May 26—MOUNT VERNON — Maria Baker, Berkeley Engelland and Emilee Fox are in constant competition.
In practice. In meets. There is no escape. After all, they compete in all of the same events.
While daily competition has pushed the Mount Vernon/Plankinton trio to become standouts in individual events, it has also produced two of the top relays in Class A when they joined forces. They are so formidable that the Titans enter the state meet on May 28-29 in Spearfish as the top seed in the 4x400 and 4x800 relays.
Baker, Engelland, Fox and seventh-grader Suri Schmidt run the 4x800 relay in 9 minutes, 54.10 seconds, which is the top time in Class A and the sixth-best overall. Meanwhile, Baker, Engelland and Fox team with eighth-grader Reagan Rus to form the top 4x400 relay team in Class A with a time of 4 minutes, 9.97 seconds, which is nearly a second faster than No. 2 Custer.
Now the goal is to turn those times into multiple state championships.
"We've stressed teamwork and team atmosphere," MVP girls coach Lawron Bohr said. "I don't think there's any sort of animosity amongst them at all. They're just happy for each other and I think they're actually happier running in the relays so that all of them can enjoy success."
Baker, a junior, is the elder statesman of the group and it did not take long for her to see the talent Engelland and Fox had to offer. The freshman tandem ranks in the top-six in the 400-meter dash and the 800 meters this season. Engelland will compete in the 400 and 800 at state, while Fox is entered into the 400.
Meanwhile, Baker is not entered into an individual event for state but her 400 and 800 times were ranked in the top-30 in Class A this season.
MVP shifted personnel on the 4x400 relay during the early portion of the season, using three different combinations with times ranging from 4:29.9 at the Hamlin Early Bird on April 1 to 4:18.89 at the Corn Palace Relays on April 17. But when Baker, Engelland, Fox and Rus were paired together, times plummeted and they won the Howard Wood Dakota Relays by nearly six seconds.
The 4x800 relay was not quite as jumbled from the start, but Baker, Engelland, Fox and Schmidt finished in 10 minutes, 12.50 seconds at the Corn Palace Relays and shaved more than 15 seconds off that time six days later at the Greenway Relays, before taking down No. 2 Custer at the Dakota Relays.
"The first few meets our times were pretty good and we really didn't have any idea that we were going to be good," Baker said. "But our times were quite impressive for the early season and that was good motivation for the rest of the season."
Engelland is the most versatile of the group, posting Class A top-five times in three different events this season. Her top time of 2 minutes, 21.35 seconds in the 800 is No. 2 in the state, while she is the No. 4 seed in the 400 with a time of 1 minute, 0.34 seconds. She even had the No. 5 100 time in Class A this season (12.81 seconds).
Throughout the season, Engelland has attempted six different individual events and four relays. Bohr remarked that her tenaciousness reminded him of "a hunting dog that just won't quit." But it always comes back to the 400 and 800, where Engelland feels most comfortable.
She placed seventh in the 800 at the state meet two years ago as a seventh-grader, while also joining Fox and the now-graduated Savannah Risseeuw and Dacey Rihanek to finish sixth in the 4x400 relay. Prior to that meet, Engelland never considered winning a state championship, but now it is one of her top priorities.
"It built up — I didn't have any idea what I was going to do (in 2019)," Engelland said. "I didn't think it was going to happen, so it was really a surprise. I know I can do it now."
Engelland and Fox will run a pair of relays together Friday, but they will also compete against one another in the 400 on the same day. In fact, both are assigned to the third heat and neighboring lanes for the race. They welcome the competition, however.
"We're supportive of each other, but we love to compete, too," Fox said. "... I know she's making me better and I'm making her better. Then when we're teammates, it's even better because she's really good."