Being the top qualifier in the 4x200 relay has its drawbacks — not that you’ll hear Bellingham complaining any time soon.
Sure you don’t have to cross over as far on the final leg, but there is a huge stagger to make up at the start.
“Going out, it’s hard to make up so much stagger, so it looks like we’re coming in behind,” said Emma Brice, who as the Red Raiders leadoff runner, was tasked with trying to chase down the other seven teams. “But I just have to tell myself to drive as much as I can and get to Hannah (Bradley) and have a good hand off.”
Though it looked like they were coming from behind the entire race, Brice, Bradley, Hattie North and Mia Hodges had enough — just enough — to grab a Class 2A state title in the event on Saturday, May 30, at Mount Tahoma High School.
Bellingham’s time of one minute, 43.63 seconds edged out Renton by two hundredths of a second and third-place Issaquah Liberty by a 10th of second, as a Whatcom County team claimed first in the event for the seventh straight year.
After Brice put in the early work, it was Bradley’s job to continue chipping away at the stagger during the second leg.
“I just have to keep the pace that Emma has and try to pass even more people, so I can get us ahead for Hattie,” Bradley said. “I continue to try to make up the stagger so Hattie can take off.”
And take off, North did, as she had the stagger almost made up before the third hand off to Hodges.
“This was kind of different than we’re used to,” said North, who added that Bellingham prefers running in lanes 2 or 3. “It looks like we’re kind of behind, but right on the first corner, it’s like we take the lead because the stagger catches up. ... Usually we get it and I have no idea where anyone is or how close anyone is. So this time I was playing catch up, and that felt awesome.”
That put Hodges in perfect position to run down the front runners, who took the hand off “within a couple of steps” of Liberty, one lane to her right.
“Today was kind of nice, because I love hunting people down,” Hodges said. “That’s what I got to do around the corner. I guess if you don’t go then, when are you going to go.”
Hodges pulled ahead of the Liberty anchor runner with about 50 yards to go, but Renton made a serious late charge on the outside — not that Hodges noticed.
“The last 100, you’re just just focusing on yourself, Hodges said. “You’re driving as hard as you can, and yeah, you’re pushing off the other people, but everyone is pushing as hard as they can.”
And as it turned out, Hodges and her teammates pushed just hard enough.