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Osseo relay teams halfway there

By CALVIN SWANSON, Star Tribune, 04/17/12, 4:46PM CDT


Speed and experience fill half of the Orioles' two relay teams. The search is on to fill the remaining positions.

Osseo High School girls’ track team members who run the 4x100 and 4x200 relay events, from left: Phillis Webb, Anuli Okonkwo, Brieanna Puckett, Morgan Bialke and Funmi Arogbokun. “We should be knocking at the door at the state meet,” head coach Cullen DeV

Replacing half of a team is no easy task.

Despite losing two all-conference runners to graduation, the Osseo girls' 4x100 and 4x200 meter relay teams return two standout runners and are pacing for success again this year.

"I want us to start off really strong," senior Anuli Okonkwo said. "I want us to keep going like we did last year. We just want to pull out a win [at state] for the team and for Osseo School. The coaches taught us really well. So we know what were doing, and we know we can do it and win."

Last year, Osseo's 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams both placed second at the state meet. The Orioles finished just .06 seconds behind Apple Valley in the 4x100 and just more than a second behind Hopkins in the 4x200.

"It did leave a bad taste, but it was bittersweet," junior Phillis Webb said. "This year, I'm wanting to get the blue ribbon for state."

Okonkwo and Webb return to the 4x100 and 4x200 teams, bringing back speed and experience to the first and fourth leg.

"We should be knocking at the door at the state meet," head coach Cullen DeVries said. "That's the goal. They're going to be some of the top runners we've ever seen here at Osseo as far as sprinters go."

Okonkwo, the lead leg of both the 100 and 200 relay teams, has been a standout runner at Osseo since she joined the team her freshman year. She set the school record for the 200 meter (24.97 seconds) last year. She was also on the school's record-setting 4x100 relay team in 2010 and the 4x200 squad in 2009.

Okonkwo's success has carried over to the state meet. She had all-state credentials for the individual 200 the past three years, finishing as high as third last year. Her speed and ability to come off the block have helped her to two second-place finishes in the 4x200 (2009, 2011) and two top-three finishes in the 4x100 (2010, 2011).

"She's been as committed to our program as any runner since I've been here," DeVries said. "She's been a natural since Day 1. Every year she has gotten better."

Webb anchored the relay teams during her first year of track at Osseo. A three-sport athlete, she ran a team record of 56.44 seconds in the individual 400 last year.

"Phillis is just an all-around athlete," DeVries said. "We could put her in most of the events out here and she would compete at the state level. She's that good of an athlete. It's just up to her just to make sure she gets the training in so she gets to that elite level."

While the Orioles' lead leg and the anchor positions are set, the biggest challenge will be replacing the two seniors who graduated last spring. But DeVries is optimistic about the caliber of possibilities.

Among those vying for spots of the teams are seniors Funmi Arogbokun and Morgan Bialke, junior Brieanna Puckett and sophomore Ayo Porte, DeVries said.

Arogbokun, an all-conference triple jumper, has had some experience running relays the past couple of seasons.

"She actually just missed the relay team last year because we gave it to a senior," DeVries said. Arogbokun has academic scholarship offers and is looking at attending Yale, Northwestern or Stanford. "She could have easily been on those relay teams last year," the coach said.

Puckett, an all-conference long-jumper, runs a great 100 and 200, DeVries said. Meanwhile, Bialke, who also runs cross-country, and Porte are both in the mix as well.

"I've notice that each year Osseo always, when great athletes leave, some more come in," Webb said.

Calvin Swanson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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