Hard work, humility and an uncanny chemistry have proven to be the secret to this season’s success for the Spartan relay foursome of AJ Neely, Blake Larson, Carter Grohs and Dylan Schimke — definitively solidified last weekend at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays as Wessington Springs claimed the championship title in the Class B 4x800 relay.

The tight-knit team agree that their shared drive for victory paired with consistent numbers have also played a big role in their success. 

“All of us could run any position and we have a really good alternate too,” Schimke added, speaking of WSHS junior Mason Schelske. “We might be the only school in the state with five solid runners. Mason’s time fits right in with ours.”

Being the first runner out of the gates, Neely explains that he tries to put the team in a good position for success. “It’s hard for everyone else to get moving if I blow it,” Neely stated.

Schimke is quick to point out that AJ puts the foursome in a good position. “Not a lot of other teams have a solid starter and it puts us at an advantage.”

WSHS ninth grader Larson may be the youngest member of the team but his contribution is anything but juvenile.  

“Blake is a freshman but doesn’t run like it,” Neely stated. “In the two-mile at Howard Wood I handed it off at fourth and when Blake handed it off, we were tied for second.”

Grohs added to Neely’s sentiment, “Blake doesn’t compete like a freshman. He competes like he’s been on track for a few years, does his job and keeps us where we are or gets us in a better position.  Particularly in the Howard Wood race, Blake handed it off tied and I ended up getting a couple steps on the other guy. I had to widen the gap to put Dylan in a good position.”

Third in the relay lineup, Grohs “eases the tension” on stressful race days according to his teammates. 

“Carter makes everyone less anxious — he lightens the mood, messes with the other teams in a good natured way and gets them riled up,” laughed Schimke. 

As the teammates recalled the moment at Howard Wood when it became evident that the anchor, Schimke, was about to pull even with his Hanson opponent on the straightaway, conversation turned to “the hammer.”

“Whatever needs to get done, we have faith in Dylan — to hold a lead or to get a lead,” Grohs said matter-of-factly.

Neely added without missing a beat, “And he’s been doing both all year.”

Quick to lift each other up, this group of student athletes is able to recognize that the foursome’s success is indeed a team effort.  

“I either keep the lead or go catch someone — and I can’t do my job well if the other three don’t,” explained Schimke. “I get the spotlight because I’m the last person but the other three are just as good of runners or better than I am. They’re the ones that put me in a good position.”

 Rounding out the season with a focus on the state title, the boys recognize that they’ll enter competition with a “target” on their backs. 

“Other teams are going to see this hot shot 4x8 team — that’s how it is when you have the number one spot— they are going to gun for you,” Neely said. “Hanson is going to be salty after the Howard Wood win. But we will do what we’ve tried to do all season…just respond to the pressure and keep working hard.”

The team is cognizant of the need to take care of their health as they race towards state. 

“Since we’re pretty high ranked we’re going to take care of our bodies and take less chances of doing stupid things and getting injured,” stated Schimke. “We just have to show up and do what we do best.”

The boys make it clear that their ranking doesn’t change the team’s set of values and desire to compete with character — good sportsmanship continues to remain high on their list of priorities.

“We always congratulate the teams we compete against, said Grohs. “Every track meet we have been to we have that mutual respect.”