Of Creston’s nine qualifiers pencilled into relays at state, seven are making a return trip.
The 4x800 relay, set for 5 p.m. Thursday, features the group of Jesse Vicker, Rachel Shepherd, MaKenna Hudson and Brielle Baker, all of whom, except for freshman Hudson, is back to run on the blue oval.
In the distance medley, scheduled for 2:40 p.m. on Friday, Maitlen and Baker, the first and last legs of the race, return to Drake Stadium having both qualified in races a year ago. Kiersten Latham and Hudson will experience it for the first time.
Friday’s 4:30 p.m. 4x200, the non automatic-qualifier of the Panthers’ four relays, is the least experienced in varsity experience with the first and third legs of Latham and Kesia Stewart having not competed at state before.
The Friday 4x400 7 p.m. prelim and possibly Saturday’s 3:55 p.m. final of Baker, Breanna Wallace, Maitlen and Hudson is again, a race that features three returnees.
Two additional alternatives, Brittany Linch and Allivea Skarda in the 4x800, will be ready to go, possibly in their first action at state.
For Maitlen and Hemsworth, nerves are not at the front of their minds.
“Running in front of that crowd is so much fun. It’s not nerve-wracking really,” Hemsworth said. “It’s just, there’s so many people there, it just makes you excited and makes you want to run faster.”
This week of practice has been intensive at certain points, but only slight adjustments are being made to the relays to better their efficiency.
“We’ve been working on our handoffs, our sprint relay handoffs because those are kind of iffy during districts,” Maitlen said. “We got after those hard. We’ve done a lot of 500s. The 800 girls have been doing 900s to lengthen the distance so we have more of a kick at the end.”
The same went for the sprinters, who lengthened their practice runs to decrease the likelihood that they will fade at the end of their race leg.
Maitlen ran the 4x100, 4x200 sprint medley and distance medley at state last spring while Hemsworth ran the 4x100, 4x200, 4x400 and sprint medley.
This year, Maitlen will be in each of the four relays except for the 4x800, and Hemsworth will run in the 4x200 and is an alternate for the 4x400.
“The adrenaline really kicks in kicks in for me the race before I run and then when you walk out when you’re on the side of the wall, it really hits you,” Maitlen said. “I’m going to run soon. The crowd pumps you up and you hear (coach) Arnold. You hear the whole team. You just hear everyone.”
For Latham, who is the first leg on the 4x200 in her first time at state, some anxiety is a little bit more likely.
“I get nervous really easy, but I try not to let the nerves get to me and I just talk to myself and relax,” Latham said. “I let all my nerves go all out on the track and I run my best and I tell my self I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for the team.”
Latham and Hemsworth are both quick to admit that their 4x200 handoff needs work, so that has been a point of emphasis in practice.
Coming out of the blocks quickly, as well as timing the handoffs right will be Latham’s focus.
“My coach and my parents are great … they always tell me, ‘think handoffs, getting out fast, lean forward,’ just depends on how the weather is,” Latham said. “If the wind is bad, you have got to lean, you’ve got to hug the inside lane. Just different things for different times.”
Maitlen knows how good some her competitors will be out of the blocks. She was blown away by how quick some girls did it a year ago. This year, Maitlen will try and do the same to start the distance medley before handing off to Latham.
Hemsworth, the second leg in the 4x200, will hand off to another first-time qualifier in Kesia Stewart before Maitlen brings it home.
Hudson will run the last leg of the 4x400, Creston’s last relay at state on Saturday afternoon.
Despite it being Hudson’s first time on the blue oval of Drake Stadium, her teammates have faith in her, especially after her clutch personal best run to help Creston win the event at the state qualifying meet in Norwalk.
Hudson’s teammates don’t think that it will be difficult for her to find the strength to finish the race strong.
“Relays are easier to run because your team is counting on you,” Hemsworth said. “And so you have the motivation if you’re dying that you’re running for your team and not just for yourself.”
The Panthers look to run for each other over the next three days.