Even to some of her fellow coaches, Janet Liimatta's decision made little sense: Take Ryan Callahan, one of the state's fastest 100-meter runners, off the 400-meter relay team?
"People looked at me like I was crazy," Liimatta said. "But, hey, I'll try anything once."
So at the Knights' Invitational at North County High School midway through the track season, Liimatta sent out Ethan Burney, Terrell Ingram, Isiah Johnson and Steve Holmes as Old Mill's 400 relay team.
What happened next, those athletes said, felt like magic.
"We just had a rhythm with each other," Holmes, a junior, said.
"It was perfect," Ingram said. "It was like we'd been practicing for 20 years."
It looked about the same at the 4A state championship meet last weekend. Propelled more by chemistry than talent, the Old Mill foursome sped to a 42.99 time, good for a state title. The win validated Liimatta's decision to leave Callahan -- who finished second in the 100-meter race at the state finals -- off the relay. It also gave all four runners, three of them seniors, their first state title.
But perhaps, Liimatta said, the state title meant the most to Ingram. The three-sport senior felt heartbroken after postseason losses in football and basketball ended his dream of winning a state championship in those two sports.
"I knew I had to leave with a state championship in something," Ingram said. "To be honest, I never would have thought it would be in track. But that's basically what I told those other guys before we ran. It was like, 'Listen, I need to win something.' "
Said Holmes: "We all knew we were capable of winning. We've been capable of it since the first time we ran together. We've just got that chemistry together."