by John Timko, Sports Editor
photo contributed by Ellie Jolly
On June 17, the girls track sprint medley relay (SMR) team will race in Eugene, Oregon in their second national competition of the year, following a successful indoor season. On March 11, the SMR team won the Nike Indoor Track Nationals, crossing the finish line with a time of four minutes and six seconds at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Long Island, New York.
The winning team of four consists of sophomore Ellie Jolly in the first leg, senior Nicole Woo in the second, junior Amelia Everett in the third and senior Lily Bulczynski in the fourth. The four runners run 200, 200, 400 and 800 meter stretches, respectively.
The SMR is unique in the way it combines both distance runners and sprinters, athletes who normally wouldn’t race together. Jolly said teamwork, preparation and perseverance have been essential to their success.
Woo said this unique opportunity heightens the competition experience.
“I don’t get to run with Amelia and Lily; they run distance while Ellie and I do sprinting, so I don’t really get to spend a lot of time with them,” she said. “So it’s great being able to run with them in a relay and practice with them in the postseason.”
The indoor season was Jolly’s first with the team, which she said was difficult at times, but made better by the team’s openness.
“I was kind of thrown into the group, and I was worried about it,” she said. “But it was amazing. They were really welcoming … I learned how to be a sprinter and a lot of the more technical aspects of it.”
Not only does the bond between the relay members make the experience easier, but the four racers draw inspiration both from one another and from the track team as a whole, Bulczynski said.
“They make it worth it to go there every day and put ourselves through really hard workouts,” she said. “At the meets, we all play music, and we’re so supportive of each other.”
In addition to the physical exertion, Jolly said that staying mentally focused can be just as much of a challenge.
“What I’ve found for the 200 is it gives you just enough time to start overthinking things,” she said. “I just tell myself, ‘Sprint and let yourself feel the pain afterwards.’”
Preparation for a big meet comes in many forms, and varies among relay team members.
“The day before, we all talk about the race plan, what we each want to accomplish individually and how that will look when it merges together,” Everett said. “We all know pre-race to just let each other do their own thing to get in the zone in their own way.”
Bulczynski said that this type of preparation is paramount to running the best that she can, particularly because it helps her settle her doubts and worries.
“Everything I’ve worked on throughout high school is telling myself that I’m going to have a good race no matter what, even if it doesn’t end up being a good race,” she said. “I just force myself to believe in myself because it helps me the most, having confidence in myself.”
Woo wears the same attire to each meet and does the same shakeout routine before each race — two routines that get her in the mindset to compete.
Jolly said that anything from a baton pass to the pause in time before the official starts a race can cause nerves and overthinking. Despite the pressure, the relay team stays motivated, which is a key to their success.
The team’s motivation doesn’t only come from winning — just being able to compete at a high level keeps the team energized for each race, Woo said.
Bulczynski said winning with a group brings a whole new level of excitement to the thrill of victory.
“Everyone’s counting on you to end it off in a good position. And that’s a little stressful. But it makes it more fun and special when you win,” she said.
For Bulczynski, treasuring this type of success is essential. She said that the race requires both skill and luck.
“If one person had an off day, then we probably wouldn’t have gone to Nationals, but we all happened to have a good day,” she said.
According to Everett, the girls have learned to take some pressure off themselves as they have persevered through injuries throughout the season. She said that they have developed faith in the process and in one another.
“[We must] remember why we’re doing it and have fun,” she said. “It’s not to stress you out.”
Jolly says she and the relay team value more than just their victories and are proud of the journey that they have taken.
“The four of us together, we really experienced it together,” she said. “You grow closer after something on that level of stress and excitement. It was a really fun experience and it was a really fun group of people to be able to have that with.”