Elma High School track and field coach Bryan Schneider can hear the murmurs directly behind him.
A group of Eisenhower athletes are voicing their thoughts on the final stage of the co-ed sprint medley relay at the Rainier Icebreaker. The Cadets from Yakima currently enjoy a comfortable lead in the race, but Cody Vollan, the Eagles’ top 400-meter sprinter, is blistering through the opening quarter of his leg, quickly reeling in his competition.
The Eisenhower collective all agree Vollan is exceptionally fast, but question his tactics. The sprint medley relay consists of two 100-meter legs and a 200-meter leg before closing out with the 400, a grueling distance which punishes runners who go out too fast and have nothing left in the tank at the end.
The students behind Schneider all believe this will be the case with Vollan.
“I could hear them saying, ‘He’s going too fast. He’ll never keep up that pace,’” Schneider said. “I just smiled when I heard that. They don’t know Cody.”
In the spectators’ defense they weren’t wrong. Vollan didn’t keep up that pace throughout the entire race. He actually got faster, flying past the leaders to give Elma what turned out to be a lopsided triumph in the event.
As if that wasn’t enough to prove just how good Vollan is at the distance two hours later he won the 400 as an individual, stopping the clock in 51.47 seconds. No other runner got within 2 seconds of the Elma junior.
Later at the meet, he anchored the Eagles’ winning boys’ 4×400 relay team, which covered the distance in 3:36.28 – the second fastest time this season among 1A schools.
All these times came just five days after Vollan opened the season by winning the 400 at the Montesano Jamboree in a lightning-quick personal record time of 50.84. No one, regardless of classification, has posted a faster time so far in the state this year.
“I’ve never had anyone start a season like that before. I went home and said, ‘Did that really happen?’” Schneider said. “He did 50.8 in the cold at a jamboree. We’ve been blasting their legs right now. It just doesn’t even make sense. It’s crazy to think what he’s going to do later in the season.”
Schneider, however, wasn’t the only one caught off guard by the strong early season running time. He was joined by Vollan.
“It really surprised me. When Schneider told me the time, I thought he was kidding, but there were three guys who clocked me at that time,” Vollan said. “I’m super excited for this. I was expecting to get down into the low 50s towards the end of the year. I didn’t know how fast I could run. Now I’m hoping to get into the 49s or maybe even the 48s by the end of the season.”
Vollan was first introduced to the 400 by Schneider as a seventh grader. He won the first time he tried the distance and has been hooked ever since.
“I think it’s the hardest race there is,” Vollan said. “I know I have to give it everything I have when I run it.”
As a freshman, Vollan advanced to the 1A state championships in the event, placing 12th overall. A return trip to state the following year failed to transpire after he placed fourth at the 1A District IV championships, finishing one place shy of securing his second state appearance in the 400.
“Last year he put a lot of pressure on himself,” Schneider said. “The whole year he didn’t run for him. He wasn’t having fun. He wasn’t smiling. We had a talk before this season and I told him he needed to just run and smile and enjoy it. No pressure. Now, he’s just running and having fun and being Cody, and that’s going to work.”
The early season results have certainly proven Schneider’s assessment was right.
According to Vollan, he was spending far too much time trying to come up with a strategy on how to run as a sophomore, dissecting and overanalyzing every aspect of it instead of just pinning his ears back, running fast and turning left.
“This year I’m just going all out,” Vollan said. “Honestly, my sophomore year I don’t know what happened, but it was a real kick in the butt to get me going. Not making it to state motivated me. I’ve been hitting the weight room a lot, trying to get bigger and faster.”
The hard work is clearly paying off as Vollan has since put on 20 pounds of muscle while increasing his speed.
“He’s worked incredibly hard for this season. He wants to be successful,” Schneider said. “He’s one of those guys at the meet where people are going to say, ‘Did you see that?’ He’s the blueprint of an athlete and has the mentality of what you need to do to be successful.”