Thunder Mountain sprinter Donald Stokes never saw this coming.
The senior captain and anchor never thought he’d see, week after week, himself and teammates Alex Tracy, and Josh and Ray Jones owning the fastest 4-x-100-meter relay time in the state of Alaska.
“We’ve gone a lot further than any of us thought,” Stokes admitted. “We always thought, ‘Oh man, we’re running against (Juneau-Douglas),’ even though we know we’re running against ourselves.”
The Crimson Bears have owned Southeast track and field for decades. But little by little, Thunder Mountain continues to break through the barrier of competition between the two schools.
“People were always telling me when the season started, ‘It will be good if we see you guys even bring more than two people this year,’ you know, being sarcastic,” Stokes said.
But, in spite of the doubters, he knew if the Falcons focused on the task at hand and what they did best, good things would happen.
The team spent the majority of the year with the best 4-x-100 time in the state, but eventually its mark of 44.95 seconds, set on the first day of the Juneau Invitational, was bested by just more than two-tenths of a second by South Anchorage (44.73) during last weekend’s Region IV championships. West Valley then posted a 44.87 in the Region VI meet, pushing the Falcons to the third best time heading into state finals.
Still, Stokes said spending so much time at the top was a great accomplishment.
“It was a shock to me. ‘We’re in Southeast and we’re still number one? When is this going to change? Have they updated (the results) yet?’” Stokes quipped. “It’s been really good. We just work as a team. Coaches give us advice, we get those handoffs and we’re good.”
For Tracy, a newcomer in 2011 who runs the first leg for the relays, the results have been just as surprising. The junior transfer from Nevada admitted he thought this was basically a makeshift relay team at the beginning of the season. Now, he said, expectations have risen.
“It was kind of a surprise. I thought it was a relay team just kind of put together out of the blue, but it turned out to be pretty good,” he said. “The expectations for us have been the same all year, but since the town knows about it, the expectations have kind of been raised because of the popularity of the team.”
The same lineup also owns the state’s second-best 4-x-200 team (1:33.47), trailing only East Anchorage (1:33.90).
With success comes expectation, and Stokes, for one, isn’t afraid of that.
“For our (4-x-100) relay, we’re going to try to get (42 seconds), and 1:31 in the 4-x-200. I know that sounds fast, but I know we can do it,” he said. “Coach said it’s all about the exchange. We have speed and we know how to get our exchanges right, so that’s what makes us even faster. It’s going to come down to that.”
The environment at state is different than any other during the season. Whether it’s the pressure or the competition in the lane next to you, it’s an experience one has to see to truly understand.
“Don’t let people get in your head, because that’s what they’re going to try to do. They’re going to be talking to you, telling you you’re not going that far, you’re not going to win,” Stokes said. “But you just have to stay in your mode and keep it all in your head. We’ll be fine.”
Tracy said he and his teammates know what it will take, even though Stokes is the only one who has been to state before after competing last season.
“We can clean up the handoffs, we need stay loose and just be ready for it,” Tracy said. “You can’t let the mentality of state get to you.”
Come this weekend at the 2011 ASAA/First Bank Alaska State Track & Field Championship in Fairbanks, we’ll see how these four Falcons work under pressure.