The faces sometimes changed.
The dominance never did.
For a three-year stretch at the start of the new millennium, the Central DeWitt girls track program could claim to have one of the state’s best stables of sprinters.
They certainly had enough gold to back it up.
The Sabers became the first 2A team in Iowa history to win the 4x200 relay at three consecutive state meets — 2000, 2001 and 2002 — and added a 4x100 relay championship in 2001 for good measure.
All four quartets are set to garner a final honor — induction into the Central DeWitt Hall of Fame.
The pieces for a record-breaking run were there when Tim Ryan took over as head coach in 2000.
The Sabers’ 4x100 team had finished fourth at state the year before and returned three members of that foursome — senior Adria Sheil-Brown, junior Jen Brown and sophomore Audra Bark.
Fellow sophomore Kate Novak, meanwhile, had ended her freshman season by competing at state in the 200-meter dash.
Despite that relay team accounting for all of the Sabers scoring at the 1999 state meet, Ryan set a top-10 state finish as a goal in 2000 and made a smart prediction:
“Our 4x100 and 4x200 relays could be outstanding teams,” he said before the season.
The 4x100 and 4x200 teams both set meet records at Clinton and the 4x200 squad’s time of 1:47.4 at the Tigerette Relays in Tipton was, at the time, the second-fastest clocking in the entire state.
That same 4x200 quartet of Bark, Sheil-Brown, Brown and Novak set another meet record at the Saber’s home Pam Duncan Relay, and Central won the first in a line of Big Bend Conference titles, thanks in part, to a sweep of the 4x100 and 4x200.
The Sabers saved their best performances for Des Moines.
Together, the 4x200 team of Sheil-Brown, Brown, Novak and Bark shattered the previous school record in the preliminaries — clocking in at 1:44.27, still the second-fastest time in program history — and were equally dominant in the finals, topping the field by nearly two seconds.
Despite admitting he was too excited about the victory to get splits, Ryan was not entirely surprised by the result.
“If you look at it,” he said at the time, “our No. 1 sprinter is better than anybody else’s and our No. 2 is better than anybody’s No. 2 and our three and four are better than anybody’s three and four runners.”
With three of its four runners back, the Sabers had high hopes for 2001, but did need to replace Sheil-Brown.
Fortunately, the team had plenty of options, including junior Ashley Baxter, who had teamed with Novak and two other Sabers on Central’s 4x100 team that had finished seventh at state the previous spring.
With Baxter joining the returning trio, the Sabers made noise — most of it in the 4x100.
The quartet broke the 18-year-old school record in the event, clocking in at 49.83 to finish third at the Drake Relays.
A couple weeks later, the Sabers set the Big Bend record in the 4x100.
That proved to be just the precursor to an even bigger state meet.
First, the 4x200 team of Baxter, Brown, Novak and Bark successfully defended their 2A title — they were just the fourth 2A team to win back-to-back titles in the event — and in record-breaking fashion, too.
The quartet’s winning clocking of 1:43.95 is not only still the program’s record in the race, but was also, at the time, the third-fastest time in 2A state history.
Not to be outdone, the same four Sabers clinched the 4x100 title as well, running 50.17 in the prelims and then 50.14 in the finals.
With two titles to their name and three members again set to return, the Sabers headed into 2002 as the odds-on favorite in the 4x200.
That did not mean there was no share of drama.
In particular, a difficult handoff between freshman newcomer Quinn Hanrahan and Novak during the 4x200 state prelims put the Sabers perilously close to being outside of the exchange zone.
Central, though, not only survived the close call, it also ran the fastest 2A qualifying time of the day — 1:46.69.
The next time on the track, without the drama, the Sabers — Hanrahan, Novak, Baxter and Bark — cut more than a second from their qualifying time, they finished in 1:45.42, to become the first-ever 2A team to win the event three years in a row.
It was one of three titles that weekend for the Sabers, who won the 2A team title. Bark and Novak, who had a hand in all four relay titles, both played key roles in the victory.
Bark swept the 100- and 200-meter dashes to wrap up her career with nine state titles, while Novak ran a leg on the Central 4x100 team that clinched the team championship with its fourth-place finish.