NEW HAVEN >> The Hillhouse boys’ indoor track team produced three of the top 10 times at the State Open in the 300-meter dash.
So it only made sense for the Academics to combine that speed.
The trio of Akiel Smith, Tyreise Swain Jr., Darius Wise and 600 and relay specialist Brendon Stewartson make up the 4×200 relay team that will compete this weekend at the New Balance Indoor National Track and Field Championships at the Armory in New York.
“We have four guys that are top guys in the state,” Hillhouse head coach Gary Moore said of the 4×200 team. “We have the guys to be competitive in that, and the 4×200 is up our alley.”
The Academics will run in the preliminary on Saturday at 11:40 a.m. The top six teams, based off time, advance to the finals on Sunday at 1:03 p.m.
“Expectation is to place top 3,” said Smith, who will be running the opening leg. “If we could get a ‘W’, national champion, that would be great.”
Those lofty goals are certainly not out of reach. The quartet enters the race with the fifth-fastest time in the nation (1 minute, 28.57 seconds) according to running site Milesplit.com. It’s a time the Academics feel can be faster.
The four produced the state record 4×200 time last week at the Eastern States Championships at the Armory, where they captured first place. They hadn’t run together in the event since the Yale Classic in January.
“I think we are the surprise team,” Smith said. “One meet and we put our name on the map.”
The top team is Newburgh Free Academy of New York (1:27.64).
The main focal point for Hillhouse to succeed will be the handoffs. All four are used to each other from the 4×400, but the baton handoff is different. The 4×200 is a blind exchange, so every single step is critical to the process.
“The bottom line, in a race that is that fast, we have to make sure our relay handoffs are good,” Moore said. “That’s going to make you or break you.”
All four members run 200 meters. Smith is the first leg for the Academics, followed by Swain Jr., Wise and Stewartson is the anchor.
“Well, it’s not really an easy spot, but running with this group of boys they’ll put me in a good spot, so you don’t feel all that pressure,” Stewartson said. “But I still have to go out there and play my part to contribute to the team’s success.”
The way this indoor track season has gone for Hillhouse — conference, state and state open championships — all four are excited to finish the season on a high note.
“I think it’s amazing and I think it’s a great experience,” Wise said of running at nationals. “And I know for a fact that we’ll go out there and run our hardest and do our best.”
Joining the Academics Saturday will be the Wilbur Cross girls’ sprint medley relay team (1:35 p.m. start).
A year ago, the Governors finished second in the event. While it’s a new year and two new members on the relay team, Cross is still looking forward to seeing what they can do.
“Just the experience for them, to have another opportunity, I’m very excited for them,” Cross head coach Travis Gale said.
Junior Gabby Curtis, sophomore Leah Rivers, senior Claudia Schatz and junior Danae Rivers make up the sprint medley relay team. The event features 200, 200, 400 and 800 meter legs.
Curtis and Danae Rivers ran on the relay last year. Curtis said there is no pressure to repeat last year’s success.
“Pass the baton, and finish,” Curtis said with a smile. “Nationals is an experience, it’s something fun.”
While it will be an enjoyable event for the four, Cross will be a competitive team. The Governors’ time of 4:15.19 ranks 21st in the nation, but like Hillhouse, the four have not ran the event too many times together.
“We’re capable of breaking 4:10, would love to see under 4:05,” Gale said.
Soaking up the entire experience, the four went shopping for new uniforms to wear on Saturday.
“I’m, excited,” Schatz said. “It’s going to be new for me, but we have a good squad.”
Danae Rivers will also be running in the 1 mile on Sunday (2:29 p.m.). She finished fourth last year (4:48.59) and is in a good position to better her personal record.
“She’s totally capable of pr-ing (personal record),” Gale said. “She likes the competition. That will be fun to watch on Sunday.”
Rivers last ran at the Armory in February at the Millrose Games where she finished in fourth (4:53.87), but was coming off a triple at the Class L state meet the night before.
Rivers said she is looking forward to the opportunity to run against a talented and competitive field with fresher legs.
“I’m really ready to run a good time, faster time,” Rivers said. “From last year to this year, I think I’ve matured a lot. We’ll see what happens.”