Seniors Kayla Hay, Grayce Heinemann and Carly Tool and freshman Emma Klouchek took first place in Group III with a time of 9:45.13 at the meet on Jan. 20.
Seneca High School seniors Kayla Hay, Grayce Heinemann, Carly Tool and Sydny Warner share a very tight friendship.
They also happen to make up one of the fastest girls 4×800-meter relay teams in New Jersey.
Seneca High School’s girls track and field’s 4×800-meter relay team has been one of the state’s best in recent years. Last year, the Golden Eagles reached the Meet of Champions in both the winter and spring seasons, finishing in the top five both times.
This year, Seneca is looking for more. With an experienced group of seniors leading the way, the Golden Eagles believe they can be the state’s best team in the 4x800m relay.
Seneca got off to a strong start on Jan. 20 at the NJSIAA Relay Championships, where it took first place with a time of 9:45.13, even though the relay team’s fastest runner, Warner, didn’t take part in the event.
Seneca head coach Karen O’Neil opted to hold Warner out of the 4x800m relay so she could compete in other events for the team. Freshman Emma Klouchek competed in place of Warner.
“It was one of her first 800s and she did really good,” Tool said about Klouchek. “We knew even without Sydny, we could have her in there and we could be confident.”
“I was just so happy for them,” Warner said about her teammates’ finish in first. “They’re my best friends. I want them to do well.”
The four seniors recognize there are high expectations in the 4x800m relay. Last winter, Heinemann, Tool and Warner were part of the Meet of Champions relay team along with 2017 graduate Kayla Martin. This year, Hay joined them with the goal of surpassing the mark of 9:33.35 the team set when it finished in second place at the Meet of Champions last year.
“That’s been our thing,” Hay said of the 4x800m relay. “We’ve always worked around that. So we’ve been training for this for awhile.”
“It’s not just a warm up for us,” Tool added about the winter season. “We want to do the best we can. We want to go for it.”
One advantage the four seniors have going for them is the bond they share. All four have come up on the track team together and their friendship extends outside of school as well.
“Even when it’s hard, we just keep going because it’s for each other,” Tool said. “We don’t want to let each other down.”
The girls have set a goal of getting their time below nine minutes, 30 seconds by the time the Meet of Champions rolls around in late February. Only one team, Ridge High School, ran a time of under 9:30 in the Meet of Champions last year.
Seneca began to close in on the goal at the Relay Championships. The seniors credited Klouchek for her role in filling in for Warner. Klouchek ran the first leg of the event and put Seneca out in front early.
“She kept us right where we needed to be, right up front and she held that,” Tool said.
From there, Hay, Tool and Heinemann focused on putting as much distance between them and the competition as possible. Seneca was challenged throughout the event as Haddonfield Memorial High School and Voorhees High School also finished within 10 seconds of the Golden Eagles.
“I knew I had to get Carly and Grayce a lead, because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to win going into it,” Hay said.
Even without Warner, Seneca’s time of 9:45 was its best of the season so far and was the third-best out of all of the groups in New Jersey at the Relay Championships. After seeing what her teammates did on Jan. 20, Warner believes they have the speed to go very far this winter.
“If we get to that point, nationals, we want to do very well,” she said. “We want to go as far as we can with the fastest time that we can.”