It's something that a lot of relay runners take for granted, until they mess it up.
It's the handoff, also known as the exchange, and it can make or break a relay team's success.
"I think handoffs are very crucial in relays," said Hotchkiss senior Tell Hawk, who has run on all four relays currently ranked in the top 18 in state 3A competition. The only way to master the handoff, said Hawk, is to do it over and over again.
With competition tight in the individual events, relays are a great way to qualify athletes for the state meet. Hawk, who is currently ranked in the top five in the 400-meter dash, was the only Hotchkiss male to qualify for state in 2011 and is a key runner in relays.
A good handoff is essential, especially in sprint relays, the 800-meter sprint medley, 400, 800 and sprint relays where the exchange requires a "blind handoff," said assistant coach Anna Cowan, who was a sprinter at Adams State College and ran on numerous relays for Hotchkiss. Cowan has three state championships in relays and anchored the 2006 state champion 400 team, but said a bad exchange between first and second runners almost cost them the race. "Thankfully it didn't cost us, but it could have."
The longer distance relays, the 1600 and 3200, use a different technique in handoffs, where runners line up according to where their teammate is running, and can watch for the approaching runner.
With the boys ranked barely above the top 18 cutoff mark in the 400 and 800 relays, qualifying may come down to good handoffs. While the boys' times are improving, times across the state are also improving as the weather warms and athletes get in better shape, said Cowan. The girls are ranked in the top three in the 1600 and medley relays and in the top 10 in the 400 and 800 relays, so they're pretty safe as far as state qualifications go.
"We're working really, really hard on exchanges," said Cowan. "It's something that we're focusing on a lot, especially with the younger kids. They're kind of shaky sometimes, and that's ok."
The team has a lot of young runners, she added, so there are races where freshmen hand off to freshmen. "It's scary, but they're quick learners."
Freshman sprinter Aleksus Wilson said that her biggest challenge is adjusting from the middle school method, where the runner hands off from behind, to the technique Hotchkiss uses, where the runners are almost side by side during the exchange.
In sprint relays, handoffs occur at full speed, although a 200 runner may be losing steam going into the exchange zone. Ideally, the lead runner won't see her teammate during the exchange. The approaching runner has to know exactly when to signal the lead runner to take off, and must place the baton firmly in the lead runner's hand. Neither runner can step outside of their lane, or they risk team disqualification.
Handoffs must also occur within the exchange zones, which are marked within each lane. The less time spent in the zone, the faster the overall race time. A fast approach combined with a slow takeoff can result in a bad handoff. Conversely, a slow approach and a fast takeoff can result in the lead runner leaving the exchange zone and having to stop to receive the baton. Both result in lost precious time, at best.
"It's pretty basic," said Cowan. Runners know how many steps to take before the handoff occurs.
Typically, the second-fastest runner leads and the fastest anchors, said Cowan, but it's ok to try different variations. And, of course, the lead runner has to know how to come out of the starting block in the most efficient manor while hanging on to the baton. A bad start can also cost crucial time, and a runner who jumps the gun risks a team DQ.
At Friday's Coal Ridge Invitational, and despite several athletes being away for spring break, the boys team placed in the top three in three relays. The 400 relay team finished second, and the 1600 and 3200 teams were third. The boys placed eighth overall with 28 points.
Jenni Celis and Natalie Anderson were one and two respectively in the 800, and Anderson topped second-place Grand Valley by 21 seconds to win the 1600. The 800 relay team was fourth, and the sprint medley team of Jessie Mautz, Savannah Rocha, Celis and Buhrdorf placed first, resetting the meet record, set by Hotchkiss in 2011, with a time of 1:52.70.
In field events, Rocha cleared 4 feet, 11 inches to win her sixth consecutive high jump.
Kylie Hodges made her best mark of the season in the shot put, throwing 33-11.50 to place fifth overall.
Next Tuesday, Hotch-kiss will host a junior varsity meet beginning at 3 p.m. And there will be lots of handoffs. This Saturday, the Bulldogs travel to Rifle.blog comments powered by Disqus