By Conor Walsh
---- — The longtime success that’s followed the Gloucester track program over the years is no secret to anyone familiar with the area’s sports history.
In a program steeped in that much history, any record-book change is, well, a big deal.
To talk to Gloucester track coach Jeff Destino, though, this month’s school-record-breaking 4x400 relay performance by Calvin Kipruto, Everest Crawford, Jacob Holscher and Matt Carpenter hardly seemed out of the ordinary.
Not because of a lack of accomplishment, but more because that group is simply that good.
It all came together for the group on May 1 in a neck-and-neck meet with Swampscott. With the Fishermen needing a win in the 4x400 to capture the meet, the four runners secured the team’s win while cementing their legacy within the program’s annals with a dominant time of 3:32.6, breaking the previous record set in 2010.
“Gloucester track’s focus forever has been on distance,” Destino said. “It still is, but we’ve changed things a little bit. We had a couple of distance guys on there and a couple of sprinters, and we knew that those four guys were a special group and to be able to put them in a 4x400 situation and to see them break the record isn’t really a surprise.
“It’s just a combination of talent and working hard. The guys are clearly talented to be able to run that time and the meet was on the line, so they knew that it was important to win it.”
Crawford, who said he usually doesn’t run first, opened the race for the Fishermen. The group knew that Swampscott was sending its best runner out first in an attempt to establish an early lead and Crawford sought to ensure the Fishermen didn’t fall behind.
They didn’t. Crawford hung right with his Big Blue opponent and put Gloucester in good shape when he handed the baton to Carpenter who, according to Destino, “absolutely killed his leg. He ran a (personal record), he ran 51 seconds which is very, very fast.”
“It was exciting,” Crawford said. “I don’t usually lead off but I asked to on that day just because I was kind of worried about the meet coming down to the relay. I knew I just had to give the baton to Matt with the race as close as possible and I think I did a good job of that, and he took the lead within the next 150 (meters).
“It was exciting watching the guys going all out and splitting fast times the whole way.”
After Carpenter’s impressive leg, Holscher and Kipruto — the school’s record-holder in the individual 400 -- merely had to hold onto the lead to secure the team’s victory.
Instead, they extended it, and by the time Kipruto finished the fourth and final leg, Gloucester had a new entry into its record books.
“We had a good lead and I just finished it, that’s all,” Kipruto said. “It’s pretty cool. I never thought we would break their record. I didn’t actually find out we did until the next day.”
The win put that foursome ahead of the 2010 4x400 team of Kevin Hurd, Kyle Hurd, Andrew Ryan and Paul Sutherland, which set the prior record at the 2010 Northeastern Conference meet.
That group’s reputation had followed it since its departure from the high school, reaching all the way down to the members of this year’s record-breaking squad, which makes the accomplishment all the more exciting for them
“I know the guys that ran the school record before,” Crawford said. “I’ve run with them before and I know that they’re some of the best runners to go through the high school and the conference, so it’s a big deal, and especially in that setting and winning a meet with it, it was pretty cool.”
The record-setting performance was, in many ways, the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work for the runners, who entered the spring in terrific shape after, for many of them, running both cross-country and indoor track.
Their rounding into form also couldn’t come at a better time for the Fishermen, who enter the biggest stretch of their season Saturday. After finishing second to Marblehead in the NEC in the regular season, they’ll look to put together a strong performance in Saturday’s NEC meet.
From there, it’s on to the state meet next Saturday, followed by the all-state meet — which combines performers from all divisions — the following Saturday.
And with the expected representation from Gloucester at the state meet and, the Fishermen hope, beyond, it’s clear that the program’s reputation hasn’t lost any of its luster.
“A lot of these guys have qualified for states, especially the distance guys who have done cross-country and indoor track, so they’re in incredible shape,” Destino said. “They’ve done a lot of work, it’s taken them since September to get where they are. And we’ve got over 20 kids who qualified for states, which is really impressive.”