Taking the handoff

Saturday, April 26, 2003

In the successful 3200-meter relay at Central, the baton is not just passed from girl to girl.

It's passed year to year, from one successful quartet to the next.

The current group of Linnea Woldtvedt, Holly Shaffer, Jennifer Pancoast and Alex Wieser took the baton from last year's all-state squad, which took the handoff from a team that qualified for state the year before.

The current group, buoyed by a recent spiral downward in their times, are hoping to complete the third leg in Central's string of state qualifying in the event.

"We know we can make it to state," Wieser said. "We just need to keep on improving."

Heading into today's Cape Relays, the quartet is hoping to surpass the times of its forerunners. After running a winning time of 9 minutes, 46 seconds at the Jackson Invitational two weeks ago, the 3200 squad is setting its eyes on the school record of 9:39.

The time at Jackson lowered the team's season-best by 21 seconds and bettered the runner-up, Lafayette, by 19 seconds. Team members were confident they could break 10 minutes, but were among those surprised by the time.

"It got a lot of other people's attention besides ours," Central coach Lawrence Brookins said. "In fact, it had a lot of people talking and was kind of the buzz of the day."

Central has already lowered its time in the event by over a minute from its first meet of the season and the members are confident the school record is within reach.

"I think we have a good chance of breaking it," Pancoast said. "Last year the Cape Relays was the first time we broke 10, and we've already done that by a lot."

"We can get the new record," Shaffer said. "No doubt."

Pancoast, a sophomore, and Wieser, a senior, were members of last year's team which broke the school record on successive weekends, the latter time of 9:39.40 good for fifth at the Class 4 state meet.

Wieser replaced Shaffer, who was a member of the team her entire freshman year until a stress fracture in her right tibia forced her out at sectional. It was at sectional where the squad broke the 14-year-old school record of 9:43. Shaffer ended up as an alternate at state, watching and supporting her teammates.

"You have no idea," Shaffer said of her front-row seat. "It was really tough. Going to state is my dream right now."

She's currently riding a stationary bike and swimming three days a week, and running just twice a week in an effort to avoid a reoccurrence of the injury.

Wieser has been to state in two of her previous three years as part of relays. She was a member of state-qualifying 800 and 1600 relays as a freshman, but she has gradually stretched her distance. She ran in the open 800 for the first time at the Jackson Invitational and won in 2:24.92.

"I was real nervous because I had never done that before," Wieser said. "It was surprising that I won it."

But like the other girls on the squad, she has a preference for the team-orientation of a relay.

"I love the 4x200, I like short shot events, but I don't like the open events as much as the relays." Wieser said.

Pancoast, who at 5:10 is just one second off the school record in the 1600, is of the same mind.

"It's so much fun," Pancoast said. "It's still pressure, but it's a lot better to run with other people."

Wieser has become a permanent member of the relay and has been joined by Woldtvedt, a freshman. The pair replaces regulars Kim Pancoast and Whitney Pingle, who both graduated.

"It's hard to get four good ones and we have four good ones," said distance coach Lori Meyer, who overlooks the relay team. "We should be able to put a good state team together, but we have to keep them healthy."

Like her runners, Meyer sees the school record as reachable.

"Probably each girl can take a couple seconds off, so I can see that record being broke," Meyer said. "I don't know if they'll be ready to break it at the Cape Relays, but it would be a good place to do it."

And with two sophomores and a freshman in the mix, the baton looks to be in secure hands, ready to be handed off to next year's team and beyond.

"Outside of Wieser, everyone is still a puppy," Brookins said. "That's encouraging. And there appears to be a good group at the eighth grade that should be ready to step up next year and the years after."

Cape Relays

When: field events 10 a.m., track events 10:30 a.m.

Where: Abe Stuber Track and Field Complex, Southeast Missouri State University

Teams: Notre Dame, Perryville, Poplar Bluff, Farmington, Murphysboro, Ill., Jackson, Central, Egyptian, Ill. (B), Valle (B), Sikeston (B), Festus (G), Hillsboro (G)

Scoring: No team scores; only open events are 100 meters, 1600, 3200, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles; relay scoring in field events.

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