Kara Barth has grown.
And as she’s grown, so, too, has the track team. Depending on the day of the week, the sprint team -- on which Barth has been a four-year fixture -- has up to 20 athletes going through tiresome regimens. As a freshman, under then first-year head coach Harry Clark, the sprint team consisted of seven girls. Four years and one national 1,600-meter relay championship later, Barth, as the lone senior sprinter, has grown plenty as an individual, too.
“She basically started this 400 program,” Clark said. “We went from not running a mile relay team to being one of the best. That’s what she did for her team.”
Barth is the heart and soul of the sprint team. She’s the liaison between Clark and his crew, and a leader in every phase of the team. Barth’s care of and leadership over each member of the team has caused Clark to dub her “Mother Hen.”
The descriptor fits.
“Everything goes through her,” Clark said. “Every day. Everybody looks up to her. She does everything the right way. Everything you’re supposed to do, she does. She backs it up.”
At practices, a gaggle of sprinters flurry around the track. Barth is either at the front of the drill or explaining the premise of the next workout. Where Barth goes, the group is right by her side, each pushing the other to run faster. Barth, who is given the month’s workouts from Clark, organizes the team, telling individuals where and when they need to be. Off the track, Barth coordinates barbecues and other bonding activities.
The mile relay is perhaps the best example of how Barth and the sprint program has grown.
During the indoor season, the 4x400 team consisted of Keeley Ehmann, Barth, Brianna Olson and Monica White. The team ran its best time, 3:48.42, but finished behind Southern University-New Orleans. A disqualification of SUNO gave the Saints their first ever 1600 relay championship, and looked like a precursor to another great opportunity in the outdoor season.
Olson elected to take the spring season off and focus on nursing school, a decision the rest of the team supported. That meant the Saints had to pluck another runner and rework its championship team on the track. Sophomore sprinter Hannah Porch filled the void, thanks in part to Barth’s leadership.
“Kara is definitely the mother hen,” Porch said. “She’s been awesome for us because she’s a role model. Coming in, you don’t really know what to expect, you don’t know how hard to push. She shows us what we need to be doing.”
With Porch’s addition, the 4x400 had its breakout performance at the Montana Open on the last weekend of April. The crew ran a 3:47.54, the fastest time of the season.
Porch, Ehmann and White are roommates and have a tight-knit bond. Porch says her best friends are her teammates. That, along with Barth’s guidance, have helped Porch, a standout 100 and 200 runner, transition into becoming a solid cog on the relay team.
“I was trying to encourage and really help her understand the race,” Barth said. “She hadn’t done it since high school. Mostly it’s trying to help her understand the strategy of the race.”
Porch said of Barth: “We all appreciate her so much. Because of how much she’s shown us, I think we’ll be able to step into the leadership roles next year.”
Barth said the leadership role had been thrust upon her as seniors graduated and she became the lone senior sprinter. Barth, of course, welcomed the role and, in many ways, has been a leader since her first day at Carroll.
“Track was kind of something that has always been an important thing for me,” Barth said.
In eighth grade, Barth recalls, she first discovered her skill on the track. At first just an activity to engage with friends, track became her passion.
“I ended up being good at it,” Barth said. “It just kind of happened. Track people are really my favorite people.”
The McCall, Idaho, native may not have come to Carroll had it not been for a high school English project. Barth researched Carroll College and its new track team, then gave a presentation to her class. Barth took a visit her junior year and liked everything Carroll had to offer.
She’s been to the holy land of track and field, running on the hallowed ground of Historic Hayward Field, in Tracktown, USA: Eugene, Oregon. The Saints have traveled to the Oregon Relays twice, and the meet allowed Barth to run alongside athletes from the University of Oregon, and other major universities.
“It was kind of scary just because we don’t get to go to big meets like that often,” Barth said. “It was exciting. I ran my fastest race there. That’s something we always get to push us here. It’s fun. It’s historic. It’s an important place to run.”
Now, in her final outdoor season, Barth is qualified for nationals in the 400 and as part of the 1,600 relay team. She’ll have one more crack at leaving an even more impressive legacy at Carroll College. Barth, in her last few weeks with the team, has not fully reflected on her last season yet.
“I’d say… probably just being able to have fun and have a positive outlook,” she said of being a part of the track team. “It’s really hard thinking about practices all day and how much they’re going to suck. They are really hard. They hurt really bad. It’s having a good attitude about it and helping teammates approach it. You all struggle through it.”
“I would just say that as much as school is stressful and as much as practice sucked sometimes, the team has been really awesome. Even though Carroll is a small school, having the track team across all groups is a nice sense of community and I think that helps people a lot. It makes it more fun. I look forward to practice every day.”