The first call for the boys 4x200-meter relay came and went Thursday, and Janesville Craig’s six runners were still shooting the breeze in the shade behind the grandstand at Lake Geneva Badger High.
Second call was announced, too, and the four runners and two alternates remained hanging out along a fence. From above, Craig’s coaching staff shouted down to make sure the Cougars went and checked in on time for their race.
It’s a close-knit, happy-go-lucky group, which is why coach Jeff Deininger sometimes worries about the relay team’s focus and ability to turn up the intensity. Yet every time the gun has gone off over the last month, his two boys sprint relay teams have gotten better and better.
Trevion Moore, Orion Mitchell, Gabe Rubine and Alijah Jones won Big Eight Conference titles in the 400- and 800-meter relays. Then, they won regional titles Monday. Then, they won sectional titles at Badger on Thursday, confirming their spot at the WIAA state track and field meet next weekend in La Crosse.
“They’re friends, and I think that really helps out a lot,” Deininger said.
“But it’s been a process for us, too. There’s been a couple things we’ve had to work on in practice to get them to where they are. But it’s really all on them. They’ve worked super hard.
“This probably the most calm, nerve-wise, group of kids I’ve seen in my life. That’s their personality—they’re calm and cool.”
Deininger believed from a very early point in the season that that foursome would be a strong contender in the 4x100 relay.
But they didn’t work together as a 4x200 group until about a month ago.
“This was only like our third time doing it,” Moore said. “We were like, ‘Let’s try the 4x2,’ and we had a good time.”
In fact, the times from the previous group’s 4x200 had the Cougars in the first, or slower, heat at the Big Eight Conference meet. But the new foursome ran faster than any of the groups in the second, faster heat.
“We have good chemistry with our team, so nothing changes, it’s just a longer distance,” said Moore, who also won the sectional title in the 110 hurdles. “We hang out inside and out of school, and we just have a strong bond.”
Jones said there is also a camaraderie with Janesville Parker’s boys sprint relay teams, which also both qualified for state.
Jones finished third behind sectional champ Seamus Murphy, a Vikings senior, in the 100. But in the 4x200 relay, Jones began with a slight lead and held off Murphy down the stretch for the victory.
“It’s all just come naturally for us. From practicing our 4x100 handoffs, it just carried over into the 4x2,” Jones said. “We’ve got a good little rivalry (with Parker). Seamus is a fast dude. I love racing him. He makes me push harder, and I make him push harder. I knew he almost caught me, because I could feel him (over my shoulder).”
It was a strong finish to the season for Janesville relay teams overall. The Craig girls 4x400 team wrapped up sectionals with a title Thursday. And both Craig 4x800 teams will race at state, as well.
Craig’s 4x200 boys team set a personal record by about a second and a half at sectionals.
It’ll likely take a similar jump in the preliminaries to qualify for the finals heat at state, but after the past few weeks, the Cougars certainly have momentum on their side.