Archive for Thursday, June 1, 2006

The Fly Route

June 1, 2006

It certainly didn't need to be said.

The group of athletes that led Eudora to a second-place finish in the Class 4A state track meet are the best of friends and they had been dominating the competition all day and all season.

But Megan Ballock said it anyway.

Moments before Ballock, her younger sister Emily Ballock, Brittney Graff and Alisha Wingebach took to the track to earn the gold medal in the 1,600-meter relay, Megan pulled the team together and offered one final pep talk.

"Megan said, 'This is my last race with you ever, so go! I want that baton in first,'" Emily said.

It's questionable if Ballock's pep talk had any real effect on the team. As has been the theme all season long, the race wasn't close.

Wingebach got the team to a solid start before handing off to Emily Ballock who blasted from middle of the pack to runaway leader.

Graff added to the lead and Megan got the baton in first, just as she had requested.

There's clearly something special about these girls. That much was evident six times in a three-race stretch last weekend at the state track meet in Wichita. The Ballock sisters and Graff all excelled in their individual events, but when they came together, "excel" didn't exactly do justice.

First of the three races came Friday afternoon as the group raced to qualify for the finals in the 1,600 relay. In typical fashion, they finished a couple days ahead of the nearest competitor, but in doing so, the team set the state record at 4:00.09. They beat the old record -- 4:00.34 set by Pratt in 2001 -- and had the fastest time ever by a school smaller than Class 5A.

Afterward the girls celebrated, hugged, laughed and danced.

The second race was the 3,200 relay Saturday afternoon in which Lauren Colman ran instead of Wingebach

The performance wasn't as dominant as the previous night's race had been, but the girls again found a way to win by a more-than-comfortable margin. Hanging close with the competition through most of the first three legs, things didn't really break open until Megan Ballock began the last leg.

The race only brought the team a state championship, not a state record, but the team rejoiced anyway, again celebrating, yelling and embracing in a happy four-person bear hug.

The final race was the 1,600 relay final, the race in which Megan asked for a lead and was given a gargantuan comfort zone with which to run the final leg.

Again, the girls celebrated, hugging and cheering and yelling out loud. Their outbursts attracted reporters and television cameras and they turned nearly as many heads celebrating off the track as they did dominating upon it.

"They're my best friends," Megan said. "We run as friends and as teammates."

As she pointed out, it was her last race with her younger teammates. Sure there's a heap of medals waiting in the future for Emily and Graff, for Colman and Wingebach. They'll all return next year.

But it'll never be like this.

This group was special and celebrating on and off the track, they proved that six times over.

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