Fearsome Foursome: The Secret Of Success For Record-Setting Relay
Running a relay race comes down to so much more than simply running — fast. There is teamwork involved, timing with baton handoffs, determination, competitiveness, and some strategy.
Newtown High School’s standout 4x400 meter relay contingent of Elise Barricelli, Ally McCarthy, Hannah Snayd, and Riley Powers combine to make a fearsome foursome that had a record-setting campaign.
This spring’s outdoor track and field campaign was capped off with a State Open championship for this relay group, where they beat each of the state’s top relays from all class sizes, clocking in at 3:55.99 and shattering their own school record in the process. The competition took place at Willow Brook Park in New Britain on June 10.
This relay broke the South-West Conference record at this year’s championships. Among the four of them, and including indoor track in the winter, these athletes have earned 13 school records. That’s factoring in the loss of last spring and significant scale-back of this past winter’s indoor slate due to the impact of the novel coronavirus.
Newtown’s relay is a National Championships qualifier and would have competed in the New England Regional Championships, but those were canceled for the second year in a row.
“It’s amazing. It’s fantastic,” Coach Becky Bourret said of her relay team’s accomplishments.
They run a variety of relays and participated in a first-year substitute of sorts for the New England race, the Danbury Dream Invite, which took place on June 13. They were uncontested in the event’s sprint medley relay race and set a new school standard in a time of 4:18.06.
“They broke the school record with no one to race against, which just shows the motivation and determination these girls have,” Bourret said.
McCarthy and Barricelli were part of that event’s school record-setting relay their freshman year.
Bourret put this relay together early in the season, but pulled it apart both to keep things fresh and not to show opposing teams Newtown’s top relay. The group reunited late in the season in time for this postseason success run.
In Order By Design
Selecting relay runners is a trick. A coach needs sprinters, but running full speed for 100 meters requires speedsters who can maintain that quickness for a lap around the track.
“So you have to find that sweet spot where the competitor can sprint for a long time,” Bourret explained.
The relay runners go in order by design. Barricelli is the team’s true sprinter and, thus, is accustomed to running off the block so she is a natural fit to start the race.
McCarthy, a competitive soccer player, is an ideal second-leg relay runner, because the second runner can cut into the inner lane to trim a little time off, and that can require cutting in front of an opponent.
“You have to have an aggressive runner,” Bourret said of that second relay competitor.
“I think my competitiveness makes it so nobody gets to that lane before me,” McCarthy said.
The third runner’s job is to help hold the lead or keep the relay close for the anchor of the relay to finish things strongly.
“She was a monster in that third leg. No one passed her,” Bourret said of Snayd.
The anchor is “the person you trust to not get beat,” Bourret said. “Riley is a competitor. She’s a soccer kid. If someone does pass her she’s going to go out swinging. She’s a fighter.”
Bourret says it is a tight line to walk between not burning out her runners while tapping their peak performance. That is one of the reasons to switch up events and relays for this group during the course of the season.
Newtown’s coach was impressed her 4x400 not only ran 3:55 in the Class LL meet but managed to maintain that time in the Open.
“To do it at 3:55 and again at 3:55 was ridiculous,” Bourret said.
The Nighthawks, as a team, scored 20 points to finish 12th among 68 schools to score points in the Open; Danbury was first with 44. In addition to the relay shining, McCarthy was fourth in the 800 with a time of 2:15.08, Powers came in fifth in the 400 in 59.10, and Barricelli finished eighth in the 200, clocking in at 25.89.
Speed And Stamina
The success of these girls individually and collectively is evidence that specialization in one athletic activity is not necessarily required. All four girls excel in fall sports before they get going with indoor track in the winter. Barricelli is on the high school swimming team, and her three relay peers are all soccer standouts.
“I like that they are doing multiple sports. I would never ask that they stop doing something they love,” said Bourret, who knows a thing or two about playing multiple sports. She played soccer and ran track and field at Naugatuck High School and ran cross country and track at Eastern Connecticut State University, running in the 4x400 once in college.
McCarthy and Snayd both came from club soccer events the day of their Danbury Dream Invite competitions.
“Soccer kids have that stamina to go for 90 minutes so that translates well to the track,” said Bourret, referring to the length of soccer matches
“I feel like it helped a lot in terms of competitiveness,” Snayd said.
“Soccer helps you keep up your endurance because you need a lot of stamina for it,” Powers added.
Barricelli said swimming, too, is beneficial to sprinting.
“It definitely helps with my breathing — absolutely. Swimming is such an endurance-based sport. It just makes me stronger in all aspects,” Barricelli said.
Cohesion on and off the track bolsters this relay team’s ability to do well.
“The chemistry is great between the team,” Barricelli said.
Barricelli and McCarthy have been track teammates since middle school, when they competed for the Nutmeg Striders, and both runners remain involved with their former program as volunteers; they are also both part of St Rose of Lima Church.
All four relay stars volunteer with Families United in Newtown. Barricelli is also a soccer referee and works at Holy Cow Ice Cream Shop and Roberto’s Restaurant in Monroe.
Graduation won’t save opposing squads from having to overcome this collective hurdle on the track. Barricelli and McCarthy are juniors, and Snayd and Powers are both sophomores, so look out again in 2022. The second- and third-place teams, from Glastonbury and Weston, respectively, will have to replace graduates from this spring.
“It’s really exciting, especially knowing we have a year ahead of us,” Snayd said.
Newtown’s relay quartet won the Class LL meet in a time of 3:55.70 — just off the state record time of 3:55.27 set by Ridgefield in 2017. Setting that record certainly is attainable.
“A lot of training will help us get there,” Snayd anticipates.
For now, this group of close-knit sprinters can enjoy all of their achievements from this past school year.
“It was so amazing to be able to do that with these girls. They’re my closest friends,” McCarthy said.
“It’s so exciting because we still have another year. It will be fun,” Powers added.
Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.