PHILADELPHIA – There isn’t another high school in the U.S. that travels 2,400 miles for a “home” meet, but then again, there isn’t another Long Beach Poly.
At the Penn Relays, Poly doesn’t just represent a school on the Pacific Coast. It stands up for the entire country, plays the role of America’s last best hope against the otherworldly fast Jamaicans.
For the second year in a row, the Long Beach Poly girls rose up and beat the best of Jamaica in the 4x100 relay, this time coming from behind on sophomore Ariana Washington’s stirring anchor leg.
“I did what I was trained to do,” said Washington, who took the baton in third or fourth and then flew beneath a roaring wall of noise down the home straightaway to victory in 46.35. “I’m trained to get the baton and go and that’s what I did. I had no thoughts. I knew there was a lot of pressure and I couldn’t let my team down.”
It takes a meet with the enduring stature of Penn Relays to provide the intersection for Long Beach Poly and the Jamaican teams like Vere Tech, which has won here 15 times, or St. Jago, which has won four, or Holmwood Tech (3) or Edwin Allen (2).
Incidentally, Kingston is closer to Philadelphia than Long Beach – by about 900 miles. In a meet that loves to bill its “USA vs. The World” program, it often starts informally with the Jamaicans vs. Poly and the appreciative crowd has come to expect great moments to arise from the competition.
“The feeling you get when people respect you like that, it’s awesome. You can’t put it into words,” said longtime coach Don Norford, architect of the Long Beach Poly dynasty.
Carrying the burden of trying to defend the title, with three newcomers to the lineup, Poly ran the fastest time in qualifying on Thursday. And then in the final, the quartet quickly fell behind on the lead-off. There was a risk of getting buried at that point.
“I was really scared,” said Traci Hicks, making her third appearance in the 4x100 championship. “Diamond (Thomas) and I had a bad hand-off (between legs 2 and 3). I was really worried. But when Ariana got, I felt confident. She doesn’t like to lose.”
Washington erased any mistakes with a scorching anchor.
“It was probably the fastest 100 of my whole life,” she said.
Washington was an alternate for Poly last year. Next year, she will try to help her school win it again. The anticipation of 2013 began before Friday’s celebration died down.
“Just like this year, next year’s team is already ready,” Norford said. “It’s the way we coach them. We know what to do here, what to tell them, and what not to tell them, so they’re physically and spiritually prepared.”
Cheserek too much for CBA
In the highly anticipated distance medley showdown between St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) and Christian Brothers Academy (Lincroft, N.J.), there was a changing of the guard.
CBA , the reigning champ, built a 10-second gap on St. Benedict’s entering the 1,600-meter anchor legs. But senior George Kelly played the first lap too conservatively and Edward Cheserek caught up with a fast 57.
Then Cheserek settled on Kelly’s shoulder for two laps and patiently waited for the 300-to-go mark, where he flew into the lead and began to sprint for home. Kelly had saved something, but not enough to respond to the Foot Locker champion and 4:02 miler.
Cheserek split 4:06.2 to Kelly’s 4:17.6.
“I was thinking stay with the leader all the way,” he said. “I wanted to take off with 300 meter to go.”
Cheserek anticipated that he might need to make up as much as eight seconds after he got the stick.
“When the announced said (my first lap was) 57, I knew that’s too fast for me,” he said. “I slowed down.”
St. Benedict’s plan was to keep CBA within eyesight on the first three legs.
CBA’s Tim Gorman gained a three-second lead on Darien Edwards (3:06.2 to 3:09.2), the 400s were essentially a tie (48.7 for StB, 49.0 for CBA), and CBA padded seven more seconds onto the lead with Clark Mangini’s 1:56.2 for the 800 leg.
Against Cheserek, 10 seconds wasn’t enough cushion.
In the boys mile, Jacob Burcham of Cabell Midland (Ona, W.V.) appeared to be coasting toward victory with 400 meters to go but his 15-meter lead wasn’t safe. Craig Engels of Ronald Reagan (Pfafftown, N.C.) closed the gap on Burcham and then pulled out a narrow victory in 4:09.42 to 4:09.49.
Both Burcham and Engels had participated in their schools’ 4x800 relays eight hours earlier.
To kill some of the time, Engels went to a hotel near Franklin Field that he wasn’t staying at and took a nap in its lobby.
Not only did Engels take down the pre-race favorite, he also outkicked most of the kickers in a race that included 800-meter standouts Ben Malone of Pascack Valley (N.J.), Drew Magaha of Upper Moreland (Pa.) and Zevon Watkins of Liverpool (N.Y.), plus Ahmed Bile of Annandale (Va).
“With 400 to go I was working on cutting down (Burcham’s) lead,” Engels said. “I knew I had some speed and I tried to give everything I had in the last 100. It’s the biggest deal race I’ve ever won. Those guys are better than me. I just got lucky. Burcham would probably win any other day.”
In the 3,000 meters, Thomas Madden of Skyline (Front Royal, Va.) demonstrated his fitness with a fine time of 8:25.54, winning by almost five seconds. In a race supposedly lacking a big-gun talent, 12 runners broke 8:40. Madden, a junior, was 18th in last year’s race.
In the girls 4x800, Fayetteville-Manlius (N.Y.) fell off the hot pace of Edwin Allen (Clarendon, Jamaica) and was seven seconds back half way through.
Edwin Allen cruised to the title in 8:52.97, anchored by Marleena Eubanks’ 2:09.3. F-M, which won the DMR last year, was second in 9:04.22, roughly the same time it ran in qualifying. Holmwood Tech of Jamaica was eight seconds further back, taking third.
F-M anchor Katie Brislin split 2:12.7.
“I was looking up and looking at (Eubanks) trying to catch up the best I could,” Brislin said. “We wanted to go faster than we did in qualifiers, but we did the best we could.”
Heather Martin led off in 2:18.5, Katie Sischo ran 2:15.8 and Jillian Fanning ran 2:17.2.
“Last year our relay won the DMR and if we’d done that we could have been one of the top contenders,” Brislin said. “We wanted to challenge ourselves in the 4x8 and even though we didn’t win it was a good experience.”
Jamaican schools went 1-2-3 in the girls 4x400 relay, led by winner Edwin Allen (3:42.06). Junipero Serra (Calif.) was fourth in 3:46.43 and Wakefield (N.C.) finished fifth in 3:51.88.
US#1 for Mattis in discus
Breezy conditions may have had something to do with slowing runners down a bit, but it didn’t seem to have an adverse effect at the throwing venue near Franklin Field.
Sam Mattis of East Brunswick (N.J.) hurled a PR 211-11 for his first Penn Relays crown and a new US#1 for 2012.
“I don’t think the wind really helped anyone today,” he said. “It wasn’t particularly wind on that (big) throw.”
Mattis had finished second in the discus in 2010 and 2011.
“Winning here is incredible,” he said. “I don’t know how to describe it.”
Billy Stanley of South Park, Pa. unleashed a meet record throw of 223-3 to win the javelin competition by 22 feet. (The meet record was for the “new” javelin implement that went into use in 2002). It was also a huge personal best for Stanley, who threw 208-8 as a sophomore.
Braheme Days of Bridgetown (N.J.) won the shot put with a mark of 68-8.50, building on what was already a five-year win streak for New Jersey in the event (including the last four by Nick Vena).