HANOVERTON - The United girls 3200-meter relay team has been a work in progress.
Senior Emily Guappone, junior Allison Parks and sophomore Maggie Briceland returned to the squad that raced at the state track meet last year.
But the Eagles kept searching for someone to replace Ruth Prosko, who graduated.
"I think our biggest surprise all year is having a sprinter on our relay," Guappone said. "We were looking for somebody."
Senior sprinter Chloe Bortmas ran two races with the relay team and helped the Eagles post a school-record 9 minutes, 40.15 seconds to take third place at the Navarre Division III regional meet last week to earn a return trip to state.
"The main thing we were thinking about was replacing Ruth," Parks said. "Coach (Nancy) Miller worked her magic and Chloe worked her way into the relay. Never in a million years would have I expected Chloe."
Sprinters usually shy away from the 800 meters, but Bortmas took it on at Miller's urging.
"It was brought on me," Bortmas said. "I knew it was going to be a lot of work transitioning to the 800. It's a different mindset."
In the final home meet of the season, Bortmas ran the open 800 meters for the first time and finished in 2 minutes, 33 seconds.
"I actually realized I could do it," Bortmas said.
"My dad said (when the season started) he felt Chloe could be in the relay and I said no," Briceland said. "Then one day she was practicing with us. After she ran the 800, I thought we had something."
"She did such a good job on Senior Night in the 800," Miller said. "We had found the missing puzzle piece."
Bortmas went to state in 2011 as an alternate on the 1600-meter relay team.
"It gave me such a drive the past two years," she said. "Those three really needed to get back to state and Coach Miller knew I really wanted to go again."
"She is a senior," Briceland said. "You know she'll work hard and she wants to be there."
This is the fifth time in six years the United girls have advanced a relay team to state. At first the runners were excited just to be at state. Now they want to do more.
"There are expectations to be at state," Miller said. "Once you get past that expectation, it's time to move to the next step."
The Eagles are in a similar position as last year, coming in with the fourth-fastest regional time. But they try to not think about what happened there a year ago.
"I don't ask about it," Bortmas said.
"We actually try not to talk about it," Miller said.
After a rainstorm at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, the Eagles lined up for the first race of the state meet. Guappone slipped at the start and dropped to a knee.
"In my eyes, as a coach, it should have been a restart," Miller said. "When she went down on all fours, it should have been like the blocks moved."
The Eagles never recovered and finished a disappointing 12th.
"It's a bummer what happened," Parks said. "You take that in stride and get bettter from it. We can redeem ourselves."
"We're focusing on this year," Guappone said. "I know, being my senior year, I want to do my best."
It gave the Eagles more motivation to get back to state.
"They are not excuse makers," Miller said. "They are moving ahead.
"It's almost like being able to vindicate. And Emily wanting to be in that position instead of wanting to avoid it shows her guts and determination."
The Eagles will race in the state finals at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Columbus.
"All we want to do is our personal best," Guappone said. "As long as we do our best, it will be what it will be."
"The goal is just to do our best," Briceland said. "We want to run our best race and we'll see where that takes us."