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Meet Duke's NCAA Qualifiers: Women's 4x400
Courtesy: Duke Sports Information
Release: 06/09/2014
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DURHAM, N.C. -- With three individuals and a 4x400 meter relay heading to Eugene, Ore., for the 2014 Outdoor Track & Field Championship, caught up with Duke’s competitors for a Q&A leading up to the national competition.

Today’s Q&A features the Duke women’s 4x400 meter relay team that automatically qualified for the NCAA National Championship after finishing third in its heat and fourth overall in a school-record time of 3:33.09 at the NCAA East Preliminary Round meet in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, May 31.

Lauren Hansson:

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
High School: Harvard-Westlake

Shawn Wilbourn (Associate Track & Field Coach) on Hansson Running Leadoff: Coming out of the blocks, Lauren is the 100-meter school record holder. She does better than the other three out of the blocks. Obviously, that’s the biggest reason she’s there, but her job is to get us in position to be in touch with the pack and to be able to compete. The worst thing you can have is your leadoff leg not run well and be way back and it becomes a time trial. Lauren set us up perfectly at the regional meet where she kept us in the race with some very talented teams. Everybody did their job and I think it started with Lauren by putting us in position for the other three to not have to run by themselves. What emotions did you feel when you realized the relay had qualified for the national championship?

Lauren Hansson: I couldn’t believe it. I immediately started crying. I was so happy. Then I saw the time and it just blew me away. I handed off in second and I kept hearing third over and over again so I was freaking out that it was actually happening. I think we planned on getting fourth, and to automatically qualify was so incredible, so we were able to celebrate right away. It was really cool. How do you approach leading off the relay?

LH: It’s very similar to the open 400. It’s scary though because you hand off in stagger. It’s hard to mentally pump yourself up when you’re in lanes and you don’t really see your competition and you’re not physically close, so I try to just think about making up the stagger right away. That’s what I did at regionals. I tried to catch the girl in lane nine. I actually didn’t know they were one of the fastest teams, so it was good I didn’t know. It’s, I think, one of the harder legs, because it’s so close to the open and I think the fun part is at the end. I’ve gotten so used to running it that I do like it a lot. I like being done first. I like giving my team a good start. I like being able to set Maddie up to cut in properly and the competitive part of the race. Describe the differences of being on a relay, compared to competing as an individual.

LH: I think it’s your level of readiness to sacrifice everything. You’re not just running for your own [personal record], you’re running to set them up and for the relay’s time. I know that I’ll be mentally much more ready to throw caution to the wind in the relay. I know I can come home hard when I can see Maddie waiting for me and I have a baton in my hand. I usually close a lot better. It’s really fun to contribute and help each other around the track. Describe your pre-race routine, leading up to a race.

LH: I pretty much do the exact same thing. I eat very similar meals at the same time. I usually eat a chocolate chip Clif bar two hours before the race. Then I eat a peanut butter sandwich, or a bagel, something with peanut butter, four hours before the race. If I have more time than that, I’ll eat a simple chicken sandwich. We usually try to stay off our feet and listen to music on the bus. We do the same exact warm up. People keep asking, ‘Did you do something different,’ but it was the atmosphere and competing for each other. I think that really changed it. I always do the same thing when I get into the blocks. I do some high knees, I get down very slowly and watch everyone else to make sure they’re getting in before me. I tighten my ponytail and go real slow and then finally get into the blocks and get into the set position when everyone else is already there. Sometimes the starters will tell me to hurry up because I’m holding everyone else. You don’t want to be sitting there waiting, though. What was the greatest memory you’ve had from this outdoor track & field season?

LH: Just screaming at Lizzy and seeing her cross the line and starting to cry because I was so happy. That was probably my favorite track moment ever. Before that, it was getting second in the 4x400 at ACCs last year, but this just blew that out of the water. It was a great moment. How does competing at nationals help your development heading into your senior year?

LH: I think this is a game changer. We knew we’re getting a lot of really fast girls next year, but to do it with this team, with the people we have, is amazing. I think we’ll be able to mentor the freshman and tell them what it’s like to make nationals in the 4x400. We’ll definitely be more prepared and more experienced.

Maddie Kopp:

Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.
High School: Spencerport

Shawn Wilbourn (Associate Track & Field Coach) on Kopp’s Development: Similar to Teddi, Maddie, in her senior year of high school, really started to blossom, getting better and better. Then she came in here and continued to get better. We took her as an alternate on the distance medley relay indoors, so she could see what it’s like to be at NCAAs and get that experience. Coming off of being at indoors, watching and seeing how things worked, she flourished in the bigger meets outdoors. I think that helped her a lot. Now, actually competing at the outdoor NCAA Championships, for a freshman, is going to bode well as she goes through the next three years. She’s doing it with the relay now and I think the relay is going to continue to get better so I believe she’ll be there, hopefully all four years of her college career. What emotions did you feel when you realized you had qualified for the national championship?

Maddie Kopp: It’s hard to describe. I was literally speechless and shocked. I thought there was a chance we’d qualify by time, but it was so unexpected for us to finish third and automatically qualify. I’ve never been more happy, ever. I was also in so much pain. It was a weird mixture of emotions. How is competing on a relay different from running individually?

MK: I think having other people depending on you makes it more fun and makes you want to do better. I think the way we run it makes it easier to mentally prepare, except for Lauren, who has to run in her lane the whole time. For us, it’s not like an open 400. We can cut in and you can run in lane one the whole time. It’s also annoying that its different because I wish it were easy to run the open 400. I would definitely prefer to run a 400 in a relay as opposed to the open 400. It’s so much easier. How do you feel running the second leg of the relay?

MK: In high school I’d only ever done the last leg, which is fun in high school. I never ran second leg before and I never knew second leg cut in after the first 100. I absolutely love it now. It’s like an extra special leg because you get to do that. I really like second leg. I didn’t think I would, but when I do it, it’s so much fun. I definitely like it. What was the greatest memory you’ve had from this outdoor track & field season?

MK: Probably when we qualified [for nationals], or when we qualified for regionals, because we knew we could definitely get in. If we didn’t get to regionals, we couldn’t get to nationals. Also, the first time I ran 53 was up there, because I really wanted it. A couple months ago, I’d say I’d never ever ever run that, but then I did. I was really happy. What are your expectations of competing out in Eugene?

MK: I’ve never been that far. The farthest I’ve ever gone was New Mexico for indoor nationals and that’s by far the farthest I’ve ever gone before that. I feel like I won’t believe it’s happening until I’m actually doing it. It’s still so unreal, so when I get there, I feel like it’s going to be overwhelming, but I’m sure I’ll love it. I know the greatest things happen there, so it’s not going to feel real until I’m doing it, or maybe even after I’m done. I’m not sure. How will competing at nationals as a freshman help you develop later in your career?

MK: I think just having the experience, regardless of how well we do, will make the next couple of years easier because I’ll see what I want and have the desire to qualify again and again and again. It’ll help to motivate me.

Teddi Maslowski:

Hometown: Burgettstown, Pa.
High School: Steubenville Catholic Central

Shawn Wilbourn (Associate Track & Field Coach) on Maslowski Competing on the 4x400: Coming out of high school, she was primarily just a hurdler. She had never done a multi in high school but we saw the potential in her during the recruiting process and we recruited her to come in as a multi. She’s evolved into a multi and she knows from her success in high school how to focus down to one or two events. She has had that experience. I think she’s fallen in love with the multi and she wants to do well and succeed there, but she’s also a team player and wants to contribute and help the team anyway she can. She broke four school records this year and is second all-time in the heptathlon. She has that all around talent, so we’re able to use her in a number of places. She is very talented, young and still developing. I think this experience, just going to NCAAs, no matter the event, is going to help her. Being able to go this year and seeing what it’s like in Eugene is going to help the team this year, and she’s going to know what to expect in later years. What emotions did you feel when you realized you had qualified for the national championship?

Teddi Maslowski: Amazed. I think it was totally unexpected, and I don’t think anyone expected that would happen. Up until two hours before the race, I didn’t even know if I was running or not. It was a whirlwind. This entire season I had never considered that because I haven’t been a part of the 4x400 usually, so it was really exciting and surprising. Describe the difference between competing as an individual and as a relay.

TM: It’s really fun because it adds to the excitement. You get to celebrate them running well, as well as you running well. Usually in an individual event, you just take what you get. You’re way more relaxed [in a relay]. I was much more focused, which made the race feel much more intense, but it worked out well. How does having a multi’s background help you focus on a single race?

TM: It’s a breeze. I don’t have to worry about all the events or worry about waking up feeling sore the next day. I was fresh for the race and I’m able to warm up with the team, so mentally the heptathlon has prepared me for this. I was really excited, which I think is the best way to run because then you can just leave it all on the track. With 400 hurdles that I’d been running a few weeks earlier, it really makes the 400 feel more like a sprint and I think that translates better in the race because I don’t have as much anxiety about how bad it will hurt. What are your expectations heading out to Eugene?

TM: Big meets don’t really affect me. It could be a small home meet or nationals. It’ll be fun running against other teams and we’ll have to battle for our spots in our lanes. I think it’ll be fun and a good experience for next year for me in the heptathlon and the two days of competition. I don’t have any expectations, really. It’ll be fun. How will competing at nationals during your redshirt sophomore year help you develop later in your career?

TM: I’ll get to see a sample of the heptathlon at nationals. I really think that’s better than just jumping into it at nationals and trying to get experience that way. I will get some perspective.

Elizabeth Kerpon:

Hometown: Coppell, Texas
High School: Coppell

Shawn Wilbourn (Associate Track & Field Coach) on Kerpon as the Anchor: Elizabeth held off one of the best 400-meter runners in the country in Marlena Wesh of Clemson. That’s what she’s done her whole career here, whether it is holding somebody off or running somebody down. When she gets into that anchor leg position, she knows what to do with the baton. She earned the right to be the anchor her first couple years here and we’ve kept her there because it’s the position she does best in. What emotions did you feel when you realized you had qualified for the national championship?

Elizabeth Kerpon: As a track athlete in general, we do a lot of visualizing. My mom always tells me to visualize my race beforehand, so that’s what I’d been visualizing for two weeks when we found out we’d be going to regionals in the 4x400. It was nothing like I thought it was going to be. Once they said [we’d automatically qualified], I didn’t know what to say. We knew we had a stacked heat and we knew we’d have to run really fast. To run that fast was unexpected, I think. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced in track, which was amazing. What does it mean to you that the coaching staff and your teammates trust you to finish the relay as a strong anchor leg?

EK: It means a lot because we have so many talented athletes on this team. You see the split times and mine’s not always the fastest, but it means a lot that they trust me to get the stick and once it’s in my hand, I can get us to where we need to be. I know Coach LoPiccolo said that once I got the baton in third, he knew we were going to get third because he knew I wouldn’t let the team down. Hearing things like that instills a lot of confidence in me that my coaches and teammates believe that I can do it every time. That’s what helps me. It’s a really cool opportunity to anchor the 4x400. The 4x400, in my opinion, and I’m a little bias, is the coolest relay in track. It’s usually the loudest leg and just a really cool experience. Describe how running as a relay differs from running as an individual.

EK: I think that’s what’s so great about relays, because track is such an individual sport. A lot of people think of it as just purely individual, just one person running to win. What’s great about the relays is that even if you have a bad day in an individual event, or something isn’t going as well in the season, it’s so easy to just throw it away and just be like, ‘this is for my team, it’s not for me.’ It’s so much more motivation to run for everyone else, rather than yourself, especially being the anchor, because you know they’re depending on you to get you there. What are your expectations heading out to Eugene?

EK: I feel like I’m probably building it up more than it should because it’s probably going to be cold and raining, but I’ve watched countless track meets and Eugene on television and the stadium just looks awesome. I don’t really know what to expect. I’ve never even been out to that side of the country. I hope it’s cool, and I hope we run fast. How will competing at nationals help with the relay’s development?

EK: I think it’ll definitely help develop next year. This is such a milestone for Duke track, having a sprint relay at nationals has never happened before. For next year especially, because we are all coming back, in addition to the recruiting class we have coming in. We could have seven or eight girls in the relay pool each week, and I don’t think Duke has ever had that before. Even though all of us are coming back next year, a majority of us are graduating the year after that, so we need to make sure we can continue this legacy that we’ve built, especially for recruiting. What has been your best memory from this outdoor season?

EK: The regional relay. That’s the loudest it’s ever been. I know Lauren and I were trying to prepare Maddie for what it was going to be like. Before this relay, I think our best experience was at ACC Outdoors last year when we got second because nobody expected us to get second there. It was so loud. Our team came rushing onto the track and it was insane, so we kept telling Maddie this to prepare her. This was 100 times bigger than that. Finishing and hearing we got third and all of the coaches coming out. Coach Wilbourn came out and picked us all up and he’s not the most emotional person so when Coach Wilbourn picks you up, that’s a big deal. I’ve been to nationals before in the DMR, but the 400 leg of the DMR is kind of a place filler. To be going in the 4x400 is something we’ve put so much time into. We’re excited.

Abby Farley:

Hometown: Indianapolis, Ind.
High School: Park Tudor

Kevin Jermyn (Associate Track & Field Coach) on Farley’s Season: Abby has competed very well in her individual events throughout the track season, but she is most motivated to compete on our relay teams.  She is in the best 400-meter relay shape of her life and is prepared to help our relay team set another school record and compete strong against our nation’s best 1,600-meter relay teams. What prerace rituals do you have, leading up to a race?

Abby Farley: We have a specified warm up. Since I’m more on the middle distance side, I tend to warm up by myself, aside from the 4x400, but I will do strides with them. It’s more of just getting in a really hard warm up. I’ll start by doing a mile and then some range of motion exercises. The biggest thing for me is getting in really hard strides for a 400 because I need to get my body prepared to run fast for a lap. It’s a lot different from an 800 where you can get out a little slower, as opposed to a 400, when you need to be all out in the first 100. I don’t really have any weird rituals though. I tend to get nervous, but once I hit the line, I’m ready to go and the nerves all disappear. Can you talk about how you have dropped down in distance to help the 4x400 qualify for the regional meet?

AF: The first 400 I ran was at UNC the week before ACCs. I ran a fast time so I was put on the relay at ACCs, where we ran the fastest time of the season, and then again at UVa, and that’s where we ran our regional qualifying time. Before that, I hadn’t really been running many 400s. Kevin approached me and said that our 4x400 team needed a fourth person and he felt I had the speed to fit in and help qualify for regionals. It turns out I ran the fastest time I’ve ever run at ACCs, so that helped the team and I was really excited to help them qualify. I didn’t know how fast I could run, but I feel like I could probably run faster, just because I haven’t run that many. How is the dynamic different in running a 4x400 compared to an open 800?

AF: I love relays because I feel like I’m more motivated to run for other people. It’s not just for yourself. You’re running at the top of your game so that you can help the other three and so you’re not dragging down the team. I think there’s less pressure for me on a relay because I know everybody else is just as motivated to help the team out. Before regionals, everyone was so excited. We knew we could make it to nationals and there was this energy and you felt like something special was going to happen. That’s really cool when everyone is on the same page. I think that helps people run faster. Everyone ran really fast, and I think it just builds. Relays are more exciting. It’s cool when everyone is on, on the same day. What are your expectations heading out to Eugene?

AF: This is my first time heading out to outdoor nationals. I’ve heard Eugene is a huge track town. Everyone is really into track there. That’ll be a new experience because obviously you don’t get that as much in North Carolina. I feel like there’ll be a lot of energy. I went to indoor nationals, and that was the first time I had been to any type of national meet. It was so exciting because everyone is there, everyone enjoys running, and everyone is there because they want to be the best they can be. It’s so exciting to see that. I think it makes you excited for the race. You could say the stakes are a little bit higher at nationals, but for us, the pressure will probably be less for us because making it is exciting in itself. There will be pressure because we do want to race well, but enjoying the experience and getting a lot out of it, especially for next year, will help us know what to expect for next year.