Passing the baton: relay teams find success


Donald Crocker

Junior Jarel Terry grabs onto the baton in the men’s 4x400m race at the Big East Indoor Track and Field Championship on Feb. 26.

Staring down a single lane on a track with only the goal of reaching the finish line in mind can feel isolating. But, when running towards a waiting teammate as the cool metal of a baton is pressed into a hand, there is an extra sense of motivation and solidarity that is unique to relay races.

Track and field consists largely of individual sports, but the relay races provide a sense of teamwork that is not often found in the individual events. The relay teams can provide that spark of teamwork to the team as a whole, and the relay teams have been doing just that for DePaul with their recent success.

The Blue Demons’ outdoor season started a bit slow, with weather having a large impact on some of their earlier meets in April. However, the team was able to move on from that and find success in later invitationals — especially the men’s and women’s relay teams.

At the Clark Wood Invitational on April 30, the men’s 4×100-meter relay team placed first, while the men’s 4×400-meter team placed third and the women’s 4×400-meter team placed fifth.

The 4×100 team — which was made up of sophomore Cameron Attucks, freshman Dominic Cole, sophomore Myles Marshall and graduate student Michael Stanley — worked together to win the event with a time of 40.50.

“I think a lot of our hard work in practices is paying off as a result of us kind of having a late start to the season,” Marshall said. “We’ve kind of been rushed through a lot of meets, so now things are starting to work out, everything is falling into place.”

While the main focus of a relay race is passing the baton to the next team member, a good race requires far more than just that. Relays are about speed, precision and the chemistry between the team members to make sure that each athlete is on the same page and pace. If something goes wrong, then it can lead to the downfall of the entire team in a few seconds.

To make sure that they are prepared down to the second in races, the Blue Demons work on perfecting different parts of the relay races during practice, from handoffs to timing and consistency.

“In relay, it’s a lot more intense,” Stanley said. “We’re going to be much faster — even if we’re trying to go full speed in practice, we’re going to go faster in a meet simply because of the environment that we’re in, so getting it as solid as we can in practice as many times as we can… that’s our goal.”

Stanley was also a part of the 4×400 team that placed third at the Clark Wood Invitational with a time of 3:21.85, along with freshman Joshua Edmonds, graduate student Grant Fuller and junior Jarel Terry.

Because some athletes are members of different relay teams, it is up to Dopek and assistant coach Stephanie Williams to find the right combinations for each team. Each member brings a different and unique element to the relay team, so it is critical for the coaches to find a combination that clicks.

“[Williams] and I will get together and start looking at individuals,” Dopek said. “And decide who might be the best leg on a curve, who might be the best to come out of blocks and then even above and beyond that, who works well together like height-wise, speed-wise, acceleration-wise and then we tinker. We tinker a lot to try to figure out what works best.”

Before she was an assistant coach, Williams was a student-athlete at DePaul and set school records for sprint and relay races. She knows first-hand that there is nothing more important to a relay team than chemistry.

“You can have the fastest legs in the world, the fastest four people, but it means nothing if you can’t get the stick around the track,” Williams said. “The ability to communicate with each other is huge. We’re going to practice the marks and make sure that everyone is taking off when they need to, getting the stick around really well, but if there’s no chemistry, that’s when you’ll see we have to move some people around.”

When the team clicks, the speed and connections flow easier and help build the essence of teamwork in relay races and everything else can fall into place to find success.

“A lot of times with track, it is such an individual sport,” Marshall said. “And a lot of us come from playing team sports where all of us are on the field at once, so even though we might be all at the track together, a lot of the time we’re just running our racing by ourselves, so [that] kind of brings back the whole team feeling.”

The Blue Demons’ relay teams have a history of success at the Big East championship. Last season, DePaul’s men’s and women’s 4x100m relay teams placed second at the Big East championship, while the men’s 4x400m team placed first.

“Looking at this year, we have hope that with this young men’s 4×100, and potentially even the 4×400, that we could go to this conference meeting and they could run fast enough to advance to the first round of Nationals,” Dopek said. “So we’re just putting in the work now.”

The Big East championship is rapidly approaching on May 13-14 in Storrs, Connecticut, with the NCAA West Preliminaries following the next weekend in Arkansas if DePaul qualifies.

The Blue Demons are going to need every little piece of cohesion and team unity to spark them to the title, and the recent success of the relay teams can do just that.

“There’s really no other feeling than running with your teammates and running with your friends,” Stanley said. “I’ve always ran better on a relay than I have individually, especially in like a 4×100, things along those lines, because you’re not just running for yourself at that point, you’re running for your friends and running for your teammates.”