Lauren Ellsworth, back in late-February, was looking forward to the track and field season for one particular reason.
“I was super excited for track because of the Jones girls and the Ellsworth girls,” Ellsworth said.
The Jones girls, of course, are junior Dani and freshman Baylee from Desert Vista. Likewise, junior Lauren Ellsworth is teamed with freshman sister, Alena, this year at Highland.
Together, they are four of the state’s best middle- and long-distance runners and they will have a lot to say about their teams’ placing in this week’s Division I state meet, which gets started Wednesday and finishes up Saturday, at Mesa Community College.
One of the meet’s best races won’t take place on the track, per se.
Desert Vista and Highland should lock into a heated battle for second place - Chandler, with its depth and no glaring weakness, is the favorite - and how the Ellsworths and Joneses fare in head-to-head matchups in the 800 and 1,600 meters as well as in the 3,200-meter relay could be the determining factor in their team’s final standing.
“Placing is really important,” Baylee said. “One place could be the difference.”
Lauren, Dani and Baylee will run in the 800 and 1,600; Alena will join the mix in the 1,600 relay.
“It’s so fun to compete against them,” Lauren said of the Jones sister. “I think we’re friends. We’re good at competing during the race and then being friendly after.
“I wouldn’t call it a rivalry, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Dani has the best time in the state this year in the 800 (2:09.24), 1,600 (4:49.12) and the 3,200 (10:37.87). Lauren is nipping on her heels in all three events, with the No. 2 times in the 800 (2:10.47), 1,600 (4:53.43) and 3,200 (10:51.93) - though she won’t race in the 2-mile event at state.
Baylee holds the third best time in the 3,200 and fourth fastest time in the 800. Alena owns the second fastest time in the 400 (55.36) and is the anchor on the Hawks 1,600-meter relay team that has the best time in the state this year (3:54.06).
None of the girls faced each other this season. So Wednesday’s opening day of the state meet will be the first they’ve lined up against one another since Dani won the state cross country championship in October, just ahead of Baylee and Lauren (Alena does not compete in cross country).
“We’ll be looking at the Ellsworth sisters,” said Dani, who won state titles a year ago in the 800 (2:12.08) and 1,600 (4:51.17), but missed three weeks this spring with a stress fracture in her right tibia.
The two sets of sisters will get the best look at each other in the 3,200 relay. Coincidentally, they all said that is the event they’re looking forward to the most.
Their reasoning, though, had nothing to do with the competition but rather being able to compete with their sibling.
“That’s the most fun, for Baylee to lead us off with the first leg and then me to close,” Dani said.
Closing, in some form, is what is expected of each girl in her respective events if Desert Vista and Highland are to compete in the team standings. Those expectations, especially for the elder Lauren and Dani, can be heavy at times.
“I carry some weight for my team,” Dani said, “and I have to score points for my team for us to get where we want to be. It’s a huge weight. First place means a lot of points.”
Added Lauren, who will team with Alena in the 1,600 relay that the younger Ellsworth will anchor: “Me and my sister will play a large role in where we finish. We know that. I like the pressure and I know she can take it.”
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