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Prairie girls take their shot at unprecedented Drake Relays glory
Hawks have never won a girls’ relay at Drake, but they are contenders, perhaps favorites, in the 3,200-meter event
DES MOINES — First, you notice that unavoidable orange.
Those neon, almost glow-in-the-dark orange tops, punctuated with a large, black “P.” They’re simple, yet impossible to miss.
There is substance within that style. And speed.
Say hello to the Cedar Rapids Prairie girls’ middle-distance crew. They intend to grab your attention Thursday at the Drake Relays.
“I think we can do really well,” Gabby Cortez said. “We’ve been consistent with our times, and we know teams are going to push us.
“A title, somewhere, would be great.”
Where: Drake Stadium (2719 Forest Ave., Des Moines)
When: Thursday (high schools, starting at 9 a.m.), Friday-Saturday (university/college, elite)
Tickets: Sold out
TV: Thursday’s high school competition will be televised on MC22
It’s been a while since a Prairie female athlete has done a Drake victory lap. Fiona Asigbee won the long jump in 1999; Becky Rigel claimed the 800 in 1994.
Prairie has never won a girls’ relay. Led by three junior stars — Cortez, Lily Johannes and Alexis Moses — that could change Thursday.
“The plan is to keep them busy,” Coach Michael Tierney said. “I think we can put a few competitive items on the track.”
Chief among them is the 3,200-meter relay, which takes off at 10:19 a.m. Senior Lindsey Barnes joins Johannes, Moses and Cortez on a unit that ran 9:33.61 April 3 at the J-Hawk Relays. That mark still stands as the state’s best.
Johannes, Moses and Cortez ran 800-meter splits of 2:22, 2:21 and 2:18 that day.
It wasn’t a fluke.
Individually, that trio ranks fourth (Johannes, 2:18.50), fifth (Cortez, 2:18.74) and ninth (Moses, 2:19.65) statewide. They’ll all compete in the open 800 at 2:01 p.m.
“The 800 is going to be good competition,” Moses said. “We’ll have each other to push ourselves. It’s going to be a fun one. I hope we can all PR.”
If you’re into numbers, here’s one that stands out:
The odds of a school Prairie’s size (BEDS enrollment, 1,302) having three competitors in the top 10 in any given event -- as the Hawks are in the 800 -- are 1 in 1,012.
So yes, this is a special group. It’s one that, apparently, could be seen coming a few years back.
“We’ve been running together since seventh grade,” Johannes said. "We broke some middle-school records, had a lot of success even then.
“Still, I never thought all three of us would have this opportunity together, but it’s awesome that we do.”
Cortez was fourth at state in the 2019 Class 4A 400-meter dash, then the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, Johannes and Moses are firing at an elite level, too.
“Lily had a phenomenal cross country season, and she was dedicated to take the next step,” Tierney said. “She put in a ton of work over the winter.
“Alexis is a complete Division-I athlete. She uses her competitiveness to drive herself forward.”
Moses has committed to play volleyball at the University of South Dakota. As a 6-foot outside hitter, she was Prairie’s leading blocker and was second on the team in kills.
“Our coaches give us a lot of opportunities to try new things,” she said. "They give us a lot of encouragement, tell us what we did well, how we can improve.”
At 56.87 seconds, Cortez is the top seed in the 400 (it runs at 11:56 a.m.). She has an uncommon mix of speed and stamina.
“She’s unique,” Tierney said. "She’s a mid-19 5K runner. She has a smooth, efficient stride. If she wanted, she could score in the 1,500 or 3,000, and she’s a heck of a sprinter.“
Cortez took her first crack at the 400-meter hurdles on a whim last Saturday at Linn-Mar, and won it in 1:06.76.
“It was fun,” she said. “My main goal was to get over them all without falling.”
Also, Cortez and Johannes were the last two legs of a distance medley relay that ran 4:12.23 Saturday, a mark that leads the state by about 6 seconds. That event isn’t on the Drake slate, but it’s something to consider in May.
“(The distance medley) could be a really good race for us,” Johannes said. “Being able to showcase every single distance relay would have been cool.”
In addition to the 3,200 relay and open 800, Johannes and Moses will run in the 1,600 relay at the end of the day.
Cortez will run in four events — the sprint medley, 3,200 relay, 400 and 800.
“Four tough events in one day will be difficult,” Tierney said. “But it’s an exciting problem to have.”