On the fast track

By Robert Niedzwiecki

The Winchester Star

Winchester — After suffering several personal disappointments and watching the meet unfold with nary a victory from Handley High School, the Judges’ 4x400-meter girls’ relay team was consumed with making a statement that said Handley has more than just a fast track.

After the Judges darted and powered through the wind in meet- and school-record time, what they did instead was raise a question. Will anyone be able to beat them at the Group AA state meet?

Junior Caroline Crowe, senior Kara Dixon, and sophomores Verna Hilaire-Lee and Britani Myers delivered the only local girls’ win for area schools Saturday at the 69th Handley Track & Field Invitational on the Red Baker-Burr Grim Track at the Bill Higgs Track & Field Facility.

The foursome recorded a time of 4 minutes, 2.64 seconds, besting the meet record set by Fauquier (4:04.73) set in 2005 and the school record of 4:04.98 set in 2000. Not only that, Handley finished 5.6 seconds ahead of a Potomac Falls team (4:08.24) that took second at last year’s state meet. The Judges’ time would have placed them third at the 2009 state meet.

“I think that we wanted to come out and win this because this is the Handley Invitational, and we didn’t want people to be like, ‘Well, they weren’t really that good. They didn’t win any events,’” said Dixon, who gave the Judges a lead they would not relinquish with her splintering second leg. “We wanted to show we had a good 4x4 team and we had some decent runners.”

The Judges had clinched the area’s best team finish before the race, and the victory placed them in fifth with 40 points, 42.33 behind champion Loudoun Valley (82.33) and 39 behind runner-up Potomac Falls. Sherando was ninth with 21, James Wood tied for 10th with 19.5, Millbrook was 20th with 9 and Clarke County was 24th with 2 in the 25-team field.

For the girls on Handley’s 4x400 team, their race was the culmination of a long day in terms of time (the meet lasted more than nine hours) and emotion. Three of them were on the 4x100 team that was disqualified after the baton was dropped on the second exchange, and they weren’t able to match their seed times, marks or places in individual events.

Hilaire-Lee was seeded second in the 100 and placed sixth (13.24). Crowe and Dixon were seeded second and third, respectively, in the 400 but placed fifth (Dixon, 1:02.44) and sixth (Crowe, 1:02.94). Crowe took second in the high jump (4-10), but fell well short of her 5-2 seed mark. Myers was seeded first in the 300 hurdles and placed third (49.94).

But the 4x400 provided a chance for this close-knit group to come together and put all that behind them, and did they ever take advantage.

After Crowe’s opening 400, Dixon took the baton and was about 10 meters behind. As she neared the halfway point Handley was in third place, but at that point she put on a burst of speed and picked both runners off. When she handed off to Hilaire-Lee, the Judges were five meters in front.

While countless athletes could be heard complaining about the cold and were seen shivering in the wind, Handley’s girls didn’t mind it one bit. Because they run at the Handley Bowl every day, they know how the wind blows there, and they know when it’s the right time to push and the right time to conserve energy.

“I knew I had to catch the girl in front of me before we got on the turn, because the wind would be pushing back,” Dixon said. “And I knew if I got ahead by even a small amount, Verna would go off with it and Britani would finish it.”

She was right. Hilaire-Lee pushed the lead out to 20 meters, and Myers extended it to 30 when she crossed the finish line.

As Hilaire-Lee began talking about her run, they started getting excited when they heard they had run a 4:02 to shatter the school record they had worked so diligently to break last year as they battled injuries. Later, they excitedly yelled and hugged Judges coach Sam Finley in celebration.

Earlier, Finley had challenged the team to seize the moment and not leave anything to chance, but he also dangled an enticing carrot for a little extra incentive.

“He’s going to buy us dinner,” Crowe said.

“I kind of begged them a little bit,” said Finley with a laugh. “I told them to make me a happy coach.

“I was a little scared at first. But [Crowe] held her own and stayed where she needed to be, and I knew the other three were going to be fine.”

Handley engages in such activities as talking to the track and praying before races to get in the proper mind-set, and the Judges hope those things, along with their legs, carries them to a special season.

“We really want to do well at states,” Myers said. “I think we definitely made our mark today.”

Clarke County’s Andrea Gaither, the reigning Winchester Star Girls’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year, is definitely no stranger to success at the state meet after winning the 100 at last year’s Group A state meet. But Gaither suffered a right anterior cruciate ligament tear during basketball season and is still rounding into form. Wearing a brace, the junior, who only began practicing two weeks ago, took ninth in the 100 in 13.64 after competing in the second slowest heat, well off the school-record 12.26 she ran to win last year’s state title.

“It’s really a mental game,” said Gaither, who feels some discomfort after she runs but tries not to think about her knee while she runs. “When I’m in the blocks, I’m scared to push off, I’m scared to push myself too hard, I’m scared of hurting myself. I just need to trust myself and trust my brace, and I’ll be all right.”

Sherando was led by Shelby Spangler (fourth in the 800 in 2:24.84) and Krista DeCeault (fourth in the 1,600 in 5:22.54);

Wood was led by Rachel Carson (third in the 800 in 2:24.34); Millbrook was led by its 4x800 team (Yesenia Ruiz, Karly Knechtel, Shelby Feliciano, and Monique Lassiter, fourth in 10:16.44); and Clarke County was led by Ally Kuehm (seventh in the 3,200 in 12:27.24).

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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