Nobody wins unless everybody wins


Photo courtesy of Gavin Reichard

For the second year in a row, Head Track and Field Coach Chris Pellegrini celebrated an Indoor State title by wearing an Arby’s t-shirt. Last year, he lost a bet and had to wear the shirt on the podium to celebrate the 4×800 meter relay repeating as champions. This year, he chose to wear the shirt himself in order to commemorate his first Track and Field State team title as a coach.

The Boys Indoor Track team secured their first State title in 25 years despite not winning any individual events, making it a true team victory in every sense of the word.

“Usually the mold [to win States] is typically [to have] a sprint and field athlete that is so exceptional that he or she can win multiple events, or if not win, place very highly in several events,” said Head Track and Field Coach Chris Pellegrini. “We certainly didn’t have that luxury, so we had to endure a large number of variables.”

Winning States without any individual winners is almost entirely unprecedented. The 2021 pandemic season was the last time, and maybe the only other time, that an Indoor Track team won States without winning a single event. This year the Spartans earned just three points from the open running events, but surpassed their competition because all of their relay teams and field event athletes scored.

“I’m pleased [with] how [senior Harry Crim] and I threw, especially since we were able to get the points we needed,” said junior Brady Echols. “I felt we had a good impact on the meet, especially since we scored seven points for the team.”

The team got its first points from shot put, with Echols and Crim placing fifth and sixth, respectively. The team’s win was twice as impactful for the Echols family because Brady’s father, Colin, is the team’s throws coach. Brady cited his father’s coaching as one of his largest influences in life and track, and said that him being there made it even more special to win.

Other early field event competitors, junior Paris Johnson and senior Robbie Kugler, were both hindered by untimely ankle injuries, but they managed to get the team a combined three points from high jump. Senior Daunte Lord also dealt with lingering ankle issues, but did not lose any power on his way to scoring crucial points from the horizontal jumps.

“[In] long jump, everyone underperformed, so I’d say I did well in that aspect,” said Lord. “And as for triple jump, I could have done better, but everybody underperformed too.”

Both event fields widely underperformed compared to their seed marks, and even though Lord also fell slightly short of his season-best distances, he jumped well enough to hold on to second-place in long jump and fourth-place in triple jump. Although Lord’s triple jump finish was notably higher than Pellegrini expected, it was not the largest surprise of the first day.

“I’m really proud of how we ran at States,” said junior Cael Alonzo. “We graduated a great [4×800 meter] relay last year, and no one, including ourselves, expected that we would reach where we are now. When [senior Vishal Green] got the handoff right at the four-minute mark, I knew [senior Gavin Reichard] and [senior Henry Anderson] had just [run] their best race and that I couldn’t let them down.”

After Reichard, Anderson, and Green all ran personal best splits, Alonzo followed suit and brought the baton across the line in 8:05.84. Seeded to finish 12th, they shaved nearly ten seconds off their season-best time to place seventh and qualify for nationals. Yet the 4×800 meter relay was just the beginning for the Spartan relay teams.

“Since [we ran at the] Virginia Showcase, me and the rest of the 4×2 knew we were gonna run that record-breaking 1:30 the next chance we had,” said sophomore Mark-Anthony Whyte. “For the points we scored to be as crucial as they were to winning, and, on top of that, breaking the record? The feeling was surreal.”

The 4×200 meter relay team of Whyte, senior Enan Baskerville, Lord, and junior Devante Rudolph finished fifth to set a new school record of 1:30.24. Although the relay members and their coaches both believed that they were on track to break the record heading into the meet, they had to overcome a bad lane assignment and a slow heat. Despite the poor race conditions, as well as Lord’s injury and a late stumble from Rudolph, the team won their heat and ultimately secured another crucial four points for the team.

“[Sophomore Michael Murray and I] didn’t really focus on other events while we were competing,” said junior Joey Blumberg. “We had the mentality of just performing our best and seeing where we placed at the end of the competition. I think it worked out because in a technical event like pole vault, getting too stressed over placement or performance will tend to result in you not doing as well as you can do.”

Competing at the same time as the 4×200 meter relay, Blumberg and Murray rounded out the field events by scoring a combined six points from pole vault. While other vaulters were no-heighting and panicking, Blumberg and Murray stayed calm and finished all-State to keep the team’s hopes alive.

“I hit the time I wanted, and obviously I got the national-qual for the two-mile as well,” said Anderson. “I would have liked to place higher and get some more points, but ultimately it didn’t matter. I was happy with the time, and I did what I needed to do. It all ended up working out for the team.”

After the vault concluded, Anderson ran an indoor personal-best time of 9:23.98 in the 3200 meter run to push the team’s total to 38 points. Although that still left the Spartans five points short of Thomas Dale’s lead heading into the final event of the meet, it quickly became clear that the 4×400 meter relay team was going to give their all to bridge the gap.

“My mindset going into the 4×4 was to be smart and give it my all, as this was our team’s chance to win a State championship,” said Baskerville. “During our 4×4 at Regionals, I had my worst race in a 4×4 ever, so I knew I had to do better for myself and my team.”

After receiving the baton from Blumberg, Baskerville completely flipped the script from Regionals. Using a strategy affectionately called “Crazy Enan” by Assistant Sprints Coach Darren Williams, Baskerville went out in roughly 22 seconds for the first 200 meters and closed in 28 to split 50.45 the hard way, which gave his teammates a lead they would not relinquish.

“We weren’t sure that we could get enough points to win,” said Green. “Reflecting on it, I think that [because we thought] that we were out of it, we ran a lot more relaxed, and it made it even [sweeter] when we found out we did win.”

Coming off of their first Cross Country seasons, both Green and Reichard spent much of their final Indoor Track campaigns training for the 800, but when the meet was on the line, the two runners had to rely on their sprinting backgrounds. Running relaxed, Green split 51.25, and Reichard closed in 50.94 for a final time of 3:24.32, just behind the school record of 3:24.13 that he helped set last year.

“The second they ran 3:24, I instantly felt like a [team] win was back on the table,” said Pellegrini. “But it was exceptionally nerve-wracking to watch the fast heat.”

After running the second-fastest time in school history, the relay team of Blumberg, Baskerville, Green, and Reichard had to wait anxiously with the rest of the team for the last heat of the 4×4 to finish before they knew if they had run fast enough to win. Ultimately, only Woodson’s relay team beat their time, which secured silver medals for the 4×400 meter relay team and clinched an improbable team win for the Spartans. Along with the win itself, the sheer chaos of the final races shocked all the athletes and coaches who stuck around to the end of the meet.

“Watching them run their hearts out was crazy,” said Whyte. “I almost ended up losing my voice cheering for them. After watching the fast heat, me and [junior Hunter Morris] waited in anticipation to see the results of the top three, and as soon as we saw the second-place time, we started screaming and running over cause we knew that was the nail in the coffin. State Champions.”