With nearly 1,000 athletes, hundreds of heats, and swarms of spectators lining the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center at Sunday’s MSTCA Division 3 State Relays, standing out amid the chaos is no small feat.
But as Billerica’s Anna McElhinney and Oliver Ames’ Katie Sobieraj galloped stride for stride, lap after lap, in the final leg of the girls’ long distance medley relay, their turbulent surroundings felt frozen in time.
When McElhinney and Sobieraj were handed their batons at roughly the 7:25 mark, the four leading teams were within two seconds of each other. By the time they crossed the finish line five minutes later, McElhinney and Sobieraj remained two seconds apart from each other — but the third place team, Wakefield, was 36 seconds behind.
In the loudest moment all afternoon, McElhinney passed Sobieraj on the final lap to secure a first-place time of 12:29, 21 seconds faster than the Indians’ previous best mark in the event. The thrilling victory was just enough for Billerica (46 points) to squeak past second-place Milton (40.31 points) for the D3 girls’ crown.
“I knew after the first lap that I had slowed down a bit for [Soberaj],” McElhinney said. “She was out ahead a little, but I was just waiting for the right time to take over. Thankfully, I picked it right.”
McElhinney and Sobieraj last squared off in the cross-country state championships in November (McElhinney finished 14 seconds ahead), and having another top runner to pace the Indians’ senior was key.
“We didn’t really know if she’d have anyone else with her at the end,” coach Cullen Hagan said. “She’s usually asked to push the pace, but the way it worked out was just perfect for her to get the personal best.”
After finishing sixth in last year’s state relays, Milton impressed with a second-place finish. Their rise was powered by top times in the 4x50-yard shuttle hurdle (30.91), 4x400-meter (4:15.02), and 4x800 relays (10:12.10).
To the surprise of few, powerhouse Burlington notched 55 points en route to the boys’ state title, more than doubling runner-up Duxbury’s 25 points. The victory marks the ninth consecutive year the Red Devils have won the indoor or outdoor state relay, or both.
Burlington’s consistent relay success is no accident. Coach Matt Carr, who duly serves as MSTCA director of meet operations, said he places extra emphasis on the team-centric meet each year.
“Relays is a meet that is special to us,” Carr said. “This may not go over well with some people, but I’d rather win relays than the MIAA State Championship. Relays is a team concept. Seven teams placed today, so that’s in the neighborhood of 30 kids.”
In the afternoon’s first event, the Westborough boys broke the meet record in the 4x50-yard shuttle hurdle in 25.96 seconds. The Rangers won the event at last year’s state relay in 27.40 seconds, then improved their time by over a second with three of the four same runners.
“The biggest thing that changed was our experience and technique,” said Alan Nguyen, who hurdled the final leg. “We won last year, but hurdling was still sort of new to a couple of us. Now, we’d practiced and felt good.”