For the second straight year, the Martins Ferry Purple Riders' indoor track team is heading to the 'Big Apple.'
The Purple Riders' boys and girls' 4x200 relay teams have qualified to take part in the New Balance Indoor National at the famed Armory in New York City this weekend.
The boys' team of senior Brian Styles, junior Jack Fitch, junior Hunter Hill and junior Andrew Watts will run in the championship division thanks to the 1:30.93 the same foursome ran in the regional meet during the 2013 outdoor season.
PICTURED ARE members of the Martins Ferry indoor track team that will be competing at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York City next weekend. In front, from left, are Nikki Allen and Destiny Davis. Back row, from left, are Jack Fitch, Brian Styles, Hunter Hill and Andrew Watts.
To get the opportunity to compete in the national indoor meet, a mark can be accepted from one posted during the current indoor season or the previous outdoor campaign.
"We really think we can be in the top eight or 10 range," Materkoski said. "The top eight earn all-American, but we would probably need to get down to around 1:30 or so."
The Riders have been running exceptionally well this winter as they've basically focused on the relay during their several indoor competitions.
"The first indoor meet we ran (this winter), we ran about the same time that we ran in last year's indoor state meet, so we were about four seconds ahead of where we were a year ago," Materkoski said.
The biggest reason for the drop in time has been, quite simply, maturity.
"When you go from your sophomore to your junior year, it's a big jump (physically)," Materkoski said. "Brian is a lot stronger and the other guys have probably put on 10 to 15 pounds of muscle."
The Riders' foursome, which qualified to the state meet last spring despite having nary a senior and three sophomores on the team, got a taste of big-meet competition this past weekend in the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Indoor State Championship at the University of Akron.
"These guys got to the state meet as young pups and they've come back even more determined," Materkoski said. "The exposure to really good competition is great for these guys. See teams from across the nation, running the best times is a great experience."
While the indoor competition is great, Materkoski makes sure the ultimate focus lies on what's ahead during the upcoming outdoor season, which starts in less than three weeks.
"We're really not training because we don't want to run really fast times now," Materkoski said. "We want to peak and see time drops in May for the OVAC, district and beyond. Being able to (race) against this type of competition from January to March is just icing on the cake for helping these kids down the road."
The Lady Riders' quartet of Talyr Jenkins, Sarah Applegarth, Ashley Griffith and Destiny Davis will compete in the 4x2 as well, but in the "emerging elite" division.
Three of the four competed in the New Balance Indoor Nationals last year with Davis being the new kid on the block. The Lady Riders earned a spot based on the 1:47.03 that they posted en route to a seventh-place finish in the Division III state meet last June.
"The Emerging Elite is set up for the teams that right on the cusp," Materkoski said. "The girls have been hurt somewhat by the weather this winter. We're excited they've got the opportunity to compete again."
The Riders depart for Manahattan on Thursday.