Behind the scenes of a successful 4×800 team

Megan McEldowney

Every athlete has different thoughts, strategies and mentalities while performing in their sport.  Kent State’s 4×800-meter relay team is made up of Hannah Fleck, Tabitha Jacofsky, Lauren Burnett and Taylor Wickey. All four girls are different, but each make the team complete through their individual thoughts, work ethic and bond with one other.

“Their backgrounds, they come from a lot of different levels, backgrounds and strengths,” said cross-country coach Mark Croghan.

All four girls started their track and field careers in high school. Burnett was an All-American in the 800-meter. Fleck competed at the Ohio High School Athletic Association Track and Field Championship all four years and competed in 10 events at the OHSAA State meet. Jacofsky was a member of a 4×400 relay team that finished first at Ohio Athletic Conference Championships. Wickey captured three OHSAA state championships.

“They are all very good runners,” Croghan said. “They work really well together and it is fun to watch.”

At the final day of the 49th Tennessee Relays on Saturday, April 11, the team took first place in the race out of five groups with a time of 8:54.31. The order that the girls run in is crucial to their success during the race.

When the gun goes off, Fleck is the first runner to take off down the track for Kent State.

The first leg: Hannah Fleck

“To be honest, when I have the baton the only thing that runs through my head is the word ‘compete,’” Fleck said. “That sounds a little weird, but I’m the first runner so I have to put my team in a position that is competitive. That means I run to put my team in a lead so they don’t have to catch up to anyone. ”

Fleck is a junior from Celina, Ohio and attended Celina High School. She is an interior design major. She has a younger brother and enjoys being outside.

“I think we all perform so well together because we run for each other, not just ourselves,” Fleck said. “Running in a relay has a certain energy. It’s a kind of pressure that is exciting. When a race gets tough or hurts, you just push through it because you know there are three other girls that put their hearts out there and you don’t want to do anything less for them in turn.”

After Fleck has made her way around the track, Jacofsky will grab the baton. Her initial thought is on the first 200 meters of her run.

The second leg: Tabitha Jacofsky

“The first thing I think about before receiving the baton is just getting out in front,” Jacofsky said. “I love to chase people so when I get handed the baton in second or third, that’s my kind of race. When I get it in first, it makes me more nervous that people are now chasing me. When I get past the 200, I just think about how I can’t let my team down. I really care about helping my team out as much as possible.”

Jacofsky is the only senior on the team this year. She is majoring in human development and family studies. She went to Brecksville High School and was a student at Mount Union her first year of college. The year after she transferred to Kent State.

“I honestly didn’t think I was D1 material, so I just figured I would try walking onto the team and see what would happen,” Jacofsky said. “That was the best decision of my life because I met lifelong friends and became a more confident, determined mid-distance runner. I will miss my teammates and the excitement of competition. It’s bittersweet.”

Fleck said Jacofsky will be missed by her teammates next year.

“Tabitha is a wonderful member of the team and will be hard to replace,” Fleck said. “She has such a competitive spirit that is inspiring and motivating. Hopefully we can continue to deliver that competitiveness.”

The workouts are a big part of the girls’ success.

“Practice for all of us is a huge stress reliever,” Jacofsky said. “The reason I say that is because we don’t have the stress of competing. We get better every day, even if it’s just by a little bit. Our training is divided into what coach wants you to focus on. We always cheer each other on for the workouts especially because they are harder than our races are. Getting through the workout and hitting our paces is what makes us run faster in races so it’s important we stay positive.”

Burnett and Jacofsky do more specific training for the 800-meter, while Fleck and Wickey do more specific training for the 1500-meter.

After running her second lap, Jacofsky hands the baton off to Wickey.

The third leg: Taylor Wickey

“On race day, you have to gauge on how fast your teammate is coming in and really read their body language when it comes to the baton,” Wickey said. “It’s scary when Tabitha hands me the baton in first place. I prefer to have people to catch instead of being the target. That’s what I think about before I start the race. I hate the feeling of being chased because I can’t see the person behind me. I would rather be looking ahead and knowing where my competitor is. ”

Wickey is a junior from Medina, Ohio and attended Medina High School. She is a speech pathology and audiology major with a concentration in geriatrics. She has two younger siblings and runs about 45 miles a week during the season.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to take gold during indoor this year,” Wickey said. “We will be ready come May 14.”

Finally, after Wickey makes her second lap around the track, it’s the anchor’s turn. Burnett grabs the baton for the final two laps around the track.

The anchor: Lauren Burnett

“The anticipation and exchange of the baton is both nerve racking, yet exciting at the same time,” Burnett said. “The first thought that goes through my head is that I have to get out. Get out, be patient and compete. I have stressed myself out way too many times and that is when I mess up. Telling myself to breathe works wonders.”

Burnett is a sophomore from Macomb, Michigan and went to Dakota High School. She is a public health major and has aspirations to work with special needs children at a hospital. She has been running for eight years and started her career with cross-country.

“I think what makes our team compete so well together is the fact that we are all so unique in what we do and how we compete,” Burnett said. “Hannah is a strong runner and is able to get us the lead right off the gun. Tabitha is perfect for maintaining the lead or closing a gap. Taylor has the endurance and stamina to get out hard and maintain a pace for as long as we need her to. I have the foot speed to close if need be. We all believe in each other to hold our own, and we do it for each other as team.”

Contact Megan McEldowney at [email protected].