Community Sports

Sports Beat | Gig Harbor relay team wins state title

Posted on May 30th, 2024 By:

The Gig Harbor girls 4×400 relay team pulled off one of the biggest upsets at Star Track, the state track and field championships, at Mount Tahoma High School on May 25.

The team of lead-off runner Danica Olsen, Kate Jones, Lejla Carlsson and anchor Maura Lenzi scorched the track to win the Class 3A state title by over three seconds.

The win also gave the Tides girls team 10 valuable points toward their score of 26 points, good for a respectable sixth-place finish. The Peninsula girls finished with 17 points for 12th place. The Gig Harbor boys placed ninth.

Maura Lenzi of Gig Harbor is mobbed by her 4×400 relay teammates Kate Jones (facing the camera), Danica Olsen (left) and Lejla Carlsson. Teammates Taylor Sletner and Sofia Simmonds race to join them. Photo by Kristi Eager

Four personal bests

The relay was one of the sports in the ancient Olympic Games that started in Greece in 776 BC. Some 2,800 years later, it remains one of the most exciting events in all of sports.

That certainly was the case for the Tide quartet, which laid down a 3:57.90 to beat second-place Bishop Blanchet’s time of 4:01.06.

The Tides’ state championship effort was a surprise to many, coming from a team that did not win conference or district titles.

Kevin Eager has coached several state championship performers during his tenure at Gig Harbor. But this relay team will linger in his memory for a long time. Each of his four runners ran the fastest times of their lives on the exact day they needed to.

“We significantly altered the training for this group, to be longer and higher volume,” Eager said. “That usually isn’t our style, but our style had resulted in this group falling short in the past. In essence, since last summer they ran a ton of meters each week and supplemented that with difficult timed circuits in the weight room two to three times a week which was often administered by assistant coach Meaghan McCluskey. It’s not all that fun, it hurts and they did that for literally months on end. … These kids were FIT.”

DO run angry

Eager said his runners might have been a little angry, too.

“The three seniors, Olsen, Jones and Lenzi, all had designs on performing at state in the individual 400 meters,” he said. “But while Kate made it there the other two didn’t, and Kate didn’t make the final. I think they were all just a little bit angry, honestly, and while that’s not always the best thing it brought out some extra focus as each of them ran significant lifetime best in this race.”

The team also got a boost from runners Taylor Sletner and Sofia Simmonds, who filled in at multiple races over the season and participated in the offseason workouts. Sletner and Simmonds were also the first to reach their teammates in celebration after the race.


I asked four questions of the runners and the following is a sample of their thoughtful replies.

Gig Harbor Now: Coach Eager said you all worked extra hard over the summer and during the season to prepare to win a title. Was it harder mentally or physically to complete those workouts?

Danica Olsen: “I would say that the workouts pushed every girl equally. The increase in more difficult workouts pushed our bodies to adapt to exhaustion and physically by the end of the season we were most definitely prepared. The training also pushed me mentally as those workouts taught me the importance of keeping a controlled mindset, which became a crucial element to success in winning the state title.”

Lejla Carlsson: “I think for all of us, this has been the toughest season for us physically with our coaches giving us workouts that we may have hated in the moment but ultimately helped us refine our fitness.”

GHN: What does it feel like to know that you each brought your best effort when you needed it most and what does that say about your teammates’ will to win?

Kate Jones: “After seeing our splits we were all so proud of each other, because we truly ran our best as a whole team. Our team chemistry and expectations for each other held us to a higher standard. There’s something so special about winning in a relay because you aren’t just running for yourself, you’re running for the other women on your team that you know want it just as much as you.”

Maura Lenzi: “Three of us are seniors, and we knew that no matter what, this was going to be our last race. We all wanted to give that race all we had, and leave the track with no regrets.”

Carlsson: “I knew that since the other three girls are all seniors that this was their last meet so they wanted to give it their all. Since they were seniors, I just wanted to run as hard as I could for them.”

GHN: Did you feel more joy or relief when Maura crossed the finish line and why?

Olsen: “I felt an immense amount of relief when Maura crossed the finish line, then the joy was overwhelming once the four of us toppled to the ground, but I was beyond relieved. I had watched my other two teammates race with emotions pouring out of me. My nerves were consuming me even after racing. I remember watching Maura cross the line and just being grateful she made it and that we had just officially won the state title.”

Jones: “It was a bit of both but mostly joy. Watching Maura come down the final stretch with each of us screaming and crying was the most incredible moment of my entire track career. I knew we’d won, and I knew we truly deserved it.”

Lenzi: “I felt relief when I crossed the finish line. Even though my teammates gave me a great lead going into the final leg, some anchors are running 56 second splits and it’s hard to know if I’m being hawked down or not. When I finally crossed the line in first it was hard for me to comprehend what we had just accomplished.”

GHN: What would you say to a younger athlete that may be in grade school or junior high as to why they should choose a sport like track? What specific things has the sport taught, or given to you?

Jones: “Track has changed my life throughout high school from the values it teaches to the incredible people I’ve met. Track has helped me in more ways than I can describe, it saved me. For younger kids. I would tell them joining this team won’t be something you’ll ever regret. I learned how to genuinely support a team, how to be consistent with my goals, and how to be a leader.”

Olsen: “To a younger athlete, I can guarantee that there will be no regrets. The people, the coaches, the environment, it’s all beyond worth it to get involved in. These girls have become such a blessing to me. Track taught me to develop maturity, how to remain composed under pressure, despite the overwhelming emotions I faced. I am forever proud to be a Tide and forever proud of these girls, and their hard work that led us to victory.”

Other standouts

Other local standouts at Star Track included:

Johnathon Miles of Gig Harbor nearly won a state title in the boys 800 meters. He finished in 1:53.18, only .85 behind the winning runner from Mercer Island. The second-place finish puts a cap on an excellent high school career for Miles, who won numerous conference and district titles.

Carlsson, only a sophomore, finished third in the girls 800 meter race in an impressive time of 2:12.37.

Peninsula sophomore Emma Young cleared 5 feet, 2 inches in the high jump, good for fourth place and only two inches from the winning mark.

Peninsula junior Elektra Higgins finished fourth in in the 3,200 meters race with a time of 10:37.20. Higgins also placed fifth in the 1,600 meters.

Grace Holtzclaw, a Peninsula senior, unleashed a javelin throw of 122 feet, 10 inches to capture sixth place. Holtzclaw kept throwing further and further as the season progressed and was in the mix for a title up to her very last throw.

Gig Harbor senior Preston Fradet placed fifth in the 3,200 meters with a time of 9:09.15 to end his outstanding high school career.

The Tides’ 4×100 relay team finished only a second behind the leaders in a blazing 3A final. The quintet of Matthew Ehler, DJ Darling, Ayden Fink and Ben Stevens ran a 42.50 to tie for fourth with Lincoln.

Grace Holtzclaw of Peninsula finished sixth in the javelin at Star Track. Photo courtesy Peninsula track and field

Two doubles teams perform at state

The Peninsula tennis doubles team of Lindsay Kilcup and Margaux Mayer survived a difficult district tournament draw, placing sixth to advance to the state championships.

The team specializes in communication, ball placement and all out effort. Unfortunately they met up with the Kinney sisters from Mercer Island during state at the Vancouver Tennis Center on May 24.

The Peninsula High doubles team of Lindsay Kilcup and Margaux Mayer reached the Class 3A state tournament. Photo courtesy of Jones Kilcup

The Islanders won in straight sets to eliminate Kilcup and Mayer 6-0, 6-0 and advanced on to the state semifinals. The Seahawks duo pushed them to several deuce points but couldn’t secure several break point opportunities.

The Gig Harbor boys duo of Hugh Vicente and Rylan Coovert met the same fate in their opening-round state match. A team from Seattle Prep defeated them, 6-2, 6-0, in a loser-out match.

Coovert will graduate, but sophomore Vicente will look to expand on a diversified game and should be one of the favorites to win next fall’s South Sound Conference singles title.

Tides water polo third in state

The Gig Harbor girls water polo team (15-4) finished third in the Class 3A state championships on May 25 after defeating Puyallup 15-7 to reach the state semifinals against Bainbridge Island.

Frances Benson of Gig Harbor, a first-team all-state selection, looks to score against Bainbridge Island. Photo by Mike Kelly

The Tides split with the Spartans earlier this season. Gig Harbor took an early 3-1 lead, but fell 11-6. The Tides then defeated Bellevue, 13-4, to finish third.

The Peninsula water polo team also advanced to the state tournament but lots its opening match to Shorewood.

Peninsula water polo standout Reis Early. Photo courtesy Peninsula water polo