Blood, sweat, and tears: it's the formula for success in track and field. However, if perennial distance powerhouse Saratoga Springs High School wants to repeat its victories from last year's Penn Relays, they'll have to rely on sweat and tears alone and not on the legs of the team's former leader, Nicole Blood.
For years, the Upstate New York school has been among the dominant girls' high school track teams in long-distance races. Under coaches Art and Linda Kranick, the Blue Streaks have been a force to reckon with for over a decade.
For 14 seasons, Saratoga's cross-country team has finished the season ranked by Harrier magazine as one of the top five in the nation. In 2004, the team won two of its three races at the Penn Relays by capturing the Championship of America distance medley relay and the Large Schools 4x800-meter relay, Saratoga's first victories at the meet. In addition, the team finished seventh in the Championship of America 4x800m.
Last fall, however, Saratoga's cross-country team, featuring many of the same runners as its relay teams, exceeded even the highest of expectations, eventually being labeled by high school track and field experts as the greatest high school team ever. Without a doubt, Saratoga's season was amazing. The Blue Streaks went undefeated, winning every race they entered with ease. In December the team captured the inaugural Nike Team National championship race in dominant fashion securing their fifth straight national title in cross-country.
Through the winter's indoor track season, Saratoga continued to rack up accolades. The team set the season's top time in the distance medley relay at the Yale Classic in January and won the New York state meet in the 4x800m relay. To cap off its season, in March the team won the 4xMile relay at the Nike Indoor National meet and in the process broke the national indoor record in the event. As the 2005 outdoor season approached, the team seemed untouchable and destined for only further success, including a repeat of their 2004 Penn Relays victory.
That all changed when Blood announced she was leaving the team. Blood, the 2004 national champion in the mile and sophomore mile record holder has been a national-caliber runner since the eighth grade, when she earned All-American status in the mile and ran the second fastest 3,000m in the nation.
The junior was the team's leader and set the bar high for her teammates. When Saratoga found itself battling neck and neck with San Pasqual and Bronxville High Schools going into the final leg in the Championship of America distnce medley relay last year, it was Blood who ran away from the pack during the mile leg, leading her team to a 12-second win. Likewise, it was Blood who anchored her team's national record in the 4xMile in March.
After the end of the indoor season, though, Blood revealed she had been battling a knee injury most of the winter and announced she was taking the season off and leaving the team.
"It had been kind of hurting me for a while, but I just wrapped it up and dealt with it," Blood told dyestat.com's Steve Underwood. "Then after [Nike Indoor] Nationals, it was really hurting."
When asked what led her to make the decision to leave the Saratoga Springs team, Blood refused to go into specifics.
"There were other issues to deal with that I don't want to go into," she told Underwood. "The injury was the final thing. I think it was the best thing to do."
Without Blood, Saratoga has struggled. Freshman Caitlin Lane, who was a part of the national record-setting DMR team, also is taking the season off after developing a stress fracture during the indoor season. And the team, which usually dominates the national spotlight, currently does not have a single time in the top-100 rankings for any event this season.
Heading into the Penn Relays this weekend, the Blue Streaks will be looking to turn their season around. Due to a rule change, the team will not be able to compete in both the DMR and 4x800 and instead will focus its efforts solely on the 4x800m and individual events.
In the 4x800, Saratoga will find itself paired up against fellow powerhouses Boys and Girls from New York and Long Beach Poly from California.
Penn Relays director Dave -Johnson belives that the Blue Streaks will have difficulty succeeding without Blood.
"I could well imagine that the 4x800 makes the final, but I'm not sure they're a strong contender at the top," Johnson said.
Junior Lindsey Ferguson, national record holder in the 2,000m steeplechase is entered in both the mile and 3,000m events. Teammates Hannah Davidson and Alysha McElroy are also scheduled to join Ferguson in the 3,000m race.
But ultimately with the national spotlight shining bright, this weekend will be a chance for Saratoga Springs to prove they can recover from the loss of Blood.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.