Mention hill work to the Seabury Hall Spartans, and all eight athletes bump the giddy meter up a notch for roughly 5-10 seconds.
But as soon as someone mentions that it’s a secret, the safe is relocked. Coach Bobby Grossman is no different. After Seabury Hall’s stunning girls team championship victory on Saturday night at wet and cool Keaau High School Stadium, he was equal parts calm and ecstatic.
“I thought we would come in second and we’d need a special day to win,” the longtime coach said, noting that Kaiser and its fab-five team was the favorite. “(Kristen) O’Handley won the 100, 200, 400 and high jump. They were more well-rounded. We had to win the track events, and we won five out of six.”
Taking gold was great, but the Spartans got support for big points in several races. Versatility — distance runners racing in sprint relays — proved crucial in the Spartans’ 74-point total, edging Kaiser’s 69.5.
Ava Shipman was the rock, taking first place in the 1,500, then the 800, and finally the 3,000, before anchoring the 4×400 relay crew that needed to stave off Kaiser. Seabury Hall was ahead by 2.5 points entering that final event.
Grossman didn’t want to see a repeat of the past.
“In 2013, we lost by one point. I told the 4×4 that we needed to come in third and that was a mistake,” he recalled.
This time, he told the four runners that they needed to keep an eye on Kaiser.
“We couldn’t let Kaiser get ahead of us by more than one spot,” Grossman said.
Shipman, a co-captain, was often the vocal leader.
“These girls made it easy for me to captain them. They work so hard independently,” she said.
He also inserted Veronica Winham into the crew. She had already run in the three long-distance events. Claire Borthwick, a co-captain, was a major factor with a second-place performance in the 200 that boosted Seabury Hall’s point total significantly.
Erika Preseault didn’t win a race, but her contribution in the 4×400 was a must in Grossman’s eyes. Preseault was sick all week, suffering from a 104-degree fever on Wednesday. She was cleared by her doctor, she said, since she didn’t have other flu symptoms.
“Ava said, ‘You don’t have to do the 4×4 if you feel sick, but there’s no way. We’ve worked too hard sine January,” Preseault said.
That work on the Makawao campus where Seabury Hall is located means automatic hill work. They just can’t avoid it whether it’s off-season or in season. Grossman and his team find a winning formula — his daughter, Dakota, was a key part of the 2014 state-title squad — and stick with it. That includes weekly visits to War Memorial Stadium that become two visits per week as the Spartans near the state championships.
“We don’t have a track and we run hills during the season,” he said. “I don’t want to say how much, but we created a workout to help us because of the lack of a track.”