Atholton relay

Atholton's 4x800 girls relay team pose together after winning a regional title Thursday with a county-record time of 9:31.21. (Photo submitted by Susan Markovitz / May 17, 2013)

Atholton coach Ivan Alvardado planted the seed pretty early on this spring. In his eyes, the Raiders’ newly formed girls 4x800 relay squad had unlimited potential, and he made sure the quartet of Natalie Alper, Jen Bleakney, Jill Greenwald and Rebekah Markovitz knew it.

“He was confident in us, really supportive and did everything he could to push us to keep getting better,” said Bleakney, a sophomore. “He put it in our minds right away that we were capable of breaking records.”

On Thursday at the 3A East regional championships, Atholton’s relay team turned potential into reality.

With a time of 9:31.21 in the 4x800, the Raiders not only shattered the school record but also edged out Mt. Hebron’s 2012 squad (9:31.86) for the top all-time Howard County mark.

“I think we all were confident that we could come close … we kind of figured out what each person had to do before the race and it was exciting to see that as the race went on each person was hitting their times,” said Alper, who is the squad’s lone senior. “It was such an exciting moment for all of us when Jen crossed the line.

“To be able to leave a mark on Atholton, and to be able to do it as a part of a team, is pretty unbelievable.”

While the regional championship would traditionally mean the team would get another chance to excel in next week’s state championship meet at Morgan State, such is not the case for this particular Raiders’ group.

With Atholton’s graduation scheduled for the exact same time as the 4x800 at states next Friday, May 24, Alper was forced to choose between the two events. And, after some serious contemplation, she made the decision to attend graduation.

“I talked to a lot of people, a lot of adults, and they helped me realize that I can already look back at the 4x800 and have great memories. Now I can get the chance to have those same memories about graduation,” Alper said.

Alper says her teammates were supportive.

“We all understand Natalie’s position … we all have other things in our lives too that are important,” said Bleakney, who is going to miss the second day of regionals and a chance to qualify for states individually in the 1,600 on Saturday because of a national field hockey tournament.

Bleakney said the fact that there was no tomorrow just meant that they had to make sure regionals was extra special.

“We knew going in this was going to be our last race together … we wanted to go out with a bang,” she said.

The team ended up breaking its previous personal best time by almost seven seconds. Markovitz, a sophomore, got things started, followed by Alper and Greenwald, a junior. Then Bleakney brought it home as the anchor leg.

Second-place Reservoir finished more than 20 seconds off the pace.

The regional championships will finish up on Saturday at Reservoir High School for both the 3A East and 2A South regions. All of the county’s public schools will be in attendance.