Relay team brings home State Title for SPASH girls
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) girls 4×400 relay team set a school record, on their way to winning the State Title at the WIAA Division 1 State Meet at Veterans Memorial Stadium in La Crosse Friday and Saturday, May 31 and June 1.
After they teamed up less than a month earlier, senior Taylor Konczal, freshman Mallory Greenwood, junior Maddie Hyland and freshman Roisin Willis combined to win the 4×400 relay in 3:53.81 to capture the State Title over Waunakee (3:58.45).
“It was the best feeling in the world, because it was my senior year and it was my last race that I’ll ever be able to compete in,” said Konczal. “And competing with such wonderful and talented ladies, it was just the best.”
“It was just like a dream come true for me,” said Hyland. “All season long, I did not think that we had this good of a team, but then after when we won Arrowhead (May 4), I started to realize, ‘oh, we could maybe win state.’
“So from Arrowhead on, that was the goal of ours,” he said.
Both Konczal and Hyland returned from SPASH’s 4×400 relay team from last season, as the Panthers lost Halle Gregorich and Maggie Negaard from a year ago when they qualified for state.
Greenwood and Willis eventually joined the lineup with Konczal and Hyland this season, as they went on to win the 4×400 relay at the Myrhum Invitational at Arrowhead High School May 4 in 4:00.91 over Franklin (4:01.49).
The relay team followed with a Regional Title May 20 at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln and a Sectional Title at D.C. Everest May 23 to qualify for state, as they entered the State Meet with the top-seeded time in Division 1 at 3:57.30.
At state, they recorded the fastest time in the preliminaries Friday with 3:54.44 to advance to the finals Saturday, where Konczal ran the first leg and got the Panthers off to a good start.
“I wanted to give me team a really good lead, and that was my focus,” said Konczal. “Hopefully doing the best I can to give more confidence to my teammates, and help them run their best race.”
SPASH was just off the lead when Greenwood took the handoff second, with Hyland up third for the Panthers.
“It was kind of terrifying. I was really, really nervous,” said Greenwood. “I remember getting the baton, and just being like, ‘Mallory, you’ve got to just go do this, you have to just run as hard as you can.
“It was a hard race, especially since the girls running against us were really, really fast,” she said.
“We knew going into the race that we needed to be within three or four seconds of the top team for Roisin to be able to catch them and win,” said Hyland. “And coming back on the home stretch, I was tied for second with three or four other girls, and the team in front of us, Hamilton, was only maybe one or two seconds ahead of us.
“So giving it to Rosin, I just knew in that moment like, ‘oh, we have this,’” she said. “‘Because Roisin is just going to absolutely demolish them.’”
After setting the State Record in the 800 run a day earlier, Willis anchored the 4×400 relay for SPASH, and looked to capture another State Title when she took the baton from Hyland.
“Once Mallory got the baton, I could kind of see where we were, and I started nodding my head, because I knew we could do it, because we were right in there with everyone else,” said Willis. “And then when Maddie got the baton, I was like, ‘we can win this race,’ because they had just run such good legs, and we were right in there with all of the other teams.”
Willis pulled into the lead on the final lap and crossed the finish line in 3:53.81 to win the State Title for the Panthers ahead of Waunakee (3:58.45) and Sussex Hamilton (3:58.79).
“We were all standing close to each other, and when we knew down the stretch that she was going to bring it home, the feelings were just so strong,” said Konczal. “We were so happy for each other.
“Roisin is just such a wonderful, compassionate girl toward helping our team get better, and it was just such a great feeling,” she said.
“It was a fun time,” said Willis. “Just with the crowd and the energy and everything, and when I crossed the line and I ran over to my teammates and gave them all a hug, it was just a really happy moment.”
The mark of 3:53.81 set a school record, as they became the fifth relay team in SPASH girls track history to win a State Title, along with the 4×400 relay teams in 1984 and 1991, the 4×800 relay team in 2003, and 4×100 relay team in 2005.
“It was pretty cool,” said Greenwood. “It felt like all of the work we put in this season really paid off.”
“It was so cool to see the smiles and the girls hugging, that’s why we coach,” said SPASH girls track co-head coach Nate Olson. “We put together the training program and they followed it, they worked hard, and they had each others’ backs.
“They all ran well, they all did what they had to do, and it wasn’t like Roisin had to make up a 50-meter deficit,” he said. “She was right in the race, so when we were that close, we knew it was over before it began, because we knew she was going to just turn it on and bring it home.
“And it’s just so rewarding as a coach to see them succeed, and to do it together as a team,” he said.