Michael Kelly/Recorder staff The members of the Amsterdam High School boys 4x400-meter relay team Ñ and its alternates Ñ pose together after the Rams' win last weekend in Cicero at the state championships. Shown, from left, are: Edgar Maldonado, Julian Gallup, David Graveley, Andrew Druziak, Izaiah Brown and Gabe Fernandez. All six Rams are headed to North Carolina this weekend for the national championships.
Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Amsterdam's Julian Gallup is shown competing in a relay last weekend in Cicero at the state championships. Gallup will compete this weekend at the national championships.
Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Saratoga Springs' Rob Haughton, left, and Amsterdam's Izaiah Brown are shown before the 400-meter dash finals last weekend in Cicero at the state championships. Brown will compete this weekend in the national championships.
By MICHAEL KELLY
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- Last weekend, the Amsterdam High School boys outdoor track and field team's 4x400-meter relay squad earned a state championship.
This weekend, the Rams' foursome -- juniors Izaiah Brown, Andrew Druziak and David Graveley along with senior Julian Gallup -- will take on relay squads from across the country at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championships.
Consider the Rams -- who will technically compete this Sunday as members of the Amsterdam Track Club, since the NBNO event is not a sanctioned high school competition -- undaunted with the step up in competition.
"It's fun to go out like this," Gallup said Thursday at the Rams' practice at AHS.
"This is kind of a reward [race], and we're happy to have earned this," Gallup added later.
The Rams left Amsterdam Friday night to head to North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C. The road trip will take the Rams -- besides the four runners, sophomore alternates Gabe Fernandez and Edgar Maldonado are heading south, too -- and their coaches roughly 12 hours. Once the AHS athletes get to the college, boys head coach Kevin Wilary said the plan is to take them today to the facility to pick up their gear -- each athlete gets an NBNO championships backpack -- and watch a few races at the venue.
"Then, we'll get prepared," Wilary said.
Besides some of the nation's best athletes, the Rams' main foe for the weekend will likely be North Carolina's oppressive heat.
"It sucks all the energy out of you," said Brown, who raced last year at the event as an individual and with his relay teammates.
"It's really hot and humid, so we need to stay hydrated," continued Brown. "You need to keep drinking and not underestimate the heat."
Brown will run twice Sunday, as the junior -- who defended his state title, too, in the 400-meter dash last weekend -- will compete in both the relay and the 400-meter dash. In a slight disappointment, Brown will run in the second-fastest heat; the junior's open times in the 400-meter dash qualified him for that heat, and his considerably-faster times from relay splits could not be substituted in for his seed.
"But he's (still) going to be pushed," said Wilary. "And, he knows people are watching and want to see something special (from him) -- and I think he's going to do that."
For his part, Brown referred to his 2:15 p.m. open event as a warmup, but said the individual goal is to win his heat and post a personal-record time better than 47.0 seconds.
"If I could do both of those at the same time, that would be sweet," he said. "But I want to focus on the relay."
The AHS foursome is in the fast heat as the No. 6 seed at 5:55 p.m.
"Looking at the seed ... I think we'll be right in the mix to be on the podium," Wilary said.
Druziak said the top three teams in the race have a seed time that is likely out of reach for the Rams, but he said he could see his relay team taking a second -- or more -- off its school-record effort of 3 minutes, 17.87 seconds from this past weekend in Cicero.
"I know we can drop our time," said Druziak. "We have a pretty good shot to get up to at least fourth place. We should be on the podium."
"There's going to be some people that are better than us, but it's good knowing we're almost at their level and that there are some we're past," Graveley said.
The Rams said they feel healthy heading into Sunday, though the extended postseason is beginning to take its toll on them. The athletes each have dealt with nagging aches, as they have been at peak form since mid-May.
"But we all still feel pretty strong," said Druziak. "Last week was a tough week of practice before we went to states. That wore me down, but I feel refreshed now."
"We've had the time to rest ... so I think our bodies are more than ready," Gallup said.
Up in the air for Sunday's relay is the team's order. At the state championships, the club used a lineup of Graveley-Gallup-Druziak-Brown, but there has been consideration for nationals to change the order to maximize the Rams' chances. The AHS team did not have a settled order before heading to North Carolina.
"It's for the team ... so we're all willing to move around if that's what's best for us," Gallup said.
Regardless of the order, the Rams will be able to say after this weekend that they competed against some of the nation's best for the second year in a row. That knowledge, Graveley said, makes his relay team a winner before it even steps onto the track Sunday.
"I'd be happy with any place," said Graveley. "I'm happy just with the fact that we're going."
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