There's something special about the last event at a track and field meet - the 4x400 relay.
"There is definitely a different energy in the air for the 4x4," Squalicum senior sprinter Kyler Reed said. "You know it's about to go down. It's kind of like the last big fight of the day. Everything kind of builds up to it. It's a really exciting thing."
Sometimes championships are won in the final event - sometimes they are lost.
Then again, there's just something about watching four guys try to turn a mile as quickly as they possibly can.
"It's fun from a runner's perspective, because you're running for someone else," said Squalicum senior Jason Pfannenstiel, who joins Reed on the Storm's 4x400 team. "You've got to get the baton around to the next guy as fast as you can. I think it's fun to watch, because you get to see everyone go a full lap. It's not over as fast as the 4x1. It's more fun to watch the progression of the race."
Squalicum sprints coach Ted Flint actually called it "my favorite event."
Of course, it's a whole lot easier to like an event when you're pretty darned good at it, and Squalicum's 4x4 team is definitely that.
Pfannenstiel and Reed, along with juniors Chris Fredlund and Neall Koetje enter the Class 2A State Track and Field Championships, which will begin Thursday and run through Saturday, May 23-25, at Mount Tahoma High School, with the top-seeded 4x400 relay.
Their winning time of 3 minutes, 20.63 seconds at last week's District 1/2 Meet not only stands as the fastest 2A time so far this year, but the second-fastest relay run by a high school team in the state this spring - about a half second behind Garfield's 3:20.12.
"We're incredibly blessed to have so many talented middle distance runners here," Reed said.
While Squalicum's talent level is undeniable, their experience also makes a big difference.
Reed and Pfannenstiel have been running the relay for the Storm the past three years, and Fredlund joined them last year.
"Each of the past three years, we've brought in one new guy and had three returners," Pfannenstiel said. "That type of experience is really important. We've only had to replace one person each year. This year, Neall is new to the team, and he's been a great addition."
This is actually Koetje's first year turning out for track, but his background in swimming made Flint sure he had the fitness level to tackle one of the most difficult runs in track.
"He's a guy that just keeps getting better and better every time out," Flint said in a phone interview. "He's dropped a few seconds off his split."
And the more experienced runners on the relay have happily taken him under their wing.
"We just kind of lead by example and make sure he understands the mental aspect of the race," Pfannenstiel said. "He's right there with us. He's putting in all the time and hard work that the rest of us have."
Flint said nobody works harder or is more detail oriented than Pfannenstiel, though.
Pfannenstiel, who plans to run for Western Washington University next year, usually handles the leadoff leg for the Storm. As an individual qualifier in the 110 and 300 hurdles, he's the perfect guy to get Squalicum off to a strong start.
"My goal, whenever I start the 4x4, is to get the baton around first and make up the stagger, even though that's not necessarily what you're supposed to do by that time," Pfannenstiel said. "It's my goal to be the fastest of the eight runners on the track at that time."
Fredlund, on the other hand, is more of a middle-distance runner with some excellent speed.
The junior missed qualifying for state in the 800 out of a tough district by less than a second, and he has enough quickness to turn in a strong second leg for Squalicum.
"He could be just as good running the anchor leg, because he has the ability to run people down," Flint said. "He's had our fastest split a number of times. As an 800 runner, he's also used to cutting in after the third corner."
Reed, who is planning to run at Skagit Valley College next year, usually handles the anchor leg.
As a state qualifier in the 100 and 200, he probably has the most raw speed of the quartet.
"He might be the most talented of the group, and that's saying a lot," Flint said. "Who knows what his best times will be? The potential is out there to run some really good times."
But with the three guys in front of him, Reed hasn't always had to show just how fast he can go.
"In a lot of ways, running anchor is the easiest leg," he said. "They put me out in front and I get an easy job to cruise it home. During big meets like district and state, though, I know I need to stick it to the track and go as fast as I can go."
Jonah Jacobson and Tyler Ho are listed as Squalicum's alternates for state on the 4x4. Reed, Pfannenstiel, Koetje, Jacobson and Ho are joined by Cain Duronso on the Storm's 4x100 relay, which also made it to state this year.
But it's the 4x4 where they have really shined.
"It's rare when you find guys that even want to run the 400," Flint said. "We have six or seven that really want to. That's the other reason we've had some success, is we have a bunch of guys that want to be on this relay, and they're all pushing each other to be better."
With such a collection of talent, it's obvious what the Storm has its sights set on this weekend.
"We'd love to win," Pfannenstiel said. "That's the ultimate goal, of course. But when it comes down to it, we can't do anything more than run as hard as we possibly can."
But with each of the four runners capable of running 50-second splits, Squalicum has a chance to make a little bit of history, too.
Ephrata set the 2A state meet record of 3:20.25 last year, and Reed said that is a mark the Storm has at least looked at this year.
"All we can do is run the best we're capable of doing, but that sure would be nice," Reed said. "Hopefully we can pull it off. I think we definitely have the potential to do it. The state meet is the last meet of the year. For Kyler and me, this is going to be our last race of our high school career. There's no reason not to give it everything we've got."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
CLASS 2A STATE TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
When: Thursday through Saturday, May 23-25
Site: Mount Tahoma High School
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.