By Brett Tieman
“When you have a relay team and everyone does their part, it all works out well. They’re believing in what they can do and running with confidence, and that is what makes a relay team special.” – Head Coach Joseph Cusack
The boys 4×400 relay team has been one of the key factors in the success of the track team. Last year they placed second in the finals at state, pulling them four points ahead of Lafayette to win the championship. This year, the squad has only seen defeat once.
With two runners returning from that State-clinching group, and a multitude of other runners who have filled the remaining spots, other teams aren’t going to want to be in a close race with Blue Springs as they head into this final event.
Senior Josh McCullough who runs the anchor and junior Matt Marzolf who runs the second leg remain from last year’s squad. The other two runners have been switched many times this season to find the perfect fit. Runners have included sophomore Quentin Fontenot and seniors Alex McCullough, Xavier Hall and Cade Musser. Most recently, senior Donte Buckner has been given the nod to run the first leg and junior Prince Griffin to run the third. Buckner noted how much work it took to earn a spot in this elite group.
“It was hard. you have to do so much work. The 4×4 group does one of the hardest workouts. It’s really difficult but I just worked through it, stayed hydrated and earned that spot,” Buckner said.
Even though there are only three meets left, the team is not concrete and anyone who shows they can compete at this level will get a chance.
“Cade Musser could still break in. He was injured, and he’s got as much potential as one or two of the guys in that lineup. He’s still trying to get back to where he once was and he’s getting closer,” head coach Joseph Cusack said.
Having a lineup that is constantly changing, but continuing to win, says a lot about the talent in the program, but also the skill and strength of the two guys who are the staples. The consistency those two provide to the team can especially be noticed in the one race they’ve lost this year.
“We lost in St. Louis when we held Josh out for a race, and we did that to determine who the fourth guy would be. We ran well with the number four and five guys, but with Josh, Hazelwood West would have had a tougher time catching us on the last leg, and that’s why it’s so nice to have staples you can count on,” Cusack said.
Marzolf is just as key to their success as McCullough, and Cusack sees him in just as pivotal of a role as well.
“It’s almost like having two anchors. While Josh is a literal anchor, Matt is critical in the second leg. The second leg is the last leg where each runner gets their own lane, so they can get a clean handoff, and how they get around track determines a lot because the two to three handoff can get congested, and Matt puts us in a position to avoid that,” Cusack said.
Even with all the changing pieces, everyone still knows their role and works together as a group to succeed.
“When you have a relay team and everyone does their part, it all works out well. They’re believing in what they can do and running with confidence, and that is what makes a relay team special,” Cusack said.
Part of being able to believe and run with confidence comes in part to being on a team, and wanting to contribute to the success you see from the other three runners.
“You can run better in a relay than you do in individual events and that happens when you’re feeding off of the other three guys. They hold each other accountable, but most of all they feel accountable to themselves and that makes them better for the team because they don’t want to let anyone else down, but more than anything, they don’t want to let themselves down,” Cusack said.
It’s easy for these boys to feed off of the other guys as they have built such a strong, familial bond by being a part of the Blue Springs track program.
“It’s a brotherhood. We’re family and we just trust each other every meet and that helps us get through it and succeed,” Buckner said
Buckner is the first step in showing off that brotherhood and trust, as he has solidified himself as the runner of the first leg. His performance almost determines what the mindset becomes of the other three runners.
“The first guy is vital to the relay. Donte has put himself in a position where he’s handling that well, and really it’s almost like if he runs a great first leg, then it’s almost like you know the next three guys are going to run a great race, so the first guy probably has the most pressure on him since he’s the one starting it off,” Cusack said.
“It puts so much pressure on me. Behind the anchor, I’m probably the next most important. If I don’t get a good start then we’ll be behind and it could be over, but if I do get a good start and can get the baton to Marzolf, then he can get us the lead and take that pressure off of me,” Buckner said.
With the 4×400 being the last event in a track meet, having a strong group brings a lot of confidence to the whole team when the end result is close leading up to this race. This could be seen at State last year when the team came into the event down two points to Lafayette.
“Last year, we were down at state going into the event, and they were excited to have a chance to win it for us. All they had to do was beat Lafayette by two places and they knew that was reasonable after having the best time in the prelims and they exceeded that by getting second while Lafayette got seventh,” Cusack said.
Even when the team has already secured the meet, and the result of the 4×400 doesn’t matter, this group still gives it their all like the meet is on the line.
“At conference last week we were up by 11 going into the race, but they still treated it as though it was a must win, and gave a very entertaining race beating Lee’s Summit North by one second,” Cusack said.
With three meets left, this special group hopes to help bring another State Championship to Blue Springs and maybe put themselves in the school record book while they’re at it.
“This is a very exciting group, and they are trying to beat the school record of 3:17.68 and this group is trying to take it off the record board which won’t be easy, but they have a chance to do it,” Cusack said.