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High school indoor track

Synchronicity: Panther foursome uses teamwork, speed to soar

Parent sisters, Emerson, Blasius bring home 4x800-meter relay titles, set school records — praise Oceanside coach
By Zack Miller | Mar 22, 2020
Photo by: Zack Miller From left, Medomak Valley's Alexis Parent, Serena Blasius, Mackenzie Emerson and Olivia Parent.

Waldoboro — Three firsts happened this winter for the Medomak Valley girls indoor track 4x800-meter relay team.

Juniors — and sisters — Olivia and Alexis Parent, Mackenzie Emerson and senior Serena Blasius captured a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference title on Feb. 8, followed by a state Class B championship on Feb. 15 and broke their own school record, set in the state title race, by 12 seconds at the New England Interscholastic Championships on Feb. 29 at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston, Mass.

Forty-eight laps around the track between all three races was all it took to be one of the best relay teams in the state of Maine.

"I think we are really satisfied with our hard work and it’s really gratifying to see yields beyond the day-to-day gains," said Blasius. "It was nice to work together and aim for something. It felt surreal and like it didn’t really happen."

"A good coach knows that his athletes are just artists, and it is a coach’s job to show them the masterpiece, and let them create it, all while enjoying it along the way," said Oceanside coach Shawn Anderson, who also coached the independent Panther athletes. "From the very start of the season, I knew these four girls had the potential and ability to win the KVAC and state meet, and I told them that. This is my 11th year of coaching, and I have been a part of high quality championship teams before, and something deep in my gut told me these four could rise to the occasion."

Titles and records

The success started at the KVAC meet at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, as the foursome ran its 16 laps (four apiece) in a time of 10:32.4, good for first among all conference Class B schools, and 37 seconds faster than second-place finisher Winslow.

"We were all pretty happy," said Alexis Parent. "We kind of came into [the meet] knowing we could do well and be pushed."

The following week at the state Class B championships at Bates College in Lewiston, the foursome again took to a track lined with spectators, but all the eyes did not slow them down, but, instead, sped them up by 12 seconds.

The four girls put down a blistering time of 10:20.04, almost four seconds faster than second-place Greely High School of Cumberland.

"Our coach had been telling us all year that we could do it, but I don’t think any of us believed we would until it happened, which was exciting," said Emerson. "When I got home that night it felt unbelievable."

"Together — with matching, stylish socks — they rose above it all to support each other, [which was] the key to their success," said Anderson. "They followed the program, and more importantly, bought into the reason we do things — speed, versus recovery, versus threshold — and they pushed each other in each workout when needed. They took turns leading, and following. They practiced different race tactics and, ultimately, they just believed in themselves and each other."

Emerson was the first leg of the state race, tasked with setting the tone early.

"I knew it was important that I give [the team] a good lead," said Emerson. "I just wanted to get out there, so the whole race they feel like they didn’t have to make up these spots, which is what our coach wanted me to do. That was my main goal. I don’t really think much when I’m running. I focus on trying to catch whoever is in the lead."

As the 17-year-old Emerson pushed through the final lap fatigue, Olivia Parent stood waiting to maintain the Panthers' advantage.

"For that meet I was really nervous, but I knew I had to do it and try my best, even though I wasn’t feeling the best," said Olivia Parent. "It was nerve-racking, but I knew I had to catch people and that’s what I did."

The 17-year-old Olivia then handed off to 18-year-old Blasius, who was tasked with keeping Medomak Valley in the top spot, knowing a dropped baton led to disqualification for the team.

"In a sprinting race [handing off] would be more concerning, but we aren’t going fast enough, and you can see the person [who is handing it off]," said Blasius. "My leg was really about stabilizing our lead, and stay where we wanted to be. I don’t want to sound negative, but it’s not as motivating when you have [other teams] so far behind you. It’s important to keep focus during the race though."

Alexis Parent grabbed the baton without a hitch, and the final leg of the Panther team was off and running, four laps away from a state title.

"We came around in the lead and I was focusing on holding that lead and making my team and coach proud," said Alexis.

It was smooth sailing for Alexis, as she crossed the finish line and secured a Medomak Valley state title, which did not sink in right away for the team.

"We took some time to let it process," said Emerson. "We had upcoming [individual] races we had to focus on so it wasn’t until the end [when it hit us]."

"It was the end [of the meet] when we finally [said to ourselves] ‘we finally did that,' said Alexis.

Along with the relay team accolades, Olivia set the school record for the two mile, Alexis the 400 and 800 and Emerson the mile sprinkled throughout the season.

"Not only did they each have some special individual seasons, but they worked so well as a team," said Anderson. What most people do not know, is that all of them were never at their 'best' when they raced. Some struggled with consistent pains or injuries from other seasons, some with illnesses and some with setbacks."

"It’s a strange concept to say you want to win a state title, but you haven’t run your fastest in a race yet, but we want[ed] to win a state title," said Blasius. "To have that goal it seems beyond what you can conceive in the moment."

New Englands: A different animal

After two weeks off to rest and practice, Olivia, Alexis, Mackenzie and Serena headed south for the New Englands, to tackle a track with banked corners with a different running lineup.

"I was slightly skeptical that they would run a best at New Englands, especially considering I switched the order on them," said Anderson. "They were used to running Mackenzie, Olivia, Serena, Alexis, but for New Englands, it was Serena, Olivia, Alexis, Mackenzie.

"However, they dialed it up a notch and ran superb[ly], taking 15th overall, second for Maine, and third in their heat with a time of 10:08.9; a drop of nearly 40 seconds on the season, and a new school record."

"We have a lot of faith in what he thinks would be the best for the situation," said Blasius. "Obviously we ran better, so he was right.

"I like running first better [than third], because I feel like there’s more motivation for me to run well. Not that I wasn’t trying [before], but to go out with the start and work through the beginning."

"I was really nervous, because the whole season Alexis was doing so well as our anchor," said Emerson. "I didn’t want anyone to pass me in the end, which was motivation to try to catch who was in front me and not have the person behind me catch me.

"I kept looking over at my teammates and they were cheering for me, and I knew it was important that I kept the position I was in. The first two laps there was a girl right behind me and I tried to lose her, but I could still hear her behind me."

Everything worked out well for the foursome, as their time dropped another 12 seconds from their school record state title time, but other factors provided motivation.

"First off the competition," said Alexis. "They were a lot faster, so we were pushed a lot more, and also from states we knew we could run a lot faster than that [time]. None of us ran our [personal records] in [the state race] except for Mackenzie, so we knew we could do better. Our coach told us what he thought we could do and we believed him, and [ultimately] did."

"It was also our last race for the four of us," said Olivia. "I think we were all really mentally prepared and we all just wanted to run our best."

"The whole time I was thinking I wanted to run for [my teammates] and how important they are to me as well as being our last race together," said Emerson. "That definitely pushed me."

"It was a phenomenal experience to be around motivated and like-minded runners," said Blasius. "We were hoping to run fast as always, but it was nice to be with people who had dedicated a lot of their season to working towards their goals and progressing."

Unusual training, but preferred outcome

If a person, or in this case team, does not have the proper venue to train, one has to make do with what one has, and what the Panthers had to work with proved to be enough.

"My dad [Jeff] pointed out to me that the whole season we had faced adversity," said Olivia. "We had been running outside in 14-degree weather and everyone else had nice indoor facilities. We were running in the hallways of Oceanside [High School] every practice, which helped in our performance."

The unique "venue" is something many athletes may be accustomed too because of a lack of an indoor track nearby, but the halls of OHS provided more a challenge for the girls than the meet could.

"It was less physically draining to run on the flat surface of the track because the hallways are slanted," said Blasius.

"[The hallways] are also full of people and you have to turn around [and come back]," said Alexis.

The miles of running the four pounded out through the halls of OHS provided a lot of time together, since Medomak Valley's indoor track numbers were not as large as others from around the state.

"I think it made [the titles] more meaningful because it bonded us," said Blasius. "We work together as a small group and it was really nice to focus on each other for this one goal, but also a little bit lonely at times, since there wasn’t a huge team to support us.

"The Camden [Hills athletes made it better too]. It was really nice to make friends and practice with them. We are really grateful to our coach for putting in the time and effort for our team. It wouldn’t have been possible without him, because he believed in us."

Oceanside sponsors indoor track and Camden Hills and Medomak Valley student-athletes practice and compete with the Mariner team as independents.

"We did go over to Oceanside every day and they welcomed us and they became our family in a way, and the same with their coach," said Alexis. "They didn’t treat us like we were from a different school, but instead like we were with them, so they became our team. [Anderson] believed in us when we didn’t even believe in ourselves. He treated us like we were his team, and he was a really big part of our success."

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