Whitefish Bay junior 400-meter track runner Grace Murray is a little unused to the protocols of her new sport. This is her first year out for track and like almost the entirity of her team, she is an underclassmen.
So, she wasn't sure what she had accomplished by holding off a determined charge from a Grafton competitor to bring the 1,600 relay team home to victory in the last race of the North Shore Conference indoor meet Tuesday night at Homestead.
Only when it was announced that the Blue Dukes had won the meet by just four points over the defending champion Blackhawks (113-109) did it become a little more clear to her.
"This was just my second time anchoring a relay," she said, "and right before the race one of my coaches said 'We're looking for leadership on this team. You need to step up and be someone.'"
"I found out I liked doing this (having the responsibility of anchoring a relay)."
And because she won the Blue Dukes wound up with a four-point win over the Blackhawks (113-109). If she had lost the two teams would have wound up in a flat-footed tie for the team title with 111 points each. It's Bay's first league title in at least three years.
"So are you buying Kopps (for us)," came the call from the team that was stretching a few minutes later and looking to coach Ben Van Male for a celebratory stopover at the famed custard stand on Port Washington Road.
"If we can get the bus driver to stop there," smiled Van Male.
To which there was a small, but certain cry of "Yeah" from the assembled athletes, only one of whom on the 55-plus runner roster is a senior.
And it was a celebratory mood for the conference, as a strong competitive meet was turned in in a season where almost every team it seems has a crop of talented freshmen and sophomores.
"You get excited by your (young) kids and then you look around at the other teams and you say 'Oh, they have some too'," said coach John Krueger of third place Homestead.
The Highlanders scored 95-1/2 points for their spot, while Germantown was fifth with 49 and Nicolet sixth with 45.
Bay got help in earning its title on many fronts, primarily the distances and the relays.
When Murray crossed the finish line in first for the 1,600 relay team (4 minutes, 24.1 seconds), she had helped give Bay a clean sweep of the relay titles. She was joined on that particular team by junior Catie McBride, sophomore Haleigh Morton and junior Hannah Fick.
Earlier in the meet, the 3,200 relay team of sophomore Jessica O'Neill, sophomore Sydney Wellenstein, freshman Kylee Kennedy and sophomore Reilly Koch, won easily in 10:31.16. Koch, who would later win the open 800 by a commanding margin with a 2:30.38 clocking, anchored the relay with a ferocious last 400 of 1:13.
"She has just a blazing finish," said Bay distance coach Mike Miller, who noted that Koch has battled through some injuries in the past but now is in top shape.
"We all ran a lot over the winter," said Koch, "and something like this shows we're doing something pretty good."
Bay dominated the distance races, as despite the fact that junior ace Sara Coffey was still overseas on a school trip, freshman Hannah Lyons more than made up for her absence, winning both the 1,600 (5:31.63) and the 3,200 (12:21.9).
"We're working our way towards state," said Lyons. "We worked hard practicing over the winter. It was a little icy at times (laughs) but it was worth it."
Bay's relay dominance started with the 3,200 effort, and was followed by the four-lap relay team of freshman Kaitlyn Jackson, McBride, Schmidt and junior Katie Delany cruising to an easy win in 1:31.09.
Junior Lily Hayes won the pole vault with a clearance of nine feet.
After the post-meet celebration began, Jackson, who was also second in the 55-meter dash (7.6) and third in the 200 (27.98), summed up what it felt like to be on this team.
"It's a really good feeling," she said. "It feels like we're part of a family. We really came together tonight. That we won was amazing, but even if we hadn't that feeling of coming together was still very nice."
Van Male, who could not stop smiling afterwards noticed that feeling too.
"It was just a total team effort," he said. "From the distance runners, to the sprinters to the field events everyone contributed and that's what made it fun."
Homestead's Krueger was pleased with the balance the Highlanders showed, as they were able to cover a number of different events.
"We weren't able to do that last year," he said.
Monica Caputa earned the only first for the Highlanders with a state honor roll-worthy effort of 17-8 in the long jump. She won by over a foot. She was also second in the high jump with a effort of 5-1.
The four-lap relay team of Andrea Rossman, Tori Puhl, Melinda Gayle and Alex Lutz was also second in 1:31.62 as was Elyssa Tracy in the pole vault (9-0).
Other noteworthy showings for the Highlanders included the following: 55 dash--Gayle, fourth (7.8). 55 hurdles--Tracy, third (9.44). 400--Mary Kate Simon, third (1:06.23). 800--Anna Keller, fourth (2:39.87). Long jump--Nia Feaster, fourth (16-0).
For Germantown, Jennifer Ellis was second in the 55 hurdles (9.26) to lead the way, while thirds went to Bethany Laubenheimer in the long jump (16-5) and to Katelyn Turner in the shot put (35-7 1/4). Fourths were claimed by Sammie Gassner in the 55 hurdles (9.84) and Beth Kuske in the high jump (4-10).
For Nicolet, seconds went to retruning state qualifier Devon Peck in the shot put (indoor best of 37-8 3/4) and to Jnana Martin in the 200 (27.61). Thirds went to Martin in the 200 (7.75), and the four-lap relay team (1:32.76).
Anna Novak was fourth in the pole vault (8-0).
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