Track counting on talented young sprinters heading into postseason

Eden Orr hands off the baton to Abby Love in the final exchange of the 4×100 meter relay at the Mason Rod Russell Invitational that set a school record time of 47.07 seconds.

Camden Paeltz | The Chronicle

Andrew Little | Sports Editor

The Mason girls’ track team is sprinting toward the postseason.

The lineup is headlined by a young sprint group full of depth, including a record-breaking 4×100-meter relay. 

Junior Abby Love, junior Emilia Capiello and senior Peyton Connelly return from last season’s 4×100 and 4×200 meter relays, which placed 11th and 7th at the 2022 Ohio High School Athletic Association state meet. The team has settled into a consistent 4×100 team consisting of Capiello, Love, freshman Nora Moore and sophomore Eden Orr.

The 4×200 relay has rotated “A-team” lineups including Love, Orr, Moore, sophomore hurdler Lily Eagleston and freshman Tori Killens. Capiello said that the team’s depth has allowed them to experiment with different groupings and maximize their lineups.

“We had a lot of new people coming in and tried out those people in different spots at the beginning of the season,” Capiello said. “We put people in and out of different events until we got to a good point.”

Moore, Capiello, Orr, and Love broke the school record in the 4×100, which had stood since 2011, with a time of 47.44 at the Centerville Relays on April 14. They then broke their record again at the Mason Rod Russell Invitational on May 5, with a state-leading time of 47.08.

With two new faces in the 4×100 relay, the four runners have spent significant time nailing down their handoffs and timing. Love said they used the early season to try things out, allowing them to hit their stride as the postseason approaches.

”I would say the three biggest things that we were able to maximize was our trust chemistry and our flexibility,” Love said. “We had seen a lot of changes in rosters and lineups with the four-by-one leading up to that point. “ 

Capiello, Eagleston, Love and senior 400-meter runner Joy Resig all made the All-Greater Miami Conference team in individual events last year, and senior 400-meter runner Ava Arengo was a state-placer in 2021.

In addition to their returning runners, the team has an influx of young runners like Killens, Moore, Orr, freshman Azarae Hawkins, freshman hurdler Maddie McCaster and junior hurdler Kate Hartley. All have risen to the varsity ranks this year and are expected to contribute in postseason races. Head coach Tony Affatato said this plethora of young talent is among the best he has ever coached and allows for endless options in relay and race assignments.

“This group in particular has a lot of depth, Affatato said. “In terms of just really good ability, it’s probably the best group I’ve ever had. And that’s a lot to say because I’ve coached some really, really good kids.”

The Comets have spent the past two months trying out different relay and event combinations with their sprinters and hurdlers to find the best possible combinations and to build depth. Once the postseason hits, meets are stretched across two days, putting more strain on athletes. 

Affatato said the team’s depth is crucial to the end of the season because it allows him to rotate lineups and relay rosters, and in the event of injury, he can be confident someone else will step in and maintain a high level of performance.

“Going into the postseason, I feel more comfortable than ever,” Affatato said. “If something happens, we have another one that we can put in. We’ve never been in that situation.”

The group has worked together all winter and spring, including indoor track meets and a strict strength and conditioning program. That time has allowed the runners to iron out things like handoffs before the postseason hits.

Handoffs are crucial to sprint relays, proven at the Mason Rod Russell Invitational when the Comets had a clean handoff compared to the reigning state runner-up Gahanna Lincoln, who struggled with the last exchange of the 4×100 relay. That allowed the Comets to pull away and win by nearly two seconds. 

Moore said that the work they have put in as a team has allowed the relays to have an edge entering the outdoor postseason.

“We work on our handoffs and do everything that we can get it right.” Moore said. “We got a few of them wrong at first, but we kept working at it and then we would just always train together to get our starts right and just be able to go.”

Love said that the competition for spots has allowed each runner to improve, allowing the team to be as successful as possible.

“If anything this year has shown us more than ever that your spot and position on the team is not guaranteed, it’s earned,” Love said. “It’s earned through work ethic, it’s earned through a positive attitude. 

The team expects to be in the mix for the top of the podium at this year’s state meet. None of the members of the 4×100 meter and 4×200 meter relays this year are graduating, giving the Comets a unique opportunity for sustained success. Love said their youth is their strength, and she expects the team to continue to grow throughout the postseason and into next year.

“As long as the girls on our relay team can stay humble and stay hungry, we will have even bigger goals that we’re going to achieve next year,” Love said. “We are fortunate to have no seniors so nobody’s leaving, so I hope that our team can develop even more. I hope that we can send a message to these other schools that we are a team that is stable and a team that will continue to fight to stay at the top of the relay standings.”

Photo by Camden Paeltz