Osseo relay finally tastes state championship

BY BOB SAN

sunpressnews@ecm-inc.com

Osseo junior Phillis Webb was jubilant after anchoring the Orioles 4×200 team to win the state title in an all-time state meet record time last Saturday at Hamline University, but she was more excited that she was able to help her two senior teammates end their high school careers on a high note.

Webb teamed up with seniors Anuli Okonkwo and Morgan Bialke and junior Brieanna Puckett to win the state championship in a record time of 1:40.22.

"I want to do it for the seniors so bad," Webb said. "Now that we have made it and we broke another record, it’s like this will be in their memory forever. This is the last day of their senior year because we are done with school so just having them have their best day of their life on the last day of their senior year is a blessing."

Okonkwo and Bialke were both overcome with emotions after the race. For Okonkwo, the state title ended years of coming so close to winning it all. She is one of the most decorated Osseo tracksters of all time and had several second and third place state finishes, including a second place in the 4×200 in 2009, a third place in the 4×100 in 2010, and two very close runner-up showings in last year’s 4×100 and 4×200 relays. Finally, in her last state meet, Okonkwo got to stand on the top podium.

"It’s really emotional," Okonkwo said. "I wasn’t expecting a state record. We just wanted to get out there, run and win. We were so close last year. Finally we came out with the win and broke the record. It’s my last race with these girls. I am so excited."

For Bialke, the state championship is the ultimate reward for years of hard work and patience.

"I have been waiting for this since ninth grade," said Bialke. "I’ve been an alternate every year. Running with these girls is a blessing. I would not change this day for anything else, ever."

The Orioles entered the final with the top qualifying time, even though Okonkwo said their hand-offs "were kind of shaky" in the prelims. They knew if they could hand-off cleanly, no team could touch them.

"We have the best time in the state for the last two months, so we knew we could win and we did," Okonkwo said. "We ran our best race of the year."

The Orioles rose to the occasion, and the result was a state record and a state title.

Okonkwo got off to a blistering start to give Osseo the lead and Puckett and Bialke held that lead. And when Bialke successfully handed the baton to the speedy Webb, the Orioles knew the state championship was theirs.

"I knew I was there and I stayed with that girl and when I gave it to Phillis I knew Phillis would bring it home because she always does," Bialke said. "She never lets us down."

Webb did not disappoint as she tore around the curve and opened up a big lead and crossed the finish line with her arms raised in a gesture of victory. Stillwater was second, a full 1.5-second behind.

"I thought we finished very well today. It’s a team effort," Webb said.

It didn’t bother Webb that she competed in the 100-meter dash final (she took third) about 30 minutes prior to the 4×200 final.

"That was like the warm up," Webb said. "I’ve been doing that since the beginning of the year. My coaches have been great in training me on doing the 100 and going back to do another race. I thank my coaches a lot for that."

The state championship capped a brilliant spring for the Osseo foursome, who formed a very tight bond during the season.

"We are family," Bialke said. "We are there for each other and we are always helping each other, telling each other what we can do better. We never leave each other out of anything."

The family is now broken up after the state meet, causing Puckett to feel a bit of mixed emotions.

"I feel honored to run with these girls," Puckett said. "I am sad that Anuli and Morgan are leaving so it’s bitter sweet. But it’s up to me and Phillis to bring it home next year."

This is Osseo’s first state track title since 2008 when the 4×100 team of George Kawalawu, Whitney Brown, Marcus Sims and Tendeh Brownell won state. In 2006, the foursome of Chiamaka Okonkwo, Jenna Ewing, Melissa Henderson and Brianna Olson also captured the state 4×100 crown. That same year, Julian Morris won his third straight state high jump title.

OTHER STATE RESULTS

Okonkwo ended her career with a fourth-place showing in the 200-meter dash final and Webb was third in the 100. Okonkwo, Puckett, Bialke and Webb also competed in Friday’s 4×400 prelims but did not make the finals.

On the boys’ side, junior Leo Wiagbe qualified for the 400-meter run but did not make the championship race.

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