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Competitive pride drives Sweet Home's 4x200 relay team

Competitive pride might just be the best way to describe Anthony Williams' reasoning for giving track and field a try last winter at Sweet Home.

Williams heard about a dude at school who was pretty fast. Williams believed he could beat that dude in a short race.

The dude just happened to be THE DUDE: Nathaniel "Nate" Davis.

The same Davis whose 2017 wound up being one to remember since it included winning state outdoor championships in the 200 and as anchor of the 4x100 relay.

Davis, who was entering his fifth year as a member of the Panthers' track and field program, versus someone who hadn't participated in any competitive sport, really?

A high-noon duel didn't happen, but Sweet Home did find discover another talented runner for its stable in Williams – one who would end up joining forces with Davis, Eric Johnson and Thomas Rivera and deliver some special memories.

The crew, put together on the same relay late last indoor season because of their talent, made history in the spring during the outdoor season by becoming the first Section VI relay to ever win the overall New York State Federation championship in the 4x100.

The quartet has carried over that success into the current indoor season in the 4x200. So much so the crew looks like the team to beat Feb. 23 during the Section VI Individual Championship/state qualifier at Houghton.

Williams, Johnson, Rivera and Davis won the 4x200 at the Penn Relays in a school-record time. That feat earned them the opportunity to be one of six boys scholastic relay teams to race last Saturday at The Armory in New York in the nationally televised Dr. Sander Invitational.

The Panthers' team didn't run to victory but did break the school record again, posting a time of 1:31.41 in a race that featured three of the top four relay teams in the country.

How's that for a life memory?

"It meant a lot for us to be at that meet," Rivera said.

"Going into it we knew what teams were going to be there," Davis said. "We knew they would push us. It's not a setback. We just wanted to see what we could do against them."

The race reaffirmed the potential the crew has at making a run at indoor Section VI (and perhaps a state crown), while reminding them that there's still much work that needs to be done.

"It was a good thing to see that race and see how we might want to matchup with Cardinal Hayes differently," said Sweet Home coach Brian Lombardo, of one of the teams who placed ahead of the Panthers who will likely be at the state meet in Staten Island in March. "I might tweak the order. I might tweak where we're taking handoffs and how we're taking handoffs. … We might do a little bit of that moving forward.

"At the end of January we don't want to be a finished product. It's nice getting that fourth place on NBC Sports but we're nowhere near a finished product or where we want to be."

But they've been really good so far. With at least two major races left (Section VI Team Championship meet is Feb. 9), the Panthers' 4x200 is in hot pursuit of the section record (1:29.59) set last year by Niagara Falls.

The four have been good as individuals, too, as Davis and Johnson finished 1-3 in 200 at Penn Relays. Davis has the top time in Western New York in the 300 and stands third in the long jump. Johnson has the second-best time in the 55-hurdles, Rivera's third in the high jump. Williams stands second in the 55-meter dash.

Williams is more of a short sprint runner, while Rivera is more of a longer distance speedster, according to Lombardo. The 200 doesn't come as natural to them as Davis and Johnson. But the foursome makes it work because they all willing to put in the work.

"No matter what's going on, when it's time to work at practice, they work," Lombardo said. "For those hours (at practice), you see what their No. 1 priority is. It's been a special time with this group because they're not afraid to go at it.  They're very good at getting though things.

"These guys are good because they're competitive. It's a group I honestly have to separate in practice (from each other) because I don't want them racing in practice. We want to save our races for our races. … They are willing to work hard and do what it takes. It's rare for high school (relay) teams.

Holland and East Aurora bring the HEAT this indoor track season

Boys indoor track: As usual, there are more state qualifiers than available spots in some events

Girls indoor track: Tapestry girls determined to do something that's eluded them

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