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Hillmen ahead of the pack

Placer relay teams continue to excel, even with senior star Gotzmer sidelined
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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When Placer High track star Asher Gotzmer pulled his hamstring in the Hillmen’s Pioneer Valley League dual finale, it only took coach Rick Foley a few minutes to select the ideal replacement for a key leg of his 4x100-meter relay team. Within the hour, junior Colin Burnett already felt comfortable taking the baton and handing off to his new teammates. Placer’s boys tapped into their depth and camaraderie again Thursday night to take second place at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Championships at Modesto Junior College. “Especially with the relays, we always form special bonds,” said senior Kody Combs, a standout in both the 4x100 and 4x400 events. “A lot of us have also played football together so we kind of have that bond, too. Relays are fun.” Burnett was the perfect candidate to replace football teammate Gotzmer for the postseason. The lanky quarterback had been relegated to running side-by-side with Gotzmer, a speedy running back, as the second leg of Placer’s ‘B’ 4x100 team during home dual meets this spring. “It’s kind of cool to be a part of the main relay,” said Burnett, who admittedly only came out this spring to improve his football conditioning. “I didn’t think I’d be able to go this far this season. Track has really grown on me. It’s been fun. It’s been more fun than I thought it was going to be.” Foley finds overall team strength in building strong relays. The 4x100 squad of Burnett, Combs, senior Dalton Dyer and junior Christian Perry is strong considering none of the athletes are natural 100-meter runners. Placer’s 4x400 team of Combs, junior Darren Centi, senior Lucas Stancliff and sophomore Joe Mangino is even more impressive. “Relays can be pulled together with a jumper, a sprinter, a hurdler and a distance runner or they could be all sprinters one year,” the coach said. “Every year it’s different. The relays really help to unify the team.” Foley sometimes struggles to find equilibrium in track and a field, a unique sport that is often as much about personal performances as it is team efforts. “Track can be such an individual sport and it needs to be an individual sport at times,” he said. “That’s the difficulty being a track coach. How do you balance their individual successes with building a good team? That’s what we try to do here — build the bond of team, stay to the end of meets, root each other on and care about each other’s individual success. It just basically teaches the kids to all care about each other.” From grueling Monday practices that mimic workouts designed by longtime Baylor coach Clyde Hart to post-dual team dinners at Round Table Pizza, the team has created deep connections not commonly found in other team sports. “You make good friends,” Combs said. “We always have fun. Everyone’s efforts are directly contributing to what’s going on, even if they’re not No. 1.”