Paul Wellman

In mythology, the Elysian Fields are a place of happiness and bliss. In high school track-and-field, that place is Fresno. A quartet of girls from San Marcos High, led by Elysia Hodges, is hoping to get there. The Royals’ 4×400 relay team of Marie Brashears, Hannah McDaniel, Kaylin Koopmans, and Hodges has broken several records en route to the upcoming CIF Southern Section Championships and their ultimate goal, the State Meet at Fresno.

Each of them has been successful in individual events. Brashears is the Santa Barbara County and Channel League champion in the 800-meter run, as is McDaniel in the 400—with Koopmans the runner-up both times—while Hodges is double champion in the 300 hurdles, county champ in the 100, and league champ in the 200. When they bring all that speed together in the relay, the baton gets a snappy four-lap ride around the track.

They set new meet records at the Santa Barbara Easter Relays (3:55:03) and the County Championships (3:56.36). They won last week’s Channel League title in 3:54.04, just off the season-best time of 3:53.94 they ran at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational.

Hodges ran a sizzling 56.7-second split in the league meet, and San Marcos Coach Marilyn Hantgin said she will move to the last leg in this weekend’s CIF Division 3 prelims. Earlier in the year, Hodges ran lead-off and customarily put the Royals far in front. “Now we’re going to see how Elysia can do running people down,” Hantgin said. “She was amazing in the league finals.”

After the prelims at Estancia High in Costa Mesa, the Royals hope to move on to the CIF Divisional Championships and the CIF Masters state qualifier at Cerritos College. “It’s definitely more nerve-racking knowing that a race could potentially be our last race,” Hodges said. The Royals are counting on each other to keep moving on. They want to improve enough to break 3:50.

“Elysia has the most drive of all of us,” McDaniel said. Hodges agrees she is highly motivated. “I guess I was born that way,” she said. “I get mad at myself. I do karate. That’s kind of competitive.” She has earned a black belt.

Shared humor helps the four girls deal with the pressure of high-level competition and expectation. “We’re goofy,” Brashears said. McDaniel is the biggest cut-up. “We’re crude and rude with each other,” she said.

“Hannah keeps things very relaxed,” Hodges said. “But even though she doesn’t want to admit it, she handles pressure very well.” McDaniel is an excellent high jumper, but she has focused more on running this year to help the team. “The 4×4 comes first for me,” she said. “There are three people depending on me. It’s a group effort.”

McDaniel (5’7½”) is the only one of the four who’s taller than 5’5”. “She’s got longer legs,” said Koopmans when the foursome tried to run together for a photo. “It’s a deformity,” said Brashears. They appear small next to some of their competitors. “At Arcadia, we saw a lot of long legs and big muscles,” Koopmans said.

The cheerful Koopmans is a junior, while her three teammates all are seniors bound for college—Hodges to Westmont, McDaniel to Cal Poly, and Brashears to UC Irvine.

They may see each other on the track wearing different colors in the future, but for the next few weeks, it’s royal blue. “We want to thank our coaches,” McDaniel said. “Coach Hantgin, and [sprint coach] Tony Garibay. He gets very emotional when we do well.”

Let the eyes fill with tears.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: The marquee matchup of the West Coast Pro Basketball League occurs Saturday, May 14, at 4 p.m. when the Santa Barbara Breakers (8-1) host the Nationwide All-Stars (9-0) at the SBCC Sports Pavilion. The All-Stars hail from Marina del Rey and undoubtedly have some players who put on a show at the Venice Beach courts. The Breakers recently fortified their roster with Moses Marbury, a 6’3” guard out of Rhode Island and brother of former NBA star Stephon Marbury. … UCSB’s chance for a late-season surge in the Big West baseball standings begins this weekend. UC Irvine, ranked No. 18 in the nation, visits Caesar Uyesaka Stadium for a three-game series (Fri. at 3pm; Sat. and Sun. at 1pm) against the Gauchos.

BANG-BANG-BANG PLAY: Something that’s happened only 15 times in major-league baseball history was accomplished on April 27 by Westmont College second-baseman Brandon Allen. The sophomore executed an unassisted triple play. Azusa Pacific tried a hit-and-run with runners on first and second. The batter hit a liner to Allen, who caught it, tagged the runner coming over from first, and stepped on the bag to retire the runner who had departed second.


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