The Dream Relay. Lived, trained, and raced to perfection.
The 2014 Central Bucks South girls 4x800 meter relay made Pennsylvania history on Saturday, May 24th when they claimed the all-time Pennsylvania best clocking in the event in 8:51.49.
The previous record had lasted a mere three years, when the ‘Four Anchors’ of West Chester Henderson ran 8:55.43 to beat the previous record held by the Kim Gallagher-anchored Upper Dublin team. That record of 8:58.43 had stood for 29 years… the whole way back to 1982.
The record was not their goal. Nor would they have achieved it without incredible competition from Strath Haven and Great Valley… and coaching, self-discipline and a havagoodtime attitude the entire way.
Their real goal?
The performance by seniors Kaitlin Poiesz and Alexa Kwapinski, and junior twins Amber and Brianna Stratz was absolutely necessary if they were to achieve their ONLY goal of the year of winning the AAA state title.
Simply put, if they don’t break the record, they don’t win. Including CB South, three PA teams in the race actually broke the original 1982 record, and two also broke the 2011 Henderson record.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Central Bucks South 8:51.49. Strath Haven 8:55.39. Great Valley 8:56.82.
For the season, and INCLUDING New Balance Outdoor Nationals which was held three weeks after the PIAA State Championships, that leaves these three very special teams US#2, #4 and #6. Only the 2:02 anchored Columbia NJ 8:45.37 from the Penn Relays was faster this year.
Columbia is now US#2 all time, while Central Bucks South is US#10 all time!
But CB South girls’ distance coach Paul Poiesz knows they would not have achieved such incredible indoor and outdoor seasons without competition.
Outdoor champs runner-up Strath Haven has been a power in the event for years - especially the past four. And Great Valley has been just as successful. Haven was runner-up to Henderson in 2011, runner-up to Downingtown East in 2012, and 4th in 2013. Great Valley was 6th in 2012 and runner-up to Palmyra in 2013. Over the same span, CB South was 7th, 5th and 5th before this year’s breakthrough record.
And that is where Coach Poiesz has nothing but thanks to his team’s closest competitors these past few years.
“Kudos to Strath Haven and Great Valley. Without their presence and talent, who knows if a record happens. I have always respected the job that Paul Hadzor does. We have become pretty tight over the years (decades). He had nothing but a smile and hug for me after the race. Yes, you have to feel for the Haven girls. They are great kids with great coaching as well. You can always reverse things and also ask if those two would have run as fast without South there all year long. Everyone had to step up their games and expectations in order to keep up with each other. It was one heck of a race, one heck of a year!
And it’s that year - which for a 4x800 includes both indoor and outdoor - that should be the main focus.
Through those four amazing years at CB South there has been a common thread on the track - Kaitlin and Alexa. And success has been in their DNA from freshman year. In fact, the ONLY state championship - indoor or outdoor that the duo was not on the medal stand was in 2011 indoor, their first as freshmen.
The Kaitlin-Alexa Legacy: CLICK HERE FOR A LOOK AT THE EIGHT CB SOUTH RELAYS AND WHO WAS ON THEM DURING THOSE FOUR YEARS.
Editor’s note: Coach Paul Poiesz was kind enough to share a lot of their training plans and concepts with PennTrackXC.com. Coach Poiesz worked closely with former CB South boy’s head coach Mike Cox on the training development and execution. Coach Cox was the architect behind the other state record that a CB South team currently holds - the boy’s 4x800 of 7:33.48 from the PIAA State Champs in 2009. Coincidentally, another Poiesz - Matt, to be specific - was on that relay. PennTrackXC’s Phil Grove - a regular contributor to our site, and a distance coach himself - is preparing that story.
But this story is about four friends. Dedicated runners. Fellow-sufferers. And fearless, big dream-fulfillers. Kaitlin Poiesz, Amber Stratz, Alexa Kwapinski, and Brianna Stratz.
In the first of five parts, the story of how they each came to be a member of this record-setting relay.
Getting started, and how they came to be on the 4x800.
Kaitlin and Alexa are the common thread throughout the four year history.
Kaitlin is active, to say the least. She has tried it all. Field hockey. Soccer. Gymnastics. Volleyball. And thanks to encouragement from her brother and sister in 4th grade at her local parish - track.
Track shared time with the other sports through 8th grade… but the love of running didn’t pull her to the cross country course at first. She played field hockey in 9th and 10th grade, but joined the indoor track team at South as a freshman.
“I miss field hockey and soccer a bit, but track has been a great ride.”
The start of 11th grade saw Kaitlin up her distance training and comradary by joining the cross country team. It is an experience that anyone who has been on a XC team will tell you is all true.
“You become family. Travel. Day-long meets. You become close.”
While running was fun, Kaitlin really wanted company on her longer training runs.
What better recruiting platform than the soccer team, and fellow crossbar expert Alexa Kwapinski.
“Yes, Kaitlin is the reason I started track. We wanted to get into shape and Kaitlin did not want to do it by herself. So I was doing it just to get into shape.”
But sharing training turned into a gig on the indoor and outdoor track teams. The indoor 4x800 state championship ended in an 11th place finish… but Alexa was hooked on the sport and the great friendship of her great training partner. They trained even harder for outdoor, and ended up getting 7th place and a medal in the same race when Henderson set the record.
“I didn’t realize how big a deal it was, but I was thrilled with 7th,” Alexa says. “And Kaitlin helped me get there. I shared every experience with her.”
The twins were sprinters. That’s how they viewed themselves, and that’s what they raced from 4th grade on in Northeast Philly, and even after moving to Warrington in 6th grade.
“I always liked racing in the back yard,” Amber said. It was short and sweet.
Brianna was into cheering, soccer and also joined her sister in CYO track in Philly.
The girls were a part of a very fast 4x100 that qualified for and raced in the CYO event at the Penn Relays in 5th grade.
The next year after moving, they actually won the Penn Relays CYO 4x100.
And by 8th grade, they set a CYO State Record in the 4x200.
Thanks in large part to the CYO/Penn Relays experiences, the girls were hooked on track.
But make no mistake, they were sprinters.
But with the quick 100’s and 200’s, coaches took notice their freshman year and bumped them up to the 400.
They trained. Weren’t exactly thrilled with the ’distance’ of the event, but adjusted quickly.
They were thrown into an open 400 at an away dual meet against Central Bucks West, and that race opened everyone’s eyes.
Amber popped a ’62 or 63’, and Brianna punched in at a 61.
“We were among the best on the team,” says Brianna.
The girls were good. Helping CB South earn a 6th place medal in Shippensburg in the 4x400.
Amber and Brianna had hints that they were attracting the attention of teammates and coaches who saw (knew) of their potential for the 800.
Amber had been told after the dual meet 62 split that “you guys are gonna do 800’s next year.”
The way Brianna remembers it, she was told that “two girls were leaving” from the 2012 4x800, and “we need two more people. You’re running the 800.”
But it was Coach Poiesz who was a bit more direct. He simply stated to Girls’ Head Coach Rachel Beck… “They are distance runners. I am taking them.”
By 2013, Brianna would join the indoor 4x800 with Kaitlin, Alexa and Jenn Horner, who would graduate in 2013. By Penn Relays, Amber had joined the crew, and the pieces were in place for their incredible 2014 run.
Both girls found the transition to the 800 a challenge, but eventually adapted quite well (obviously).
“Last year it was rough, but at the end of the year I kinda got used to it,” shared Amber.
When Brianna first started racing the 800, she said it was tough to figure out. And the training was a challenge as well. But by indoor states when they would finish 7th, she split a 2:18.
“I figured it out.”
The Kaitlin-Alexa Legacy
Freshman Indoor: 11th place
Freshman Spring: 7th
Sophomore Indoor: 5th
Sophomore Outdoor: 5th
Also in 2012, The 4x400 was:
Junior Indoor: 7th
Junior Outdoor: 5th
Senior Indoor: 3rd
Senior Outdoor: 1st