We still haven’t had a perfect race yet,” Morton said. “We have to keep working hard because we haven’t gotten there yet.”

At the recent Pasco Invitational, the Eagles ran neck-and-neck with Class 4A power Bothell through most of the race, but a bobbled hand-off slowed them down just enough to fall behind, placing second – turning in a 42.88 to Bothell’s 42.44.

The group will take another shot at big-time competition at the Shoreline Invitational before heading into the state meet.

The challenge of running against the best competition is a big plus, but the group insists its biggest push comes from within. “We are absolutely a team,” Duke said. “You have to ignore the pain and keep pushing ourselves so we don’t let each other down.”

“The thing that really inspires me most is the race,” Morton said. “When I see Martin coming around that first turn and he’s already beaten the guy ahead of him, that just makes me want to get the baton and beat my man and hand off to Tevin.”

“By the time it gets to me, I’m pretty fired up,” anchorman Zech Herford said. “The crowd is getting into it and I just feed off of that.”

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