Team is the thing on first night at Arcadia

Given a big lead by her teammates, Kelly Lawson handles the anchor duty for La Costa Canyon (San Diego) in the 4x1600 relay on Friday at the Arcadia Invitational. John Nepolitan/ESPNHS


ARCADIA, Calif. – On a night that celebrated the overwhelming depth of talent of track programs in Southern California and several points beyond, capable teammates were as valuable as superstars at the Arcadia Invitational.

Athletes such as Tori Myers, Imani Cook-Gist, Kelly Lawson and the members of Loyola’s boys 4x1600 relay did things that spoke volumes about trusting one another, strength-in-numbers and good coaching.

Myers is a senior at Long Beach Poly, possibly America’s most prolific assembly line of top-flight high school sprinters and hurdlers. Within the span of an hour, she helped her team move to No. 2 all-time in the shuttle hurdle relay (58.11 seconds) and also led off a 2012 US#1 in the 800-meter sprint medley relay (1:44.37).

“I worked hard for four years and stayed committed to track,” Myers said.

She is a cog in the Long Beach Poly machine, but the work to move up the chain to the varsity group is paying off.

“I’m excited today,” she said. “I think it’s a really special year for everybody (in the program).”

Cook-Gist and fellow freshman Shea Copeland made favorable impressions on Harvard-Westlake stars Amy Weissenbach and Cami Chapus, teaming up with them to break the meet record in the 1,600-meter medley relay.

Cook-Gist arrived in Los Angeles earlier Friday morning after a long flight home from Tahiti, where she had spent Spring Break studying marine biology.

“We knew the atmosphere (at Arcadia) would bring it out of the freshmen,” said Chapus, who anchored the 800-meter leg in 2:09.9.

Watching Cook-Gist, and then Copeland, bring the baton around with 25.5 and 25.6 splits, was a welcome sight for the veterans.

“I was jumping around, it was so exciting,” said Weissenbach, who split 55.1 for 400.

In the girls 4x1600 meters, Lawson of La Costa Canyon (San Diego) had a 60-meter lead when she took the baton for the anchor leg but knew she needed every bit of that cushion to stay in front of Simi Valley sophomore Sarah Baxter and Campolindo senior Carrie Verdon, two of the nation’s best distance runners.

Lawson didn’t let her teammates down, turning a 4:57.7 leg and not yielding an inch on the final lap to Baxter, who trimmed 60 meters to 25 in the first three circuits.

“I was nervous but I’m really confident in my team,” Lawson said. “I had faith in them and they pulled through.”

La Costa Canyon arranged its lineup with the intent of being first, with as wide a margin as possible, in order to overcome Baxter, Verdon and the other anchors. Emma Abrahamson, the school’s top runner, went first.

But it was Lawson, out there by herself and knowing that she had a target on her back, who ran the fastest for the team, turning in a 4:57.7 carry. (Baxter closed for Simi Valley in 4:52.0).

“I need to have a lead,” Lawson said. “We were coming in here just to see how it goes. When I got the baton my mentality was, ‘We can do this.’”

La Costa Canyon finished in 20:23.88.

Loyola got four consistent efforts – ranging from 4:15 to 4:20 – to hold off its rivals and break the meet record in the 4x1600 relay, clocking 17:12.23. Right behind them, Trabuco Hills also went under the previous record with 17:12.60.

A year ago, Loyola leaned heavily on its big gun, Elias Gedyon, to win this race at Arcadia. This time, Loyola was stronger one-through-four and broke the school record by 12 seconds.

“We knew we had the talent,” Loyola’s Andrew Verdin said. “Last week we had four guys go sub-4:20.”

On Friday, they pieced it all together.

“We brought four to the table and all clicked at the same time. That’s why the record went down,” Charles Marquardt said.

The evening session began with US#1s in the boys and girls 4x800s.

Redondo Union’s girls ran 9:05.86 for the fifth-fastest performance in meet history. Lyndsey Mull anchored the win by running 2:15.8 and helped her team win by nearly seven seconds.

Centennial (Nevada) got the stick to anchor Nick Hartle about 20 meters behind Bishop O’Dowd but the UCLA-bound senior split 1:50.6 and moved to the lead with 300 meters left. Centennial finished in 7:44.00 – third-fastest in meet history.

“I felt I could catch him if I just stayed strong,” Hartle said. “(My teammates) ran great. They knew they had to run strong. I told them they were going to have to run fast, run PRs, and I’m pretty sure they did that.”

Wakefield (North Carolina) put on another dazzling display of team excellence. The New Balance Nationals Indoor champions began their outdoor campaign by winning the 4x200 title in 1:35.98. That’s second-fastest in meet history, trailing only the 2004 Long Beach Poly team.

Anchor Ariah Graham was one of the night’s brightest stars and she gladly explained the success as a team effort.

“One thing we bank on is our team,” she said. “Everything we do, from stretching, counting, running, warming up, it’s all team. There’s nothing individual there. We motivate each other and run.”