TABERNACLE - They are a relay team, but really they are a pack.
The Seneca High School girls’ 4x800 relay squad might as well all run at the same time since the quartet is really that close.
Seneca distance coach Karen O’Neil was asked if the fleet foursome ran with more heart or talent and she responded, “they combine both.”
O’Neil, who also is the accomplished head cross-country coach of the Golden Eagles, added what truly separates them is, “they are best friends, they want to do well for each other.”
Indeed, they truly do.
Last weekend at the Penn Relays, Kayla Hay, Carley Tool, Grayce Heinemann and Sydny Warner clocked a 9:27.36 for the fastest time by a South Jersey squad this season. They placed ninth overall in the Small Schools to just miss qualifying for the Championship of America, which took the top eight.
“We definitely run for each other,” Warner, the anchor, said. “It feels good when you run a good split, but I feel better when I make someone else happy, and so I want to make them happy.
“It makes me feel better. You don’t want to let each other down.”
They are all seniors who excel also in the classroom. Warner was recruited to run the mile at Xavier University. Heinemann will attend another Jesuit University, Loyola in Maryland, where she was recruited to run the 800 and will major in chemical engineering. Hay will attend Wagner and major in nursing. She was recruited to run the 800. Tool is going to Rowan where she was recruited to run the 3,200. She plans to major in biomedical engineering and hopes to make prosthetics or do research in the field.
“They are special,” O’Neil said proudly.
“They are all my best friends on and off the track team,” Tool said. “I’ve been with them in preschool, and Kayla we got so close too, and we love Coach O’Neil, we call her mom.
“I feel like I help my team shine. I’m not the fastest, everyone else is. I like to see them shine.”
Hay, who lives in Tabernacle, was embraced by Tool, Heinemann and Warner, who are all from Shamong.
“They were best friends since preschool, I knew their names, and they brought me in, so it was easy to fit in,” Hay said.
They all run cross-country together, but they didn’t all start out as runners. Hay and Heinemann both played soccer for two years.
And Warner and Tool played lacrosse their first two spring seasons.
“I did well in cross country and winter track on the 4x800 and I couldn’t leave them,” Tool said about deciding to run outdoor track, “and I started to love it.”
And although Hay and Heinemann ran track since they were frosh, they weren’t doing middle distance.
“I didn’t start as an 800 runner, I was a sprinter,” Hay said. “At the end of the year, I was on the 4x800 and it made me feel like I had to do better for them.”
“This is crazy,” Heinemann added. “I came in as a sprinter, so to be part of this is awesome.”
The four friends know their careers together are coming to an end so naturally they want to make the final few weeks special.
Heinemann cited some of the challenges this month as “we’re going on our senior trip and the prom is in there, so there’s a lot of obstacles.”
“We have to work hard,” Heinemann continued. “We all are driven and want to defend our state championship.”
Actually, the Golden Eagles have won the last two Group 4 state titles in the 4x800 relay.
“In our freshmen and sophomore years, we didn’t think the states were out of the question,” Hay said. “But, definitely this year … we know we have to do our best.”
They know they will run for each other every step of the way. After all, they are a pack more than a relay team.