A relay team in track and field provides the opportunity to show true teamwork in what is generally an individualistic sport. There’s timing, there’s camaraderie, there’s reliance upon each other. Without everything clicking perfectly in syncopation, a relay team simply cannot work.
Before the indoor track season began a few weeks ago, veteran St. Dominic Academy coach John Nagel started to tinker with his two-mile relay team. One of the runners expected to perform with that relay was senior Afrika Williams, but she suffered a strained quad muscle right before the season was to begin.
So Nagel was forced to make some changes at the last minute. He placed senior Jill Lissenden with juniors Kimberly Hudock, Alison Komorowski and Katie D’Alessio and hoped for the best. Nagel had faith in all four runners, who are generally half-milers (800 meters).
“Hudock, Komorowski and D’Alessio all ran together as freshmen and sophomores,” Nagel said. “They were accessories to Lissenden. Hudock is a big-time competitor and Komorowski and D’Alessio are very good soccer players. So there was hope. I thought they were a nice little group.”
It also helped that the quartet happens to be good friends. In fact, they’re almost inseparable. “We’re all best friends with each other,” Hudock said.
“We encourage and support each other,” Komorowski said. “And yes, considering that we all run the same events as individuals, we push each other as well. So I think when you’re a part of a relay, you want to be able to share everything together. Even when we have a bad day, when you’re part of a relay, you can definitely push each other to get better.”
From the first time the baton was passed between the group, there was an aura of something magical happening. Nagel never speaks in the superlatives, but even he knew that this relay group could evolve into something very special.
“Early in the season, you run your best combination in relays,” Nagel said. “They were clearly the four fastest. It helps an awful lot that they’re buddies. They’re willing to go to the wall for each other.”
Once the relay was put into place, the quartet worked hard to get ready for the start of the season.
“We do practice as hard as we can when we get on the track,” D’Alessio said. “We worked hard to get ready for the season.”
The first time they performed together, they ran in the Leon Bailey-Liberty Relays Invitational, the first meet at the newly refurbished Jersey City Armory. Instant success. The newly formed two-mile relay won the first-ever race held there in a solid time of 10:17. Two days later, they won at the Passerelli Relays held at West Point. More success.
As part of a tradition, Nagel took his team to the Brown University Invitational meet on the campus of the Providence, R.I. Ivy League school. Nagel has taken the SDA track team to the prestigious meet for almost 20 years now, so this year was no different.
Except for the fact that Nagel now had a relay team that could actually compete with some of the most powerful track programs in the nation.
“Brown is a big-time meet and we’ve won medals there in the past,” Nagel said. “But this was clearly our best relay. They were working out well during the week prior to Brown. The Armory track is very fast and that was a huge help in training.”
“We worked so hard during the week prior to going to Brown,” Lissenden said. “We weren’t so sure we would do well, but I think we were all pretty confident. We were very comfortable with each other, but we weren’t sure how good the other teams would be up there.”
The results were staggering. Just three weeks after running together for the first time, the SDA two-mile relay team ran a 10:02.24, good for fourth overall among 54 schools in the most competitive group at Brown. They were only hairs behind the relay team from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
“That school is like the St. Anthony of New York track,” said Nagel, putting his team’s performance against a powerful program in the same context with the perennially powerful basketball Jersey City school. “I knew that they would be good, but not this early. They were working out well, but I never expected this kind of time this soon. They’re running at April speed in December.”
For their efforts, the SDA two-mile relay has been selected as the Hudson Reporter Co-Athletes of the Week for the past week.
The athletes were a little surprised with their sizzling performance.
“It’s very rewarding to do so well so early,” Lissenden said. “I didn’t expect this.”
“It shows that all the hard work we did together paid off,” Hudock said. “I figured we would do well. But we knocked off a lot of time (15 seconds) in about a week. And it’s one thing to run against teams at home. It’s so nerve wracking when you’re at Brown. But it was very worthwhile.”
The school record for the two-mile relay is 9:44.4, a mark that was set in 1983. If the improvement continues, that record is not long for this world.
“It’s a possibility,” Nagel said.
“I think we’ve set the bar high now and the expectations are greater for us to do well from now on,” Komorowski said. “That’s fine. That will just make us work harder.”
Lissenden believes that the strong performance in Brown will do wonders for the team’s mental approach.
“I think it gives us all a boost of confidence,” Lissenden said. “I’m the only senior, so they’ll all be here next year. But this definitely helps.”
Although there is a possibility they will be competing against each other in the very near future, the four young women will enjoy the teamwork that led to the strong performance.
“I really think it’s vital to all of us,” Komorowski said. “We get along so well and we work so hard together. It’s bound to pay off for all of us.”
Looks like it already has.
– Jim Hague