The track at Federal Way High School was cold and damp, and the infield grass had yet to defrost. Spring was still months away.
It was just after Christmas and hardly the time for Quinn Gillis to start thinking about outdoor track and field, especially with the Eagles boys basketball team in the thick of league play.
But that was the time of the year he and co-sprint coach Marcus Yzaguirre began to assemble their next group of state championship-caliber relays.
“We usually get to talking about this stuff in January, sometimes as early as December,” Yzaguirre said.
Then May rolls around, and the Eagles have a jump on preparing for the state championships.
It has become a tradition since coach Sam Beesley came in and hired Yzaguirre and Gillis, a former Federal Way athlete, as his sprint coaches seven years ago. Yzaguirre was a former sprinter for Beesley at Thomas Jefferson.
The Federal Way boys — who set the 4A state meet record of 3 minutes, 15.66 seconds in the 4x400-meter relay in 2010 — return two of four sprinters, Ezekiel McNeal and Aaron Persinger, from their 2012 state-winning team. This year, Persinger and McNeal are joined by Michael Tate and freshman Jason Palmer.
The Eagles have run the second-fastest time in the state this year — 3:22.22, less than a second behind Wenatchee.
The boys 4x100 relay team, second at state last year, is almost identical, except Yzaguirre and Gillis start the football team’s star running back, Robert “Chico” McClatcher, followed by McNeal, Tate and Persinger. They own the top time in the state — 41.93.
In the girls 4x100 and 4x200 — where Federal Way was second and third, respectively, at the 2012 state meet — soccer player Gabriela Pelogi was added to run the first leg. Ta’Mara Richey, Mariyah Vongsaveng and Karis Cameron follow. Both relays own the second-best time in the state this year and the best in 4A.
Anyone can throw out four fast runners and let them run free. But Federal Way’s success comes down to philosophy. That’s where Yzaguirre and Gillis come in, and they are of one mind.
“I tell people this all the time
— in fact, I was telling this to someone at prom who asked, ‘How do you guys do it with those relays every year?’ ” Yzaguirre said. “It’s because (Gillis) and I are always on the same page. I’m telling you right now, if he took half our kids to one side of the field and I took the other half, I know they are being taught the same exact thing. Every time.”
Their relay philosophy factors into every turn, every handoff, even into a runner’s competitive drive.
The first leg is run by someone they trust, not necessarily the fastest, but someone who can leave the blocks quickly. The second leg is run by the strongest sprinter to power through the turn. The third is a great finisher, usually with the team’s best hands, so the baton is handed off with the most momentum.
On the Eagles’ fourth leg is their fiercest competitor — a sprinter who refuses to lose.
That’s Tate for the boys 4x400. He will play wide receiver for San Jose State next season. The 4x100 anchor is Persinger, who committed to Memphis to run track next year.
The girls use Cameron to anchor the 4x100 and 4x200.
“We have great coaches pushing us to do our best here,” Richey said. “They have pushed us to get to a great position, and that is winning it all. We won’t be satisfied until we get that trophy in our school, or plaque or banner, or whatever it is we get ”
Beesley is glad Gillis and Yzaguirre are around.
“My job is just to build a staff together, give them the tools they need to be successful and get the heck out of their way,” Beesley said. “I trust my sprint coaches. They are good, and it shows with what they have produced. I’m definitely not the lone ranger out there: I got some help. I’m just the grouchy old man who has to set the tone.”TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 firstname.lastname@example.org @Cotterill44