ENDICOTT, N.Y. — Waverly coach Scott Baird knew his 4x800 relay team could be special.
All season long he had been waiting for the special to come out.
On Thursday at the Section IV State Qualifier, it came out in a big way as they won the Division-II title with a season best nine minutes, 49.97 seconds, over 17 seconds faster than their personal best this season.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a relay, and I know when you take a relay you have a lot more fun,” remarked Baird.
The foursome of Elizabeth Fritzen, Sheridan Talada, Olivia Nittinger and Cora Smith came less than two seconds from their school record.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Fritzen said. “We’ve all been training for this and working for this the whole season.”
“We were really motivating each other before the race,” explained Talada. “I think that played a big role.”
Notre Dame and Lansing were their two most dangerous foes with the Crusaders taking a first lap lead thanks to Division-II 800 champion Alyssa Walker leading off.
Fritzen wasn’t that far behind, though.
“I just kind of used Alyssa to pace me in the beginning and knew that if I just tried to kick it with her at the end my time would pay off with that,” said Fritzen.
Walker handed off to Piper Young with Fritzen giving the baton to Talada.
Talada closed on Young, keeping her close enough for their final two legs — Nittinger and Smith — to take the lead.
“I feel like I run better when I have to catch someone, so I just tried to close the gap as much as I could,” explained Talada.
The baton next went to Nittinger who had to catch Notre Dame’s Vicky Mordvinova.
“I was just thinking about the Notre Dame girl ahead of me,” explained Nittinger. “I just used her to pace me through the first 300.”
After that, Nittinger passed her to put Waverly in first for their division.
“After that, all I had in my head was states,” admitted Nittinger.
Smith was Waverly’s anchor and was looking for some redemption. Earlier in the day, she was the second seed in the 1500 but finished seventh.
“I was really bummed with my performance in the 1500, and I used that as power and motivation to finish hard in the 4x8,” Smith said.
Notre Dame’s anchor Maura Devlin hung behind Smith for a lap but couldn’t keep up in the second 400.
“I knew I had to keep our lead, and I knew I had to keep going faster,” said Smith. “Try and win that for us.”
Smith pulled away and finished second overall, first in Division-II, to punch their ticket. The Crusaders did finish with a season best 10:04.65, taking fourth overall and second in their division. Lansing wasn’t even a factor in 10:14.00.
“We played around with some line-ups, different set ups, and these girls have been running together now for about the past month,” explained Baird. “All we do is talk about it: opportunities — ‘do you want to let it slip away again or do you want to have fun.’”
Before the year started, Baird told them they would all have to go sub 2:30 and three of them did with Fritzen (2:27), Talada (2:26) and Smith (2:26). Nittinger came in at 2:30 on the dot.
“If you each ran your fastest, we could go after the school record,” Baird told them. “They were close.”
This capped a 2-day invitational that saw the Waverly girls earn a state berth in three events: 4x800, 3000 (Smith) and 400 (Melina Ortiz).
“That’s just awesome,” Baird remarked.
Nittinger may be just as excited as her coach.
“We’re just going to have a blast.”