Elizabeth Stanhope breaks down her record setting 800 race at last years state meet.
Let's start with the veteran Maddie Russin. Her freshman year, she ran a total of 4 open 800m races. The most important being the state championship where she ran a 2:18.49 and took home 14th. Moving onto her sophomore campaign, she advanced through the postseason with ease and advanced to state in the 800. This is where things started heating up for Russin, and overall just the competitiveness of the girls 800. At the 2018 state meet, the top 5 were separated by less than 2 seconds. Ultimately, Russin was able to outkick Stanhope taking home the state title in 2:12.35 in one of those most exciting races of the season. Moving onto her junior campaign, this is where things got interesting. At the Portage Regional, Russin easily advanced to the state meet running a 2:19. The only problem? That time wasn't fast enough to run in heat 1 of the 800 at the state meet. She had run and won the 400 not long before the 800 at the regional as well.
Going into the 2019 state meet, that was one of the biggest discussions of the meet. Could Russin run fast enough in heat one, and still snag the state title? It seemed to be a strong possibility. When the gun went off, Russin went out hard and into the lead, going out in 61 seconds for the first lap. Russin ran a 2:08.23 over 800 meters, and winning the first heat of the girls 800. But, would that be enough to win? Russin and the rest of the crowd would have to wait just a few more minutes as the "fast" heat would go down next.
Elizabeth Stanhope was out for it now, going out in 60 seconds flat, about the same pace as Russin for the first lap. Holding close to that same pace would be needed, with a little bit of a final kick to top her. Stanhope came across in blistering time of 2:06.62, just under 1 second ahead of the state record previous ran by Brittany Neeley in 2011 of 2:07.91. Neeley did go on two years later to run a 2:06.68 at the USATF Jr Championships.
If Russin had been in heat 2 of the 800, her and Stanhope likely would have been stride for stride throughout the race and we may have seen a slightly faster time by one of them, as it would've likely come down to who could pull out the fastest kick. Going into the 2020 season, Russin was primed for a phenomenal season and would have thrown down some fast times in the 800, and would have entered the state meet as one of the favorites, if not the favorite.
Okay, but if Russin seemed to be the clear favorite, who else could've potentially challenged at the event?
Julia Dvorak would be the next name up in the conversation. At last year's state meet she came away with a 3rd place finish running a 2:08.50 just behind Stanhope and Russin. Dvorak has run the 800 at the state meet since her freshman year, improving her mark each year. Dvorak is someone who likely would have made some serious noise at the state meet in her senior season.
Another name to consider is Abigail Lynch. Lynch's PR of 2:09 sits just a few seconds back from Russin's but would have likely shaved 4-5 seconds off that this year. Lynch would have had no problem staying on the heels of Russin and Dvorak and challenging for the win. The only downside for Lynch, she likely would not have been racing on fresh legs. In 2019 she raced the 1600, which takes place about an hour before the 800. If she conserved enough from the race prior and was ready to go, she would be a clear threat to the front of the pack.
Turner and Sonderman in the UK HS 800
Next up on the board is Amaya Turner, who quickly turned heads at the beginning of the indoor season. Throughout her high school career, she has run a total of 3 800 races. Her PR...? 2:12.02, in just her fourth 800 ever! That time was run at the UK HS Invitational earlier this year and that time was also good enough to break the indoor state record. What makes this run that much more impressive is that 20 minutes earlier she had broken the 400 indoor record. So within 20 or so minutes, Turner had shattered 2 indoor records. If she would have been fresh in the 800, she could have run in the 2:10 range if not faster. Amaya Turner would have surely been a big threat in this event as it seemed it was quickly becoming her best event, even though she is fairly new to it.
Lastly, we have Emily Sonderman. Like Turner, she was a sprinter who moved up to the 800. Her and Turner had similar routes leading up to becoming an 800 runner. Sonderman ran a 2:14.50 at the UK HS Invitational, in just her third 800 ever, finishing just behind Turner. Running a time that fast, in just your third 800 ever goes to show the potential Sonderman had. She might not have the veteran experience in the 800 that Russin and Dvorak have, but she definitely would have been in the conversation.
These are just a few names, of the many contenders. Many other names could have likely been in the conversation as well as the season progressed and it became more clear who would actually race the 800m at the state meet.
- Marissa Rivera (2:12.27 PR) - 6th in the 800 (2019)
- Addy Wiley (2:10 PR) - 1st in the 1600 (2019), 7th in the 800 (2019)
- Zoe Duffus (2:14 PR) - 21st in the 1600 (2019), 10th in the 800 (2019)
- Maria Mitchell (2:14 PR) - 8th in the 1600 (2019), 9th in the 800 (2019)
We were able to get some thoughts from Courtney Bishop, the head coach of the Pike girls program, and who co-coached along with Lance Garvins, Stanhope to a state record.
Bishop started off by saying "In part I credit Elizabeth Stanhope for pushing the boundaries of how fast an athlete can cover the first 400 meters and survive. Secondly I credit all the coaches and athletes that followed, realizing that If you don't go out strong (59-62), you have NO Chance."
Bishop then went on to emphasize just how fast the girls 800 really is in the Hoosier state. "To put in perspective how fast the girls 800 in Indiana has gotten. The IHSAA Girls 800 final podium was faster than the NCAA DII podium. The state record in Kentucky is 2:11.06, and I guarantee that that time would not have made the top 9 in Indiana."
Over the last several years, 200/400 sprinters have transitioned from sprinters to short-distance runners. That is one big reason why the 800 has become so fast. Turning long distance cross country runners into a mid-distance 800 runner tends to be a more difficult task than taking someone who is fast over 400 meters and training them to pace for an extra lap.
To end Bishop had this to say.
"You absolutely would have to have had some popcorn ready, if Russin, Turner, and Sonderman were on the final straightaway in the state finals. That said, I think that you would have had to run 2:05 to win this year's 800, minimum and 2:10 had NO chance at seeing the podium. Incredible class, perhaps once in a lifetime."
Without a doubt, the girls 800 has turned into an event that is a must watch at the state meet. Year in, and year out, the race does not disappoint. It just keeps getting faster, and just that much more exciting. 2020 would have been one for the books in terms of the girls 800. With that being said, just because the 2020 season was cancelled does not mean the evolution of the girls 800 is over. There is plenty of talent out there, and 2021 will be just as exciting!
Girls All-Time 800m Record List - based on the MileSplit database, may have inaccuracies