AMSTERDAM — All week, there’s been some extra excitement for the four girls who make up Amsterdam’s 1,600-meter relay team. In school or on the track, the quartet’s attention has been on Friday since Monday.
“We love competition,” said junior Brenda Santana, the team’s leadoff runner. “Running against someone good really pushes you.”
Amsterdam’s 1,600-meter relay team gets that chance Friday at the Shen Invitational in Clifton Park, a meet in its third year which has quickly developed into one of Section II’s top competitions. The Rams relay proved itself during the indoor season in representing Section II at the state meet in the event, but the outdoor season is a new proving ground for a program which had never sent a female track athlete to a state championship before this past winter.
So far, Amsterdam’s group of Santana, senior Edena Sanchez, junior Olivia Lazarou and sophomore Lauren Santiago hasn’t lost in its signature event this spring. The foursome’s competition, though, has rarely pushed it. Most races have seen the Amsterdam relay win by 15 or more seconds, leaving this Friday’s meet for the Rams one where they get their best shot to improve upon their season-best 4:06.64 from the Cohoes Relays, achieved on a day they won by nearly 20 seconds.
“We know we have to push ourselves at those meets,” Lazarou said. “We want to keep getting better, keep beating our times.”
Finding competition at the Shen Invitational won’t be a problem, as Amsterdam will get to line up against teams from the Suburban Council it rarely sees during its season since it is a Foothills Council competitor. Come the postseason, though, the Rams compete as the smallest public school in the Group 1 sectional championships and as one of the smaller Division I schools at the section’s state qualifier meet.
Friday’s their shot to show they’re legit in an event where a time better than 4:00.00 is likely needed to advance to the state championships. A time in that range is what they’re after.
“We’ll make states if we hit that goal,” Santiago said.
Amsterdam’s school record in the event — set last year by this year’s relay members — is 4:05.26. The hope is to wipe that record away in favor of a new one.
“So we want to run a hot time Friday, and the competition is there to push us to do that,” Amsterdam coach Stu Palczak said. “We’d love to win, but what we really want is to run in a meet where we step on the line and there are teams there that make it so we have to compete. That’s why we’re going to the Shen Invitational.”
This season, Amsterdam’s top time ranks its third in Section II. Shenendehowa (3:57.91) and Columbia (4:06.03) are ahead of the Rams.
“And we just wanna go against those schools, you know? They’re all so good,” Sanchez said. “We want to see what we’re made out of.”
For several years, Amsterdam was Section II’s top team in the 1,600-meter relay on the boys’ side. Led by Izaiah Brown, now starring at Rutgers, Amsterdam won a boys’ federation title in 2014, and recorded Section II’s best-ever time of 3:17.03 in the event that year.
That boys’ run was fueled by Brown’s extraordinary ability, plus a bevy of surrounding runners built to run 400 meters. This Amsterdam girls’ relay has more of a smaller-school makeup to it, as it features a collection of different-styled runners coming together as a unit. Santana is the pure sprinter, Sanchez and Santiago are more natural to the distance, while Lazarou is a distance runner who has made appearances in cross country state championship meets.
What they share, though, is the attitude they plan to bring Friday to the track.
“We’re just ready to run,” Lazarou said.
“We think we can surprise everyone,” Santana said. “We’d love to do that.”