Soroco's Andrew Herzog runs a leg of the boys 800-meter relay Friday at Moffat County High School in Craig. That Rams relay is currently ranked 14th in the state and is one of eight the boys and girls teams hope to send to next months state track meet.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Soroco's Andrew Herzog runs a leg of the boys 800-meter relay Friday at Moffat County High School in Craig. That Rams relay is currently ranked 14th in the state and is one of eight the boys and girls teams hope to send to next months state track meet.

Relay teams strength of Soroco track

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Soroco's state success

Soroco has loaded the state meet with relay teams in recent years

2013 — 4 relays

2012 — 6 relays

2011 — 7 relays

2010 — 4 relays

2009 — 3 relays

2008 — 3 relays

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The Soroco girls 1,600-meter relay team of, from left, Kali Constine, DaKota Bruner, Leah Walorski and Hayley Johnson, celebrates and catches its breath after Friday's race at Moffat County High School. Currently ranked 14th in the state, the team is likely to join the 27 relay teams Soroco has sent to state in the last six seasons.

— For the Soroco High School track team, learning to take a handoff is as much a part of the start to the season as trying on a uniform and tying on running shoes.

Relay teams are a staple of track season, of course, and plenty of schools across the state field plenty of relay teams. Few schools do so with as much gusto as Soroco, however.

Surprise, surprise, once again this year the Rams are hoping to fill a school bus with all the relay participants it qualifies to next month’s state track meet in Lakewood.

“Program wise, it helps,” Soroco coach David Bruner said. “Track can become a real individual sport if you don’t try to put relays together. The kids really enjoy running together. It brings a lot of camaraderie to the team and it helps bring them all closer together.”

Strong relays are the backbone of the Soroco track team, which has lapped its fellow Routt County squads in terms of qualifying athletes to state in recent years.

In the past six years, the Rams have sent 27 relays teams to state and brought home eight medals.

There has been plenty of overlap on those teams — a handful of athletes have run in four different relays at state in the same year — but a focus on relays has helped keep Soroco surging.

“Being on a relay team, you become more bonded with your teammates,” Soroco’s Leah Walorski said.

She got a medal in the 3,200-meter relay at state last year and already has run on four different relay teams this year. She’ll have to drop at least one for state, where she also hopes to compete in triple jump.

In the details

Of course, it doesn’t just happen.

First, there’s all that work in practice, the handoffs that dominate a day working out with the Rams. Sure, not every athlete will run 100 meters for the 400-meter relay team, or 200 for the 800 relay. But making the cut for a relay is a common pre-season goal for a Ram and those who don’t fall in as alternates who often get at least a few chances every season to contribute on a team.

“I always say I’d rather run the 4x400 than the 400 because I’m running with someone and for someone,” said Soroco junior Hayley Johnson, who scored a state medal in the 800 relay as a freshman.

This year she’s running three relays, the 400, the 800 and the 1,600.

“I really pushes us and that makes us a good team,” she said.”We are all competing with each other because we all want a spot.”

Piecing together a good relay team is as much art as it is science for Bruner.

Traditional wisdom dictates that the fastest runner runs the anchor leg, and the next fastest runner leads off. It’s more complicated than that, however. Not all athletes come out of the blocks equally, so Bruner slots his fastest starter first, no matter how fast he or she runs the rest of the race.

The straight-away runner in a 400-meter relay often actually runs a little more than 100 meters, so that’s a factor. Then there are things that even a coach who’s been putting together relays for nearly 20 years doesn’t consider.

“Some of our girls this year are a lot taller and some are smaller,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how they best hand off to each other because that can make a difference. That’s something I’m worried about this year.”

And there’s no way to oversell those handoffs. It can mean a fraction of a second in the shorter relays, but they matter in the longer ones, as well.

“It can make a huge difference in the 4x800,” Bruner said. “You could lose three or four seconds if a runner is just standing there instead of already running. That can be the difference between getting a medal or not getting one at the state meet, or it could cause you to miss the state meet.”

So far, so good this season.

The Rams have raced eight relay distances, the 400-, 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter relays on both the boys and the girls sides. All eight currently hold top 18 times among Class 2A schools, meaning they’re all on course to go to state.

The boys 1,600-meter relay is in the best shape, in eighth place. Most of the rest are safe, with the exception of both the boys and the girls 400 relays teams, which are both 18th.

That’s looking like success for Soroco.

“You always want to get as many kids as possible to the state meet,” Bruner said. “As a coach you have to consider where you have the best chance. Plus, with a relay you get a lot more kids involved and that makes it more fun for them.”

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