Baldwin His school had already won two relays and placed second in two others when Free State junior Tay Ogunnowo took his mark for the first leg of the 4x100 meter relay at the Baker Relays on Monday.
The starter's gun went off, and Ogunnowo broke ahead and handed the baton to T.K. Peterson, who maintained the lead. Peterson relayed to Kenny Ogunnowo -- Tay's twin brother -- and the Firebirds were now comfortably ahead.
By the time anchor Jake Lawrence approached the finish line, he had time to look over his shoulder and realized that he probably could have jogged in for first place.
The official time of 43.56 seconds is the second-fastest relay run in the state this year, and is the latest evidence of Free State's arrival in track in the school's second year.
"What you saw last year was so many young kids who were, at times, overwhelmed," FSHS coach Steve Heffernan said. "What you see now is a whole class of kids who have matured and truly worked hard. Now, they are reaping the benefits of that work."
Free State's boys and girls opened the season on April 3 with a sweep at the Kansas City Wyandotte Relays.
"We've come out and surprised a lot of people," Tay said. "I knew we'd be better, but I had no idea it'd be like this."
It didn't take long for Heffernan to realize the track team would be vastly improved.
"The first day of practice, T.K. Peterson came out and broke the school record in the shot put," Heffernan said. "In our first meet, he broke that record by nine feet. We've really improved as a team in a hurry."
In the boys' 4x1600 relay on Monday, Free State's Alex Roberts, Aaron Paul, Ian McDonald and Ariel Ludwig won in 19:33.39.
In the girls' 4x800, Free State's Joyia Chadwick, Kim Heck, Betsy Lee and Heather McCullough won in 10:02.55.
Beside the winning relays, Free State had two second-place finishes. The boys' 4x800 team went 8:31.52 and the 4x200 team's 1:32.58 -- .36 off KC Central's winning time.
Several newcomers have contributed to Free State's success, especially Heck, a transfer from Baldwin, and Jackie Putman, who attended Southwest Junior High last year.
"I was supposed to come race last year," Putnam said. "I just got all wrapped up in volleyball and everything else. But I'm having a great year so far, and I couldn't do it without my girls."
Next for the Firebirds is the Free State Invitational on Thursday and the Sunflower Classic in Olathe on Friday.