AUSTINTOWN - The West Branch girls track team had a lot of faith on Saturday.
After waiting all day to showcase its skills at the Austintown Division II regional meet, the quartet of seniors Erin and Rachel Carver, sophomore Haley Davis and freshman Calista Waters looked to race fast enough to make the top four in order to qualify for next week's Division II state meet.
The four got the job done in the 1600 relay Saturday with a fourth-place time of 4 minutes, 0.89 seconds and have now added a trip to Columbus to their plans.
"We all didn't run anything else because we knew this is what we had to focus on," Waters said.
It was the best time in the area since West Branch's 2007 state runner-up squad.
Struggling early, the team picked up the pace after Rachel Carver's handoff to Erin Carver, and Waters continued to chug out after Davis passed the baton to her, and the freshman knew she had to make an impression as she crossed the line for the fourth-place finish.
"This race is known well throughout West Branch," Waters said. "I just knew going in I had to speed it up, and coming in the home stretch I had to keep running."
Erin Carver noted that while she is looking forward to her fourth and final state appeareance, it was even better to see her twin, Rachel, and Waters earn their first state experiences.
"I'm a senior and I wanted to be able to go in my last year," Erin Carver said. "I wanted our freshman to go because she might not be able to go down the road."
"It is exciting to be able to make it," Rachel Carver said. "I served as an alternate last year, so being able to get a spot for myself was great."
The last girls race of the day, the team had ample time to prepare and train, and looked forward to the race ... up until race time.
"I wasn't really nervous until we had to line up for the race," Erin Carver said. "Then the nerves started kicking in because we didn't know how we were going to place."
Perhaps West Branch coach Nate Heddleston was more nervous in the days leading up to the race, but also knew what he was thinking.
"I wasn't so much worried today as I was yesterday," Heddleston said. "What we talked about is 'Spoiler alert, here's exactly what's going to happen. Here's the time you're going to run, and here's what you're going to place at this time, and they performed just like I had thought it was going to run."
The girls also felt confidence from another level. Heddleston and the four girls wore crosses on their biceps.
While Erin Carver mentioned they were for good luck, Heddleston - who said he also wore a cross on his leg during his track years at Beaver Local - provided another significance for the decoration.
"Haley and I both go to church together," Heddleston said. "One of the sermons from our pastor who we dearly love, Pastor John Rizer of Damascus Friends Church, talked about using your job or sport as a thermostat, not a thermometer. Haley was sitting behind me in a row last year, and I told her 'We're going to use your talent as a way to minister to people'."
Now as the girls look to state, the training continues for a shot at state success.
"I'm just looking forward to (setting a personal record again and winning," Erin said.
The top four in each event advance to the state track meet will take place Friday and Saturday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.
Davis finished fifth in the 1600 run (5:21.86). Davis and Waters did not run the 800 meters to focus on the 1600 relay.
West Branch's 2007 state runner-up 1600 relay team of Emilee Zets, Laura Scott, Taylor Kring and Kelly Morckel ran a school-record 3:54.90 in the state finals.