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Queens of the 4x400: Raptors girls win a relay state title

From Left: Senior Kiera Joiner, junior Kathleen Marcus, junior Brenley Goertzen and senior Sandra Gramer pose with their first-place medals after winning the 4x400-meter relay at the state tournament on June 7 at Hamline University. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick) 1 / 2
Senior Sandra Gramer kneels to the ground after East Ridge won the 4x400-meter relay at the state tournament at Hamline University. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)2 / 2

Shannon Rainey stood as calmly as possible as he watched the state girls’ 4x400-meter relay go down through the display of his camcorder on Saturday morning at Hamline University.

He watched as senior Kiera Joiner had East Ridge right in the mix after the first leg. He watched as junior Brenley Goertzen pushed the Raptors to the front with a second leg surge.

Rainey watched as junior Kathleen Marcus maintained the lead after a bolt of speed coming down the backstretch -- meaning the Raptors were one leg away from a state title.

Then he watched senior Sandra Gramer, who took the baton with East Ridge still in first place.

“Right when I started running I heard one of my teammates say ‘We can get first!,’” Gramer said. “I did not want to go up on the podium and get reds and know that I could give it something more.”

“That was me,” Joiner said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘We can win this!’”

But it wasn’t going to be easy. Gramer had to hold off hard-charging Minnetonka senior Elizabeth Endy down the backstretch.

“[Gramer is] such a fierce competitor,” said Rainey, the head coach of East Ridge’s men’s team who coaches all of the sprinters. “She rarely gets passed.”

So as Endy pulled up alongside Gramer, Rainey watched as Gramer started to rapidly pump her arms and take back the lead.

“Perfect form,” Rainey said. “She held it all the way through.”

All the way through to the finish line, where Gramer fell to her knees and threw her hands over her face as tears began to rush down from her eyes.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I was in shock. I was so happy.”

It was there where her teammates sprinted over and all four embraced one another in celebration.

Not a likely result for a team that took third place at the Section 3AA meet, only making the state meet by slipping in under the state standard time.

Yet nine days later, there there Raptors were, knocking off two-time defending state champion Minnetonka by recording a time of 3:51.63 -- eight seconds faster than their sectional time.

“This was our peaking moment,” Marcus said.


The only person who potentially saw the result coming was Joiner, who made a state championship proclamation approximately a month earlier. Still, even she appeared to be in a slight shock moments after.

“It’s just surreal,” she said.

It was a moment all four seemed to relish, as they stood on the podium afterward and struck multiple poses and laughed with one another until an official finally asked them to get down so the next award ceremony could commence.

“Can we take more pictures?,” they asked after stepping down from the podium.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Gramer said. “I’m just so overwhelmed.”

Girls coach Lloyd Ness was asked to explain the result, how a crew who Ness said would have been happy to break four minutes at the start of the season molded together to form a state champion.

He mentioned Rainey’s ability to peak sprinters, he mentioned the girls fresh legs and he mentioned their competitiveness, but at the end of the day, he really didn’t have an answer.

“Who can explain it? I don’t know,” Ness said. “It’s just an amazing story.”

Rainey’s only explanation was the energy he sees in all of the girls when they run together, with each girl feeding off her teammates to push a little harder.

“It just seems like they fight for each other,” he said. “They run fast for each other.”

That was evidenced after the race, when each clamored for her turn to describe how lucky she was to be on a team with three other great teammates, how proud she was of everyone. But it was Goertzen who may have said it best when she uttered four simple words.

“I love you guys.”