Lady Panther relay teams are off to a dominant start

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FARMINGTON — Five talented Piedra Vista relay runners are looking to cash in on the bond they've built and turn it into a team championship when the state tournament starts next month.

Guiding what 18-year PV track and field coach Mark Turner calls "the best girls track team I've ever coached" are five runners: Cassandra Crowell, Samantha DeWees, Hayden Carpenter, Haley Duran and Haley Golden. Crowell, DeWees, Carpenter and Golden make up the 4x100 and 4x200 teams for PV. Duran runs in place of Carpenter in the 4x400.

As a whole, PV has been nearly unbeatable this season, especially against other Class 5A competition. The Lady Panthers have finished first at every meet they've ran in except for the Top Gun Invitational on April 1 in Aztec. There, they finished second, only 30 points shy of 6A Cleveland's first-place mark.

Out of the 50 girls on the team, 38 have earned a PV letter, meaning they have acquired at least one point in each meet of the season. Usually, about 28-30 girls accomplish that feat every year, Turner said.

"I've never had that many kids in my life earn a letter. That's crazy," Turner said. "I don't want to say these five girls work harder than everybody else (on the team) because they don't — everyone here has worked their tails off. These five are just gifted, and they've worked hard to get where they're at."

Crowell and Carpenter, the two seniors of the group, along with DeWees, a junior, have been running relays together for three years, getting accustomed to one another's habits.

"We bond really well because we're working to achieve something together," Carpenter said.

"Coach Turner always says to us, 'Anything can happen with boys teams, you can throw any group together, and they'll work, but girls have to have a special kind of chemistry to make the hand-offs work,'" DeWees said. "That communication allows us to run under 50 seconds in the 4x100."

All three Lady Panther relay teams have already qualified for state. The 4x100 team qualified at the first chance it got with a time of 44.89 seconds at the Early Bird Invitational on March 5. The other two teams qualified during the Top Gun Invite, with the 4x200 team finishing the race in 1 minute, 47.34 seconds and the 4x400 team clocking a time of 4:13.34.

Sophomores Golden and Duran have acclimated well to a relay core that has developed lofty standards — all three teams finished in the top four at state last season. Crowell said their ascent has actually surprised her.

"They just jumped two feet into all the training and all the workouts," she said. "They've really just proved themselves to us."

"Coming into a team like this that's been established for a while, they really showed a sense of maturity," DeWees said of the two sophomores. "They realized that what we do is important to us, and running here has to be as important or even more important to them."

Golden said she and Duran learned quickly they had no choice but to flourish.

"It was all fun and games in middle school, but high school track is a lot different," Golden said. "The workouts are so much more intense. I knew I had to step up because I want to be as good as them."

The five girls are determined to improve on their placement at state last year, when the relay teams failed to earn first in any of the three competitions and took third overall.

During last week's Penny McKnight Invitational in Aztec, Crowell was away from the team and Golden was too injured to run, so the PV coaching staff seized the opportunity and changed the lineups to test out different combinations of girls. The 4x100 and 4x200 teams still earned first, and the 4x400 took second. The girls believe it's that depth that will make PV a dangerous team next month at state.

"We're a better team, we're faster and then we have insane depth," Carpenter said, before DeWees chimed in.

"It's just so hard to pick out one or two girls this year that could lead us because basically anyone can be thrown into any race and they can do it," DeWees said. "And do it well."

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

A closer look: Piedra Vista girls relay teams

1. Favorite team?

DeWees: "Denver Broncos."

2. Favorite athlete?

Golden: "Peyton Manning."

3. Favorite food?

DeWees: "Spaghetti."

4. Favorite movie?

Crowell: "I love 'Ice Age.'"

5. Favorite subject in school?

Duran: "Biology."

6. Least favorite subject?

Duran: "Math."

7. Biggest fear?

Golden: "Drowning."

8. Do you play any other sports?

Carpenter: "Soccer."

9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?

Crowell: "Pay for college."

10. Do you have any pregame rituals?

Carpenter: "Pray. We all pray before every relay."

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