Sunday, June 7, 2015

West Lafayette girls 3,200 relay repeats as state champs

Source: Journal & Courier    Story: Sam King     Photo: Sam King



BLOOMINGTON
They wore pink to stand out, but their performance was an attraction on its own.

For the second year in a row, West Lafayette's 3,200-meter relay team opened the IHSAA girls track and field finals with a state championship.

"The spectators can spot the pink and when you are racing in a different uniform, it seems special," junior Kristen Johnson said.

It certainly was special.

ItoroUdo-Imeh, Kristen Johnson, Lauren Johnson and Susan Hubbard ran the ninth-fastest (8:58.72) high school 3,200 relay in the nation this year and the Red Devils became just the second squad in Indiana state finals history to break nine minutes in the event, joining Eastern's 2013 record-setting team.

The win was a springboard for West Lafayette, with an enrollment of 688, which traded blows with Indianapolis schools Pike (enrollment 3,160) and Warren Central (3,602). West Side trailed state champion Pike 43-42 entering the final event and finished third after Pike was third and Warren Central was runner-up in the 1,600 relay.

The third-place showing, WL's best since being runner-up in the first girls state finals in 1974, meant more given that track and field is not broken up into classes based on enrollment figures. Pike finished with 50 points, aided by sophomore LynnaIrby accounting for 37 of them, and Warren Central scored 48. West Lafayette had 42.

"For most of the big schools, this is a typical state meet and for us, it is atypical," WL coach Lane Custer said. "I am a single-class guy all the way. I always have been. We want to know what we can do against these schools. It's your perspective and how you compare yourself."

Regardless of the jersey color, Hubbard brought the large crowd to its feet as she dashed ahead of Carmel during the final 200 meters. Just like last year, Hubbard anchored the state championship relay.

Her split of 2:09.7 was two seconds faster than Plainfield's Samantha Woodford would run later in the night in winning the 800. Hubbard, who also competed in the 1,600 relay, was fourth in the 800 in a school record 2:13.37.

"You always want to do better than the past, right?" Hubbard said after the opening relay, unable to clear a grin from her face. "You don't want to lower your standards."

The Red Devils claimed their title one day after the West Side boys won the same event. It is the first time the same team won both 3,200 relay races at the state finals since Carmel in 2001.

Trying to repeat on top of what their male counterparts did 24 hours earlier proved to pack the pressure prior to the meet.

"When the guys won, it became that the girls have to win, too, so two teams win in the same year," Kristen Johnson said.

Kaia Harris also gave the Red Devils an early boost with a third-place throw of 139 feet, 9 inches in the discus.

Harris continued her second-half surge this season with a throw that replicated what she'd been doing leading into Saturday's meet.

"I was throwing close to what I threw today in practices, so I knew I was capable of it, but I didn't know if I would actually pull through with it," the sophomore said.

As Harris was finishing the discus, Udo-Imeh was leading off the 3,200 relay. Just the fourth time she's run the event all season, Udo-Imeh performed as advised.

The freshman hurdler was challenged to open the race with a 2:20 split. Udo-Imeh hit 2:20 flat before letting Kristen Johnson close the gap with a mark of 2:15.2.

Lauren Johnson ran her 800 in 2:13.6, then came back about four hours later to finish runner-up to Anna Rohrer's record-breaking performance in the 3,200. Rohrer outran the field in 10:11.20. Johnson crossed the line in 10:54.43 and West Lafayette senior Rachel Bales wasn't far behind, finishing fourth in 10:58.51.

Sophomore Alex Deryn's fifth-place time of 44.71 seconds in the 300 hurdles kept West Side in the title hunt heading into the 3,200.

Hubbard and Bales graduated, but the third-place standing overall left a mark to show that West Lafayette will come back as a force next year.

"We had so many girls coming to state and we knew it was going to be like this," Bales said. "We were so well-rounded this year with a pole vaulter, hurdles, a thrower and we always have distance. This was great."

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