ELDRIDGE, Iowa -- The Muscatine boys 1,600-meter relay team has been planning this all season. By virtue of being the last race, it gets a spotlight other races might not. And it also happens to be the race that perfectly suites the team's stable of dependable sprinters.
Muscatine advanced two relays -- the sprint medley and 1,600-meter relay -- on the boys side via automatic qualifier by finishing in the top two at the Class 4A district meet at North Scott High School Friday night.
They also are hanging onto hope that they can get one more relay in the 800 relay and a couple more individuals to state, most notably senior Aaron Webb in the 100-meter dash, a race he narrowly missed qualifying.
The Muskies girls advanced junior Rylee Blake in the 3,000-meter run. Coming into the race, Blake was seeded fourth based on times coming in. But Blake ran her best race of the year to snag the automatic qualifying bid to state.
“I knew during the race we’d all be super close together and during the first mile I just tried to stay the same as I normally do," Blake said. "And then after that if anyone tried to speed up I was going to try to stay with them.
"And then with two laps left, I knew if I didn’t go then it’d be too close and I didn’t know if I could out-kick them (at the end).”
The Muskies' 1,600 relay won its race in surprising yet convincing fashion. Not only does that mean they're getting an automatic qualifier bid to the Class 4A state track meet, but they also beat the Bulldogs in the process, which was something the team had on its radar from the beginning.
"To be able to compete with (Bettendorf) that closely and take a win means a lot for all of us. They’re a powerhouse," said senior Owen Hazelwood, who runs the opening leg of the relay for the Muskies.
Hazelwood and junior Zack Hardy, who took the baton second, ran strong legs of the relay, but weren't able to get the Muskies out in front.
Muscatine and Bettendorf were neck-and-neck for much of the race, well out in front of the rest of the pack. But it was during the race's third leg when Muskies' senior Trei Tovar made his move to take over first.
"(Bettendorf) kind of had us all year and I knew this would probably be the one good time we had to take them," Tovar said. "I made sure I got out as hard as I could, kept right behind them on the curve, I (made the move) to pass them on the straight, that way (the Bettendorf runner) either had to run in lane two - and go extra distance - to pass me on the curve or run behind me.
"That way I could kick it in on the last straight and get Noah (Yahn) the baton in a good spot.”
Once Yahn, a sophomore got the baton, Muscatine never surrendered the lead again, though the race remained tight the whole time. Yahn also qualified in the open 400.
“I look at it all equal," Yahn said. "The relays are more of a team. As an individual, I feel like I made a huge leap compared to last year. I just feel so blessed to be a part of this."
It looked like the Muskies might get a qualifier in the girls 400 hurdles, but junior Lauren Dirth fell going over a hurdle as she entered the final turn of the race. Dirth was in first at the time. She was able to recover and finish fifth, but having to overcome the fall was certainly a disappointment since Dirth has been running that race consistently well all season and qualified for state last year.
Overall, especially on the boys side, the Muskies seemed to accomplish what they set out to do at the district meet. At least they did according to head coach Mark Rusch.
"Overall, timewise we were really happy the way things went. We got a new school record in the sprint (medley), that’s a big deal for us, we’ve been chasing that this year," Rusch said. "It’s exciting to know that we can do that going forward. We had a ton of PRs tonight. Overall we just ran really well.”