Bellarmine's Hannah Derby faces challenge in quest to go 4-for-4 at state in 400

todd.milles@thenewstribune.comMay 29, 2014 

Bellarmine Prep’s Hannah Derby will have a chance to accomplish a feat no other state high school girl has done: win a fourth state championship in a large-school classification.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

With state history at stake, Bellarmine Prep’s Hannah Derby is seemingly caught between two worlds in track and field.

There is the world everyone knows her for — the 400-meter run. The Lions’ standout has won the past three Class 4A championships, and she’s in line this week at Star Track XXXII to become the first girl to win four titles in a row in a large-school

classification (4A or 3A).

But then there is the new world — what her future calls for. She has signed with the University of Washington knowing she will run the 800 and 1,500 in college.

“I’d like to have a shot at winning four 400 (titles) in a row. That would be amazing,” Derby said. “But coming this far, if I didn’t win it this year, I would be happy with what I’ve done.”

Now before you read that and immediately dismiss her — it would be easy given her half-resigned assessment — listen to how her coach sees the weekend playing out.

“Is she the (400) favorite? Based on experience, yes. Based on what we’ve seen so far, no,” Bellarmine Prep coach Matt Ellis said. “But we didn’t think she was the favorite last year.”

Derby came to Bellarmine Prep as a spunky former soccer player with a smooth-sailing running style. She doesn’t kick it into a higher gear during a race — how she runs is how she runs throughout.

But she and the 400 have married well together. Consider:

 • In 2011, she had run the race only seven times as a ninth-grader before arriving at Mount Tahoma Stadium. There, she won her first title in 56.41 seconds, then led the Lions to a come-from-behind victory in the 4x400 relay (3 minutes, 55.74 seconds).

 • The following year was arguably her best season in the 400. She won the 4A title again, in 55.51, and anchored another come-from-behind effort to repeat as 4x400 relay champion.

Not only did the Lions win that race, but their 3:51.80 just missed one of the longest-standing state meet records ever — 3:51.70, set by Lincoln in 1983.

 • Last year was a bit more uneven. She was beaten by Todd Beamer’s Chante Spotser in the West Central District finals the week before, and noted afterward she wasn’t certain how much confidence she had left to run the 400.

But in the state finals, she chased down Spotser over the final 10 meters and outleaned her at the tape for her third 4A championship in 55.84.

“I’ve been going against her since my freshman year. She is the one recognizable face I have in the 400,” Spotser said. “She taught me, if you are not close to Hannah (in a race), you are not trying.”

Which makes this week all the more intriguing. Derby admits she has put most of her focus this spring in the 800, and her 2:10.59, which ranks fifth in the state, reflects that.

But that is a race that has been owned by Camas star Alexa Efraimson, who has run 2:06.83 in the event. Why shift your attention to that when you’ve been No. 1 in another race your whole career?

The answer is not that easy.

“As much as high school state championships are cool and make great stories, at this point in her career it is all part of development,” Ellis said. “She has run really fast in high school, but for her four-plus years of college and races beyond that … this is about building closing speed for the 800 or 1,500.”

On paper, the favorites for the 400 title in 4A are the Merriweather sisters (Jai’lyn and Dai’lyn) of Evergreen of Vancouver. They finished 1-2 in the district finals last week in Kent, where Derby placed fourth.

But a race is a race — and Derby runs best when the stakes are highest. The 400 finals in 4A are late Saturday afternoon at Mount Tahoma.

“Maybe I have lost my edge,” Derby said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@thenewstribune.com @ManyHatsMilles

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