For four straight years, the Chagrin Falls girls four-by-800-meter relay featured one of the fastest anchor legs in the state with Halle McClintock in 2016 and 2017, Annie Zimmer in 2018 and Catherine Coffey in 2019.
All three of those Lady Tigers were fully capable of pulling off some come-from-behind heroics, but somehow the Chagrin girls keep putting out enough firepower during the first three legs of their quartet that handing off the baton in first hasn’t left their challengers with much hope.
This year’s four-by-800 team of junior Hannah Clark, freshman Claire Coffey, freshman Rose Hoelzel and senior Catherine Coffey secured their program’s fourth straight state title in a season-best 9:18.20 during the Division II championship on Friday at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus.
Clark, who also led off last year’s triumph in 9:19.40, handed off the baton in fifth, the younger Coffey moved up to third, and Hoelzel turned on her turbo in the final 200 meters of her leg to move into first and provide the elder Coffey enough breathing room for a shoo-in title, besting runner-up St. Vincent-St. Mary by 8.01 seconds.
“That was the game plan going in,” the elder Coffey said about her teammates getting her the lead. “Hannah put us in a great position, Claire moved us up, and then, right when Rose took over the lead and kicked it in, I knew we were going to be OK. They’re just all so strong, and I’m super excited that Rose and Claire are freshmen. They have a lot ahead.
“And, obviously, this year was super special, doing it with my sister, but each and every one of them are all special.”
The elder Coffey has been a part of all four titles, including when the Lady Tigers defeated Liberty-Benton by 2.99 seconds in 2016, Carrollton by 3.51 seconds in 2017, Jonathan Alder by 11.52 seconds in 2018 and SVSM this year.
No matter the competition, the Lady Tigers always put their best foot forward for a season-best time on the big stage under distance coach Clay Burnett.
“It’s all about having confidence in yourself and your teammates,” the elder Coffey said. “And, like we always say, we always believe in Clay’s plan.”
While Hoelzel is new to the four-by-800 spotlight this season, she’s already a veteran to state competition with an all-Ohio performance during the Division II state cross-country meet in the fall.
So, when it came to putting it all out on the track during the final 200 meters of her leg in front of the packed grandstands at Jesse O, she knew what to do.
“We basically knew that, if we could get Catherine the baton in first, or even neck-and-neck, then she could take it home, because she’s awesome, and she can really push,” Hoelzel said. “So, there was definitely pressure, but it was a really exciting experience.
“And coming with the four-by-800 relay team to states really helped, because they’re all so supportive, and they gave me a lot of energy.”
After claiming gold on Friday, Hoelzel and the elder Coffey returned to the track to secure individual podium spots on Saturday.
In the 1,600 run, Hoelzel clocked 5:06.07, a lifetime best by 7.22 seconds, to finish eighth among an all-Ohio field of just one senior. Like an old pro, she took out her first 400 meters in 12th, moved into podium position at the 800 mark and held her spot on the back half of the race.
“My strategy was kind of to relax my first two laps and position myself,” she said. “And then, in the second two laps, to kind of push a little more and get on that podium. Everything was 10 times faster. I felt like I was sprinting that last lap and a half. It was definitely the best competition I’ve seen.
“Just knowing that a podium spot was at stake, that really excited me to keep pushing. Coming out here as a freshman and making it to the state meet is really special, so I knew getting on the podium would make it that much more special.”
And in the 800 run, Coffey finished state runner-up in 2:13.66, just 0.03 second shy of her lifetime best, in a race that took a 2:17.70 to get on the podium.
The defending champ in that event, Coffey split 1:05.74 at the 400 mark, as she was battling a pack of 10 runners who were separated by 0.96 second entering the bell lap. The pack thinned out to four runners on the back stretch, with Coffey leaving it all out there for a 1:07.92 split on her latter 400.
Cincinnati Mariemont senior Marin Valentine won the title in 2:13.13, while Shelby senior Makenna Heimlich took third in 2:13.77.
“I put my best race up,” Coffey said. “Obviously, it was my last time running at Jesse O. And, obviously, there was great competition out there today. We all pushed each other, which is really great. I’m super excited with this medal. I mean, five weeks ago I wasn’t even able to run.”
Coffey was trying to slowly work her way into this track season but injured the outside of her ankle and missed critical time to train.
Nonetheless, she ended her high school track career with five gold medals and one silver at the state meet since her freshman year.
“It’s definitely so much more meaningful to finish the way I did,” she said. “I mean, this sport, there’s the ups and the highs, which is awesome when you’re doing great, getting PRs and everything is going well. But then also there are the downs, and you have to learn to embrace those in order to get the highs.”