By BRETT MARSHALL
WICHITA — Call it being on a mission. Call it earning a measure of respect.
However one wants to look at it, though, the Garden City High School girls' 4x800-meter relay team, as well as its individual runners, sent a clear message to the rest of Class 6A:
Beware of the Lady Buffaloes.
The Lady Buffs' distance relay team, comprised of all underclassmen — juniors Alex Miller, Neysa Harman and anchor Kayla Doll, and sophomore Katy Doll — finished off an unbeaten 2013 track season with a school-record winning performance, taking the gold medal with a time of 9:35.41, leaving runner-up Olathe East in the rear-view mirror, 60 meters and just more than six seconds behind (9:41.44).
That gold-medal performance launched the Lady Buffs into a final fourth-place team finish with 42 points, while Lawrence Free State took first with 94 points, Olathe East second with 81.50 and Lawrence High third with 44 points. Gardner-Edgerton rounded out the top five teams with 37.50 points.
The relay victory was the first for the Lady Buffs at the state since 1999 when their 4x800-meter group also captured gold with a time of 9:46.35. The GCHS school record also went by the wayside, breaking the mark of 9:41.1 in 2005 set by Nicole Knowles, Janelle Mason, Heather Patterson and Amie Algrim.
The victory also was a long way from the heartbreaking disqualification by the same team two years ago when Kayla Doll inadvertently cut into the inside lane early coming off the first curve of the first leg of the race. Doll, Harman, Taryn Tempel and Miller were members of that team. In 2012, Kayla and her younger sister Katy, Miller and Harman, placed seventh with a time of 9:50.52.
"The feeling is so surreal," said Miller, who put a strong finish on her final lap to keep the Lady Buffs close to leader Olathe East.
"I just tried to hang on as much as I could," said Harman, who easily ran her best effort of the season. "To go undefeated is unreal. I'm just really happy to be able to this for the team."
Harman, who had closed the margin on East, put Katy Doll in a position that eventually led to the Lady Buffs taking the lead for the final 800 by Kayla Doll.
"I knew if we wanted to win, I had to get that gap," said Katy Doll. "I did feel strong and then at the end, I started sprinting to the finish. It's just a great feeling. Words can't really describe it."
Balance in the team's times provided the impetus for this state winning effort as each of the four either bettered of nearly matched their best splits of the season. With the electronic timing of the state being used, Miller opened with a 2:26.50 and was followed by Harman's season best 2:24.79, nearly eight seconds faster than she had ever run in an open 800. Katy Doll then put the team into first place with a strong 2:24.97.
The older Doll took the baton and off she went with a 15-meter lead over Olathe East. The anchor for Kayla Doll was nothing short of impressive as she widened the lead to about 30 meters with a 1:05.68 opening 400, and closed the race out with a 1:13.47 final lap.
"My job was to keep that (lead) for us," Kayla Doll said. "I just focused on keeping that lead. I had no idea how much of a lead I had. I never looked back. But I thought somebody would catch up at some point or make a run at me. I just never saw anybody else. I just pushed as hard as I could, and sprinted my way in."
Her split showed 2:19.51, her fastest of the season.
"I always expected us to run faster here," the older Doll said. "We haven't been pushed that hard all season and I thought we could break 9:40. To see how far we've come since our freshman year is such a great feeling. It shows how far we've come."
Tempel garnered a silver medal in the triple jump with a personal best leap of 36-7, missing by just one-half inch of winning when Breanna Eckles of Wichita Southeast went 36-7.50 on her next-to-last jump. Tempel's best mark of the day came on her second jump when she was trying to get a good distance before going off to run in the 400-meters. More impressively, her mark bettered her previous best by 11.50 inches.
"I got in my first three jumps pretty quick before I had to go run the 400," Tempel said. "That's where I got my 36-7. I'm glad I got a good in there, because after the 400, my legs felt a little heavy and I didn't jump as well. I'm a little disappointed not to win, but I got a p.r. (personal record) by nearly a food. I'm looking forward to improving more next year."
Tempel's two medals on Saturday was a bit of redemption from Friday's tough long jump performance where she only went 15-01.50 and finished 15th in a field of 16 jumpers.
"I only long jumped a few times this season, so it's not my best event," she said. "I had my fastest time in the 400s (59.66 in Friday's prelims and 1:00.19 in the finals, good for fourth) and overall I'd say it was a good meet. Particularly when I didn't even qualify for the individual events a year ago."
Kayla Doll finished third in the 800 (2:22.72), improving on her fifth-place finish of 2012 while Katy Doll was sixth in the 1,600 (5:21.30), that coming less than 24 hours after her runner-up finish in the 3,200-meters Friday evening. Miller was a distant 11th in the 1,600-meters with a time of 5:29.48. Freshman Allison Harman ran a 13.06 in the 100-meter prelims on Saturday morning, missing the top eight spots into the finals.
The 4x400-meter relay team of Tempel, Taylor Linenberger, and the Doll sisters placed seventh with a time of 4:15.84, again slower than their prelim time of 4:08.46, a season best, due to the wind blowing stiffly from the south, which meant each runner had the final 120-150 meters into the teeth of the wind.