Ronnetta Alexander and Alyissa Hasan
They took each other's hand as they went into the starting blocks. One final squeeze of encouragement before taking their marks and concentrating on the task at hand.
It wasn't even eight seconds later when they could embrace again. Ronnetta Alexander had set the state record, winning the 55-meter hurdles in 7.90 seconds. Alyissa Hasan finished right behind her in second place.
And so came the commonplace result for the Williamsville South duo, this time at the New York State Indoor Championships this past spring.
"I knew that she had such an awesome chance to do well and I knew I had a chance to do something," Hasan said.
"Als like, 'You're going to win,' " Alexander said. "No. We're going to win together."
"She's always like, 'Al if I win than you're going to be second,' " Hasan said. " 'And if you win, then I'm going to be second.' It's a mutual thing."
Alexander and Hasan not only dominate the local, regional and even state track scene, but they've made their mark on the national level as well.
Alexander, a senior, tied the national record at the National Scholastic Championships at The Armory in New York in March, winning the 60-meter hurdles in 8.33. Recently, she signed her national letter of intent to attend South Carolina next year, turning down Notre Dame, Villanova, UC-Berkeley and Texas A&M in the process.
Hasan, merely a sophomore, has had a quieter season to date. After breaking her foot and sitting out all of last school year, she finished third in the pentathlon, which is her primary focus, at the National Scholastic Championships. But her 3,521 points at the 2001 Junior Olympics still stands as the national youth record (ages 13-14).
In many ways, it's been a typical teenage trip for the two. They carry on like the high school best friends they are, enthusiastically finishing each other's thoughts. In fact, you could call them "Alnetta" since the two seem to be different sides of the same half.
"It is so nice having someone like her who knows what I go through, what I'm feeling," Hasan said. "It's nice to have somebody there that knows that . . . "
" . . . when nobody else does," Alexander finished. "There's nobody else like us."
"I think we're special," Hasan said with a laugh.
And when Alexander packs up to start her college career in South Carolina?
"Oh! Don't even . . . ," Hasan trails off as she holds her head. "I told her you leaving me is going to be like my half leaving me."
It was a friendship that just sort of evolved in an unlikely fashion. Hasan was once a talented gymnast whose body was growing too fast for the sport. A series of injuries led her father and Western New York Jets club track coach Sam Hasan to put her on the track as a seventh-grader.
Alexander was a freshman at the time and approached Hasan to say hello, noting they both had taken gymnastics classes at the same gym.
And that was about it for a while.
"We never really bothered with each other before," Hasan said. "From there, we became close."
"It wasn't anything big that turned us into friends," Alexander said.
They started to see how good the other one was. The respect started. Then came the learning. Then came the unbreakable friendship bond.
Alexander never really took track too seriously her first couple of years. A gifted athlete, she didn't buy into the hours of training by which Hasan lived. But slowly, Hasan helped bring her older friend out of her shell and into a training program.
"Netta is not a trainer," Hasan said. "Last year, she started training really hard toward the summer season and she saw the results. She came in this year and puts everything into every workout.
"I saw the way she was getting toward the end of the season and I was like, 'Oh, I want to train with her. I could train with somebody like that.' Being able to train with her is like a gift because she's just like the way I am. She doesn't know it. I look up to her. Just little things. She's a way better hurdler than I am. I hurdle the way I do because I watch her."
Hasan is the outspoken, gregarious one. A typical self-motivated self-starter. Her father and coach said she hates being told she's a specialist because she loves being good at a lot of things.
Alexander is quieter, more guarded and someone whose talent bloomed when she gained a little bit of self-confidence.
"Netta is the type that goes on the Internet to see what times everyone else is running," Sam Hasan said. "She'll see that so-and-so did this and so-and-so did that. In the very beginning she used to doubt herself. She's started to really believe in herself but she's guarded about it. At these national OVER 47 LNsmeets, in the summer season, when she saw how she was finishing against that competition she said, 'All right, I am good.' "
And they both are good. College coaches around the country vied for Alexander while Hasan has a box full of initial contact letters. Go to any competition and chances are the majority have heard of the girls from Buffalo.
"She's been progressing for some time," South Carolina head coach Curtis Frye said of his new recruit, Alexander. "She's the product of a good system. I don't know how many people in her community recognize how good she is, but I hope they do.
"She's a great athlete but secondly she's a super young lady with the grades. She's just the whole package of what we look for in an athlete here. And she understands how to put a race together. Hurdles are probably the most technical event because you have only three steps between hurdles. You need to develop rhythm or you'll run into them. Those things just don't happen.
"I saw her run an 8.33 in the 60-meter hurdles. That's an NCAA qualifying time right there. I'd say the 10 best high school female track athletes in the country will hit an NCAA qualifying time. She's certainly in that group."
"Mentally, they've got it together," Sam Hasan said. "They know what it takes. Physically you can be a gifted athlete. You can be powerful, explosive, but if you don't have it mentally, it's only going to take you so far."