Last year at the WPIAL track & field championships, the Aliquippa boys' 400-meter relay team didn't just cross the finish line -- they obliterated it.
The Quips took first with a record time of 42.28 seconds in 2012. Today, they'll return to the championship starting line at Baldwin High School with all but one of those 2012 record-setters.
"We've been together [on the relay] for a while," Aliquippa track coach Sherman McBride said.
Junior Dravon Henry and seniors Hassahn Thompson, Malik Shegog and McBride's son, Shaquere, are the current runners. The only "new" member of the relay team is Shegog, who has replaced 2012 graduate Kaylan Kenney.
Shegog, a Duquesne University football recruit, was an alternate on the 2012 relay squad, but he trained with his current teammates all last year.
"I was always training just as hard as everybody else and I always had the same goals," Shegog recalled.
At last week's WPIAL qualifiers, he ran with the readiness of two years' experience. The Quips took first place at their qualifying meet in 43.18 seconds, 0.57 seconds ahead of Washington.
"At the WPIAL qualifiers, we all were nervous," Shaquere McBride said.
He'd been out since April 18 to rehab his injured right hamstring.
"My teammates told me, 'Don't think about it and it won't hurt,'" he added.
"[Thompson] is the nervous one out of the whole group," said Henry, good-naturedly. "He asks questions like, 'You think I'm going to pass everybody up?' or he says 'I hope I can catch everybody ..."
Thompson explained that as the relay's first runner, he wants to do the best he can for his team.
"My adrenaline rushes when I'm nervous," he said. "I run faster, I get that perfect handoff, and I just go from there."
The Quips were in Lane 5 last week at the qualifier, right next to the Washington runners in Lane 4. Although Thompson put pressure on himself to gain a big lead in the first leg, Henry felt confident in Thompson and the team.
"When you've got a first leg like ours, you just catch everybody off the first leg," Henry said.
He noted that he typically takes the baton second. At that point Henry commits himself to retaining Thompson's progress and to adding all the distance he can.
Shegog ran third last Tuesday, a recent change in the Aliquippa lineup. But Shegog felt that his ability to roll with the changes of the track team would only aid his team dynamic in Duquesne football.
"It's about really hard work, and how to work effectively with teammates," Shegog said.
In spite of his hamstring and nerves, Shaquere McBride ran a fast anchor leg for Aliquippa.
"I think we run faster in the relay," he said. "I feel faster in the relay."
The Quips are never a team to dwell on the past, however. They have their eyes on another WPIAL title, as well as one at the PIAA meet. They boys took home second from states last year, one place lower than the one they really wanted.
"I had to explain it to them last year," Sherman McBride recalled. "When we lost, they were so down. But I said, 'This is not second in Pittsburgh, Aliquippa, or Beaver County. You are runners-up in the state of Pennsylvania.'"
Thompson is actually a four-year veteran on the Aliquippa 400-meter relay.
"I've been at the state meet three years in a row," he said. "I've got the bronze and the silver -- now I want the gold."
"We're looking to run in the 42s," said Sherman McBride, noting that the 400-meter relay was composed of Aliquippa's best and fastest.
"I keep everybody where they're used to being [in the race]. If you keep everybody healthy, that's a good thing ... that's a plus."