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North Tonawanda girls relay team makes sweet music with the baton But their singing is only on the bus ride home after yet another track and field meet victory

Junior Jackie Burns and seniors Bridget Montesanti, Casey Green and Val Rosart are teen sensations that have their own idea of what a record deal is, even though they have never performed any ballads before a paying audience.

The North Tonawanda student-athletes have a collection of hits, together and apart. But they've been at their crowd-pleasing best when they collaborate.

Unlike most musicians, they don't use drums, guitars or pianos to get the crowd going. Sneakers and a baton stick are their instruments of choice.

They leave the microphone work to the public address announcer.

Singing? That's what they do on the team bus to celebrate a relay team victory after a North Tonawanda track and field meet. And only Burns and Green do the singing -- although others are welcome to join in should they choose.

"Our talent is running," said Rosart, a member of North Tonawanda's record-setting 1,600-meter relay crew.

Running is a skill that has resonated loud and clear since the girls became a relay team last spring, during the outdoor season. While they've had some chart-stopping performances since their union, their effort Jan. 6 at Cornell University was simply off the charts.

Track athletes from other parts of the state didn't know who they were.

They do now.

>Championship preview

Green, Rosart, Montesanti and Burns rallied from a deficit to win their race in the prestigious Southern Tier Invitational in record fashion. The team won the race in 4 minutes, 14.69 seconds to eclipse the 4:18.30 mark it set two weeks earlier at a meet at Fredonia State College.

The Southern Tier Invitational attracted a collection of schools from all parts of the state in what served as a mid-season preview of the field expected to contend in the state indoor track and field championships March 3 at Cornell.

"It just felt amazing," Rosart said of breaking the record. "We had doubts going into the race."

"We all felt tired," piped in Green. "We left [for Cornell] at 4:45 in the morning and the meet started at 9. We didn't get to run the 4 by 400 until 7 [p.m.]. It was just a long, tiring day."

The race was a tad bit dirtier than usual with all the racers bumping and pushing each other in a scene more reminiscent of a stock-car race than one involving sprinters. Burns almost got taken out, but the team's anchor battled past her Uniondale, L.I., foe who tried to push her off the track, and made up the 40- to 50-meter deficit -- as her Lady 'Jacks teammates expected -- for the team to win. Uniondale was disqualified.

"I thought it was surprising because I thought people wouldn't be as dirty because they wanted to do well [in the race]," said Burns.

While the cattiness of the race may have been unexpected, the fact the team overcame those tactics made the win that much more rewarding, Montesanti said.

The starting order for the team in a race is Green, Rosart, Montesanti and Burns. In the event there is a deficit that has to be made up, Montesanti and Burns accept that challenge with open arms.

But the key to that winning formula may be Burns, who coach Paul Gotowko said knows how to run at only one speed -- all out. The other girls concurred.

"She just has an incredible drive to win," Green said.

Added Montesanti, "Jackie's our fastest runner. She'll just do whatever it takes to win. Whenever I hand off the baton to Jackie I always know she'll pull through because that's just the type of runner she is."

And if by chance, Burns doesn't run down the competition -- everyone on the team knows it wasn't for lack of trying.

"If we run a bad race, it's just because today's not our day. It's not intentional," Burns said.

That mature attitude is perhaps the secret to this team's success.

>The best of friends

While pettiness and high school drama may sometimes be a part of the daily teenage lifestyle, the foursome has clicked ever since they became members of the same relay team because they leave outside forces outside.

"They're basically the best of friends," Gotowko said. "They push each other every day in practice. They put aside the differences they do have. They're very coachable. They don't always see eye to eye. I've had relays in the past where girls nitpick over the littlest things that, in the long run, don't matter and they don't end up working well together even though they have a lot of talent. These four, they come to work. They listen. They're model student-athletes."

The fact that each had experienced success apart also helped in them realizing just what they had to do to have success as a team.

Green, Burns, Montesanti and Reya Russell own the indoor 800 relay mark, 1:50.8. Rosart, Green and Burns, along with Koryn Wasielewski, own the sprint medley relay mark. Montesanti and Green share part of the outdoor 400 and 800 relay team records.

Individually, Burns tied Green's school record for the indoor 300, 43.10. Burns holds the 600 mark and also owns the outdoor 400-meter dash record. Green also holds the indoor 55-meter mark, 7.43, and is a co-holder of the long jump mark, 15 feet, 10 1/4 inches. She also owns the outdoor 200-meter record, 25.84.

Green, Rosart, Montesanti and Burns also appear to be on the same wavelength a lot, which helps their track chemistry. During an interview with The Buffalo News, there were times when one runner completed the other's sentence. But most importantly, they're mature enough to realize that their success is dependent on each other.

Burns may be the fastest of the four but that doesn't make her any more important to the team's success than the other three. Each runner has her strengths, and taking advantage of those strengths is the reason this team has had so much success.

"I think all of us are talented in different ways," Montesanti said. "We really come together. We make fun of each other and the little quirks we have. But we don't have a lot of drama between us four."

>Record setters

When there is tension among members of a relay team, it's fairly obvious to anyone who has experience watching the sport, she and the others said.

"You can always tell," Green said. "It's hard to be motivated to run for each other [when there's tension]."

Green and Montesanti have been on the team since eighth grade. They and Rosart were captains of the outdoor team last season.

Green, Rosart, Montesanti and Burns first set a school record together last spring in the state meet, the Section VI championship, posting a 4:04.21.

Three days before Christmas, they broke the old indoor mark of 4:20.6. Rosart, Montesanti and Burns were part of the team that set the old standard. Current freshman Olivia DePalma was the fourth member of the crew before getting bumped by Green.

Green and Montesanti both are about one second faster than DePalma, who is the alternate.

Are there any more records in their future?

"Each time out we want to drop our time more," Rosart said. Then Green pointed out the obvious.

"[That] means breaking the record every time," she said, "because we do hold the record."

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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