The Ironwood Ridge girls 1,600-meter relay team - clockwise from upper left, Hailey Sawchuk, Melanie Zibrat, Kennedy Kurtz and Victoria Cooper - set a school record in winning the state title last year.


Ironwood Ridge's 1,600-meter relay team won the Division II state title last year in 3 minutes 58.20 seconds, setting a school record.

With all four members back, the Nighthawks are ready to repeat and do more at this year's state meet, which begins May 8.

"Last year we came out and knew we had a good chance to win," junior Kennedy Kurtz said. "This year we have more drive, now that we're going for back-to-back. Practices have become very competitive."

While they expect to break their own record at some point this season, they're each also looking to break through in other events. The four have competed in nine of 11 events this season, including the 400 relay.

The Star recently sat down with the four Nighthawks to find out more:

1. Hailey Sawchuk

• Fast facts: Sawchuk, a sophomore, is no stranger to teamwork and tough competition. She has played varsity soccer alongside baton-mate Victoria Cooper since their freshman year.

• First-leg strategy: "Running first, I definitely want to give my team a lead," Sawchuk said. "I don't try to focus too much on the other teams; I just try to do my best."

• Other events: Sawchuk has taken a liking to the 400; she set her personal best of 57.79 seconds less than two weeks ago.

2. Victoria Cooper

• Fast facts: The sophomore has her sights set on a season similar to the one her sister Lauren Cooper had in 2010, winning state in the 1,600 and 3,200 and setting both school records.

• Second-leg strategy: "I like that there's enough room (in a 400) if you mess up to pick it back up on the last straight," Cooper said. "Once we turn the corner, I tend to kick it."

• Other events: Cooper had some early success as a freshman in the 100 but has since shifted her focus toward the 200 and 400 and is within a second of her times from last year.

3. Kennedy Kurtz

• Fast facts: When the junior is not on the track, she can be found on the court. Kurtz played the second-most sets for the I-Ridge volleyball team that made the state semifinals last season.

• Third-leg strategy: "I try to extend the lead that both Hailey and Vicki have given us," Kurtz said. "Last year we were mostly in the lead. This year our competition should be better, and my job might be to get us ahead or at least give Melanie a chance."

• Other events: Kurtz placed fifth and sixth at state in the 100 and 300 hurdles, respectively, a year ago. "It's a way for me to score points for our team," she said. "It gives us a chance to win state."

4. Melanie Zibrat

• Fast facts: The relay team's lone senior has evolved into one of the top runners in Southern Arizona, adding a third-place finish in the 800 last year to go with the relay win.

• Fourth-leg strategy: The sprinter-turned-distance-runner has the versatile skill set needed to be an anchor. "If they are on my back I just try to keep a hard pace, if they're in front of me I just keep my eye on them and push as hard as I can to catch up," she said.

• Other events: Zibrat runs all three relays as the only member of the squad to do so. She won the 800 at the Willie Williams Classic last month and anchored the 3,200 relay team to a victory.

"This year," she said, "I'm really trying to go for it."