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Jackson has been force for Hawks' relay team, unbeatable in 400, 200
The Gila Ridge girls 1,600-meter relay team has a luxury.
If the first three legs can keep it close, they know Paeden Jackson is going to take it home.
The junior has been the team's anchor this season. With the best 400 time in the area, the Hawks have depended on Jackson all season long — and will most likely get another strong performance at the regional meet at Lake Havasu on Saturday.
“Towards the end, when she gets the baton, she can pass almost anyone,” said senior Madison Haynes, who is a part of the relay team of Jackson, Camille Ochoa and Haylee Dahl. “We know that we're always going to have a strong finish.”
“At that point, it's just sort of a known that it's going to be 61 (seconds) or faster,” Gila Ridge coach Lucas Wolthuis said. “So knowing that we have somebody who can run that kind of time gives you a confidence that there's a gap that you can count on. You can depend on your anchor.”
Jackson was the first leg on the Hawks' 1,600 relay team that placed third at the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II State Meet last season — and also placed third in the 400 dash with a time of 58.26 seconds. The Hawks got another strong performance from their relay team on Saturday in Queen Creek, when they finished in first place with a time of 4:14.02.
“You just feel that you can depend on her,” said Dahl, who closed the gap during her turn to help give Jackson a chance to win it. “You just know she won't let the team down.”
At Queen Creek, Jackson also won first place in the 400 and long jump, and took second in the 200 — behind Salpointe Catholic's Michaela Crunkleton-Wilson, who is one of the best runners in the state. Jackson said that every race feels the same — the same adrenaline and sense of competition. But Wolthuis said he sees a difference in her when the times really mean something.
“At invitationals, she's more zoned in,” Wolthuis said. “There's just more pressure knowing that those times are going to be seen not only for who's going to be at the state meet but also at the collegiate level.”
In local meets, Jackson has been unbeatable in both the 400 and 200. Her domination in the 400 is surprising because she initially was a short-sprinter before last year trying out for the 1,600 relay team and landing in the individual 400, as well.
“I just think I do better at (the 400),” Jackson said. “At the 200, you don't have that much time to think — you don't really in the 400, either — but in the 400, you can say, ‘OK, kick it up now.'”
At the state meet a year ago, Jackson was fifth in the 400 dash with around 200 meters to go and started to pick it up at her favorite spot on the track.
“On the curve there's diamonds and they say diamonds are a girl's best friend, so you hold your breath until you hit the other diamonds then you release your breath and I just pick up my legs and go my fastest at the end.” Jackson said.
According to the website athletic.net, Jackson's 400 time of 59.66 at the Westside Invitational is the eighth best in the state at Division II, and the sprinters who finished ahead of her at the 2012 state meet — Salpointe Catholic's Crunkleton-Wilson and Diana Gajda — are both back and running well. Jackson said she wants to place again at state this year and the way she's run, her teammates have got an up-close look at what she can do.
“Pretty much every time she amazes me,” Haynes said. “She just looks so much faster. Every time I'm, like, ‘Oh my gosh, she's so fast.' Even in practice. In the 400 and 200, she's just flying. No one ever keeps up with her.”