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Rockets’ distance relay seeking return to elite form

Running down a dream

Rock Falls 4x800 relay team of (from left) Bry Ganther, Alex Gomez, Bailee Fortney and Erin Porter hope for a successful track season and for another trip to the state track finals.
Rock Falls 4x800 relay team of (from left) Bry Ganther, Alex Gomez, Bailee Fortney and Erin Porter hope for a successful track season and for another trip to the state track finals.

Rock Falls girls track coach Mark Truesdell spent the early portion of an indoor meet Monday at the Westwood Sports Complex giving pointers to some underclassmen high jumpers.

After all, it’s early in the season, and they can likely use all the help they can get.

Meanwhile, members of the Rockets’ 4x800 relay team were off at the team’s makeshift camp site, chilling before doing their thing later. Seniors Erin Porter, Bailee Fortney and Alex Gomez and junior Bry Ganther have been around the block a few times, and needed no extra guidance.

“My biggest thing is to stay out of their way and not screw them up,” Truesdell said with a smile.

Porter, Fortney, Gomez and Ganther will be looking to recapture the form they showed in 2018. They teamed up for a school-record time of 9 minutes, 38.94 seconds in taking top honors at the Class 2A Lisle Sectional. A week later, the same foursome posted a 9:41.02 at state, good for fourth place.

That finish put targets on the Rockets’ backs for the 2019 season, and when it came time to deliver at state, the same group was unable. Porter, Fortney, Gomez and Ganther pieced together a 10:04.62, good for 10th place and one spot out of receiving a medal.

Fortney noted the pressure put on them, whether external or internal, was a factor.

“We’re usually pretty good with the pressure,” Fortney said, “but I think last year, with all of the expectations and pressures on us to do so well, I think it did get to us a little bit. We were so focused on trying to get first that we weren’t even taking into consideration getting one of those lower medals. I think that’s something we could have done a lot better on.”

“It was a hard realization to go down there with so much expectation, and then have it fall apart,” Gomez added.

Truesdell decided to shake things up a bit for that race, which was contested in windy conditions. He had Gomez go first instead of Porter, who is accustomed to running in a pack. It was a move that did not pay dividends.

“I’ll take the blame for that,” Truesdell said. “I mixed up the order to try to help, and it made it worse. We were having trouble jelling last year, and the year before, everything just clicked perfectly.”

“It’s not my strength,” Gomez said of going out first. “I’m not a leadoff at all, but I was definitely willing to take the spot and mentally prepare minutes before the race. It was a dramatic change.”

This year, Truesdell does not plan to tinker with the lineup unless circumstances dictate a change. Porter will lead off no matter what, he stressed, with Gomez and Ganther in the middle spots, then Fortney cleaning up. That is just fine with her.

“Every year, it starts as one order at the beginning of the season, like here at Westwood,” Fortney said, “and every year, by the end of the season, it’s changed like four times, and I’m always running anchor. I’m definitely comfortable running anchor.”

Porter, Fortney, Gomez and Ganther got off to a fast start to the 2020 season by posting a 10:18.02 at the Sterling Gold Medal Invitational on Saturday.

“It definitely put us on a good path,” Fortney said. “That’s the fastest that we’ve run for our first meet indoors, so we’re really confident in what we can do by the end of the season.”

Ideally, that would mean the group challenging its own school record. That would also result in a finish somewhere high atop the medal stand at state. A year ago, Normal U-High won the Class 2A 4x800 relay in 9:41.81.

“I think we can definitely get down there again,” Fortney said. “We just need to get everybody’s 800 splits down where they should be, and it’s definitely doable.”

Did you know? Erin Porter, Alex Gomez and Bailee Fortney have been part of 4x800 relay teams that have placed 8th, 4th and 10th at the Class 2A state track meet the last 3 years.

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