Leaderfrom thefront

Tori Long is determined to produce a top-five finish in the final individual track event of her high school career, but she recognizes it will take the race of her life.

The Center Grove senior is seeded 10th in the 400-meter dash at Saturday’s IHSAA Girls Track and Field State Finals based on the school-record time of 57.88 seconds she ran in winning her specialty at last week’s Shelbyville Regional.

One lap. One mission.

For an athlete who has taken part in six events over her prep career — 100, 200, 400, 300 hurdles and the 400 and 1,600 relays — it all comes down to this.

Or, more accurately, to these.

Long also will help close the 42nd annual IHSAA meet by leading off Center Grove’s 15th-seeded 1,600-meter relay, which also includes, in order, sophomore Olivia Rassel, freshman Hayley Goines and junior anchor Lauren Rau.

In more ways than one, the others follow her.

“Tori is our leader. Far and away our best leader. I’ve told people before that if (Center Grove coaches) weren’t here, practice would go off without a hitch. It would go perfect. She takes care of everything. She motivates all the girls and keeps everything in line,” Trojans coach Wes Dodson said.

“Tori leads by example and by voice. It’s nice when you’re as good as she is because it’s like, ‘If I work that hard maybe I can be that good.’”

This marks Long’s second consecutive state finals. As a junior she placed 15th in the 300-meter hurdles in a time of 46.91 seconds and carried the baton first for the fourth-place 1,600 relay.

This season Trojans coaches figured Long could produce more points in the 400 (she couldn’t do both because they’re run so close together during the course of a meet), and she hasn’t lost a step.

“Tori started as a 300 hurdler, and it’s a super tough race. So when you bump over to the 400 you’re already used to running with everything you’ve got. You won’t find a person that runs the first 100 harder that doesn’t die along the stretch,” Dodson said.

“The thing about the 400 is a lot of kids like to try to save and then try to make a last-minute run in the last 100. But Tori goes out from the get-go and lays it all out. The great 400 runners can run great on the front and on the end, and she does both.”

Those few seconds of tranquility Long occasionally experiences during a race are her only pet peeve, although this probably won’t be an issue at the state finals.

“The hardest part is the fourth turn right before you come out of it onto the home stretch and right after you’ve come off the back stretch. That seems to be where it’s the quietest. There’s nobody there cheering you on, so you’ve really got to find that internal drive,” she said.

Self-motivation isn’t a problem for Long.

She recently graduated from Center Grove with a No. 13 class ranking out of 587 students thanks to a 4.44 grade-point average. Long will attend Davidson College (near Charlotte, North Carolina), where she’ll run track and major in neuroscience.

And at some point begin emerging as one of the Wildcats’ team leaders.

Count on it.

“I think someone who is a good leader is someone who does things not out of personal desires, but out of the betterment of the team. Where everything is just out of the passion for the team. Where they have everyone else’s best interest in mind as well as your own,” Long said.

The senior has put herself in position to experience the adrenalin rush of those final 100 meters not once but twice Saturday. Long expects to make the most of it.

“My favorite part is definitely the home stretch when everyone’s screaming like, ‘OK, I’m going for a school record,’ or ‘I’m going for a state time,’” Long said. “You’ve really got to dig deep.”

Tori Long pullout


Name: Tori Long

Age: 18

Born: Indianapolis

Family: Parents, Tad and Cathy; sisters, Abby, 20, and Olivia, 12

Favorite TV show: “I Love Lucy”

Favorite food: Tuna salad

Favorite movie: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Favorite athlete: Sonya Richards-Ross

Favorite team: Indianapolis Colts

If you go


What: IHSAA Girls State Track and Field Finals

Where: Indiana University, Robert C. Haugh Complex

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

Local qualifiers: 3,200 relay – Greenwood (Maddy Renfro, Allie Dalton, Kayla Rance, Taylor Neely); 100-meter dash – Olivia Rassel (Center Grove) and Hanna Anderson (Greenwood); 100-meter hurdles – Hayley Goines (Center Grove); 200-meter dash – Olivia Rassel (Center Grove); 400 relay – Center Grove (Allison Utterback, Olivia Rassel, Hayley Goines, Lauren Rau); 400-meter dash – Tori Long (Center Grove); 800-meter run – Taylor Hickey (Center Grove); 3,200 – Allie Dalton (Greenwood); 1,600 relay – Center Grove (Tori Long, Olivia Rassel, Hayley Goines, Lauren Rau); long jump – Haley Goines (Center Grove); discus – Kinsley Castro (Franklin).

Admission: $10

Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.