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Springbrook's Relay Redemption
By: Kevin Milsted

Springbrook coach Rebekah Harrison called it, "Tragedy to Triumph."

A dropped baton on Friday night felt like the end of the world to Springbrook's sprinters, but Springbrook redeemed itself in a big way by winning state titles in the open 200m, 4x100-meter relay, and 4x400-meter relay on Saturday.

Coach Bryan Steele said that they were in tears on Friday night. A dropped baton in the 4x200 relay spoiled a season's worth of hard work. Many nights, sprinters stayed late after practice to work on handoffs. The 200-meter state champion, Mayen McClain, never got the chance to bring it home.

Said Steele, "I took Mayen out of the 100, where he was top three in the 100, just for 4x2 because they wanted to break the state record [1:26.25]. It didn't pay off then, but today we absolutely got together and laughed about it and just moved on from there. The guys were able to put a smile on their face after yesterday and came out this morning and they were smiling so I knew they were past that."

Harrison added, "It was so heartbreaking Friday night but they did an amazing job picking themselves up and getting back to work on Saturday."

Mayen McClain placed fourth in the 400m in 48.70 and then won the 200m in 21.81. The senior credited block work on the curve for a great start and pulled past Kennedy's Raynard Bell in the final moments to secure the win by 0.12 seconds. McClain was one of the very few runners to run faster in the finals than in the prelims, after the wind speed flip-flopped from 3.1 meters per second on Friday to -0.7 meters per second on Saturday.

Said McClain, "I always wanted to be a state champion so this is definitely a good moment for me. Last year I wanted to be state champion but I didn't get it and so this whole year, over the summer, I've been working really hard to make sure I got better. I ran summer track: Baltimore City. I mostly did relays with them but that really helped me."

There were two amazing things about Springbrook 4x100 relay victory in in 43.39.

1. State champion Mayen McClain was not on it.

"They knew that they didn't have Mayen so not having Mayen, they were not so confident," said Steele. "So I just told them, 'Guys look: we're in here ranked number one. It doesn't say Mayen number one, it says Springbrook's number one. Go in there acting number one.'"

2. The two individuals who dropped the baton in the 4x2 on Friday sealed the victory in the 4x1 on Saturday.

"The same two guys that dropped the baton in the 4x2 ran third-to-anchor in the 4x1 and it worked out fine. It wasn't the best exchange, but we wasn't in front at all and Emanuel who is not a sprinter at all at 100 meter came back and took it...same guy that dropped the baton in the 4x2."

Not only did Springbrook need to come from behind in the 4x100 relay, they almost needed a miracle to win the 4x4. Springbrook's deficit looked insurmountable after three legs. Alvin Mukisa and Emanuel Akins maintained second place throughout the first two legs and Juan Lepe fell to fourth place. Mayen McClain got cut off in the exchange zone and lost another step.

"I was nervous up until the last hundred," said Steele. "He stayed with it until the last 100, swung around the side and I saw the determination. I knew he was going to get it. So I just went all crazy because I knew at that point if he's in striking distance, I know Mayen will pull it off."

Springbrook edged out Digital Harbor, 3:20.99 to 3:21.21.

Springbrook's 35 points tied Richard Montgomery High School for third place in the 4A team standings.

On the year, Springbrook broke county meet records in the indoor and outdoor 4x400 relay, broke the county meet record in the 4x200 relay, and ran the fastest 4x400 (3:20.75 at Penn Relays) by an MCPS team since 2009.

Why so much focus on the relays?

Steele explained, "The relays, the thing is the coaches might not want to say it, but they all want to win the relays because it gets the whole team, not just the individual, it gets the boys team or the girls team all to share that moment as opposed to one person. I try to be fair and give them some individual also, but I really love the relays. I take the relays seriously especially the sprint relays, 4x1, 4x2, 4x4...I'll send everyone home from practice at 5:30 and the relays stay 'til six sometimes just so they can get some good handoffs in."

Northwest High School's assistant coach, Fran Parry, coached Bryan Steele when he was a star athlete at Gaithersburg High School in the early 2000's. Parry is not the least bit surprised that Steele has built a powerhouse track program that specializes in relays.

"When he was on our relays," said Parry, "He was one of the mainstays in the 4x4, the 4x2...the two mile relay...He likes that type of competition and the techniques that you need to use in order to run efficient and effective relay teams."

Parry continued, "When he was with us, he was very attentive. He listened to what we needed to do in order to fix some techniques...I know he had a love for running. He just loved track and field...He is a very good technician. He's very demanding of the kids, but he likes being with young people and seeing them improve so it doesn't surprise me in the least bit, nope."

Said Harrison, "[Steele] is a perfectionist, a clinician, and he holds them to high standards and accepts nothing less. He pushes them but we know they are capable so they rise to the occasion. And they love him. He's funny and animated and will do anything for our kids."

Springbrook will run its sprint relays at nationals where they hope to enter the championship sections or else dominate the emerging elite classification.


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