MASON CITY — When Sam Papouchis first began with the Mason City girls track and field team as a freshman four years ago, her coach Jim Lee said he honestly never thought of her as becoming one of the top sprinters to come through the program. She was primarily a high jumper, after all.

But, lo and behold, here she is, a senior, and that’s exactly what she’s become.

Papouchis ran a lifetime best 12.66 seconds in the 100-meter dash Thursday in a meet at Fort Dodge to put her tentatively in the Drake Relays and also give her the third-fastest 100 time in program history.

“She ran 13.5 (early on) and it wasn’t spectacular, but I never envisioned her running 12.6,” Lee said. “But I’m glad she did, that’s for sure.”

Throughout the spring, Papouchis and her coach had to watch as her 100 times fluctuated all over the state leaderboard.

She churned out a 12.83 in a meet at Waukee and Lee thought it would be close to getting her into the Drake Relays, but times around the state kept dropping.

Then came Thursday, the final day to put forth qualifying times — one last chance for Papouchis to get inside the top 32.

“I was actually more nervous about how I started because that’s what really matters to me — how I start and get out of the blocks and how I build up,” she said. “Coach tells me how to really drive through the first 30 meters so it was really nice having him there to support me.

“It was really nerve-wracking, though. I was like, ‘This is it. I’ve got to get it done with right now.’”

Then came the 12.66, which put her 27th in the state and, as of now, into the Drake Relays – the official qualifiers and start times will be posted Saturday afternoon.

“As a coach when you have a kid who’s that special, you want the best for her,” Lee said. “When I saw (Friday) that she was unofficially in, I was ecstatic for her. She’s worked so hard for four years to reach that goal and she made it.”

Papouchis has been one of the steadiest runners for the Mohawks over the past four years, contributing on numerous relays, including two state-qualifying teams in her sophomore year and two last year. It wasn’t until last season where the individual success started to come as she qualified for state in the 100.

It was there where she ran a personal-best 12.82 to finish 17th in Class 4A and made her believe she could compete among the state’s top sprinters. With her continued improvement this season, the thing she’s most proud of, though, is her relays.

“I love being on a relay team because I have them to support me and it’s not just me,” Papouchis said. “If I do something wrong, it’s all me. But with them around, they always support me in everything I do, I support them and its fun.”

Before Thursday, Papouchis, along with freshmen teammates Odeleine Daugherty, Erika Mariner and Peytan Runge, were already pretty much locked into the Drake Relays in the 4x100 with the 47th-fastest time at 51.83 — the top 80 qualify.

Papouchis also runs on the Mohawks’ sprint medley and 4x200 teams and serves as the veteran leader in anything she does.

“A lot of them are very young and they’re really good,” Papouchis said of her relay teammates. “They’re just learning but they’re so fast now that I can’t even imagine what they’re going to be like. Just having them there and teaching them how to do these relays, I want to be able to say at the end that we did it; we made it and we got through those tough times.”

After Drake, Papouchis as her eyes on getting back to the state meet and improving in each of the events down there. Last year brought the 17th in the 100 and a pair of 16th-place finishes in the sprint medley and 4x200.

This time around, she has her eyes on a top 10 finish in the 100.

“I want to be able to say to myself that I pushed myself the hardest I possibly could and finished strong,” Papouchis said.

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