As if West Springfield's surging 4x800-meter boys' relay team needed extra motivation, Spartans assistant coach Duke Baird offered to cook the relay runners dinner if they could break 7 minutes 50 seconds at Sunday's Nike Indoor Championships in Landover.
The result was the team's best performance of the season and a national championship. But, with a time of 7:50.25, whether seniors Tim Kwak, Joseph McMahon, John Cook and Jeff Day will get the chicken parmesan dinner was questionable after the race.
"We'll work on that," Kwak said of the dinner. The motivation "must have worked because today was our most focused and best combined effort."
Sunday's victory was the Spartans' second national title of the weekend after Day, Cook and McMahon joined junior Steve Tobin to win the distance medley relay on Saturday.
After a sometimes bumbling first few months of the indoor track season, the 4x800 foursome suddenly broke through in the last several weeks, first in winning the Virginia AAA state meet and then at last weekend's Nike meet, one of two unofficial national championships.
The team never broke eight minutes during the regular season, including one race when Day, the anchor, kept running after he had finished the race until being stopped halfway through his fifth lap.
"I was running and I saw my coach telling me to stop, and I was like, 'I've got another lap to go!'
" Day said. "He said, 'No, you don't.'
"It was funny, but I can't allow something like that to happen again. We're definitely more focused now."
At the state meet, the Spartans finally put together a complete performance and ran a 7:51.96 to set a state-meet record.
"Our heads weren't in it at first," Day said. "But we've really fed off of each other. We're all seniors, we've been doing this for four years, and we really want to succeed now."
Marshall junior Anthony Weaver finished his rookie track season as an all-American, placing fifth in Sunday's 400-meter dash in 49.97, just one-hundredth of a second out of fourth.
Marshall, the Liberty District champion in the 500 (1:09.23), was the youngest sprinter in the finals and had run in very few big meets before the Nike Indoor Championships.
That inexperience ultimately cost him against such nationally ranked talent as California's DeSean Cunningham and Pennsylvania's Drew Eckman, who finished first (48.56) and second (48.68), respectively.
"These guys have been running longer and I was in lane two, so I had to fight a little more," Weaver said. "On the last lap, when everyone had to merge, I didn't have anything left in my tank. But it was kind of great to make it this far."
Weaver missed making the six-runner final in the 200 by less than a tenth of a second, placing seventh overall (22.44) in Saturday's trial heats.
Marshall Coach Clifford Wong, a 1995 graduate of Forestville High in Prince George's County, quickly recognized Weaver's raw talent when Weaver transferred to Marshall in the late fall from Parkdale, another Prince George's school.
Wong also could relate to running for a small, virtually unknown program.
"He has a lot of heart and works so hard, but we hadn't gotten to showcase what he can do," Wong said. "When we ran against the big boys, they were shocked."