#TGW: A Collective Zen

April 10, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

For all the switching around that they’ve done, Samantha Kiblinger, Christina Pensock, Morgan Jackson and Haley Anderson sure have found a collective Zen quickly.

Nearly as soon as they came together as a unit, the Georgia Tech quartet broke an 18-year-old school record for the 4×800 meter relay last weekend at the Florida Relays (8:51.46) — in just their second time running the race, and first outdoors.

To a runner they believe they can top that time in their final chance. The somewhat rare 4×800 will not be contested Saturday at the Spec Towns Invite at the University of Georgia, nor April 17-18 at the Georgia Tech Invitational.

When the Yellow Jackets get another shot at the Penn Relays April 23-25, they’ll bank on the fact that they’ve each run 800 meters as fast as or faster than in Florida. They’ll aim higher in an event that won’t be contested at the ACC or NCAA meets.

“Really, we have good team chemistry. You’re not just turning for yourself [when on a relay team],” Jackson said. “When it gets tough, and you want to give up, just knowing that you’re running for the team gives you extra motivation.

“If we all had our best races, we could break the [new] record by three seconds or something like that. Samantha has run better, Christina has run better, my best is 2:10 and Haley has run 2:14. That’s two seconds faster than her split.”

While the 4×800 is relatively rare and generally limited to track meets that have the word “Relays” in their title, the coming together of Kiblinger, Pensock, Jackson and Anderson might be even more unique stories.

Pensock, after all, is more a sprinter than a mid-distance runner and does not even train with her relay teammates.

“It started indoors (last winter),” she said. “I asked if I could run an 800. I think I ran a 2:19. I didn’t think I was going to run it again, but . . . I kept cutting two seconds. It was kind of a way to get in better shape for the 400.”

Pensock’s path from sprinter to metric half-miler is not all that makes her unusual among her peers; the senior industrial engineering major from Austin, Texas, is the only member of the relay team not majoring in Biomedical Engineering.

Jackson and Kiblinger also minor in Spanish. “Sometimes, we’ll practice Spanish when we’re at practice, and coach Drosky speaks Spanish, too,” Jackson said.

All of these student-athletes took up track and/or cross country in high school in part as a way to get in better shape for other sports.

“I started running my senior year in high school. I wanted to play tennis in college,” Anderson said. “It got to be my junior year, and I wasn’t ranked high enough. I knew I was going to Georgia Tech; I knew I was probably going to get in, and there was no way I could get in and play tennis.

“So I had run the mile in PE my sophomore year, and the coach kept bugging me. I tried cross country and was better at it than I thought. Coach Drosky said I could possibly walk-on. Then I did track in the spring, and I was offered a partial scholarship. I ran the 400, 800 and 1,500.”

This foursome first competed together as a relay team late in the winter, indoors, running at an Elite meet at Virginia Tech. Their time wasn’t spectacular, but interesting enough that Drosky tweaked the lineup a bit and stuck with the group.

Kiblinger ran anchor in Blacksburg. At Florida, she led off and Anderson anchored.

“I really liked the switch,” Kiblinger said. “As a group, we believe we can accomplish. We’re very supportive of each other.”

Jackson favored the new lineup as well.

“Coach Drosky put is in that order because Samantha does really well when she has competition,” she said. “Usually, I can run really well by myself [as in the middle of a relay, when the field has begun to spread out].”

These Jackets will be busy for a while.

Pensock will graduate next month, and has a job lined up. She’ll start with Cisco in San Jose, Calif., in August. Jackson, who will graduate in December after running cross country in the fall, has a summer internship lined up with Deloitte.

They’ll all keep running.

“The Penn Relays will be our last chance [to set a new 4×800 record],” Jackson said. “It will be hard because Florida and Penn are super different: the weather, the number of teams, and the type of competition.

“Also with Penn, it’s a different atmosphere because there are so many more girls, and you’re in the bullpen, waiting and waiting . . . sometimes that benefits us, and sometimes it’s cold and you can’t stay warmed up.”

Kiblinger said that before the Florida Relays, “Christina and I bumped fists, and said, `Let’s break the record.’ “

Pensock & Co. will be ready to do it again in Philadelphia.

“We’re all definitely hoping we can break it again at Penn, and having the opportunity would be cool,” she said. “We’re all definitely going to compete.”

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