GREENSBORO, N.C. – As he studied his options for a championship keepsake, George Kelly turned in his folding chair and asked Christian Brothers Academy assistant coach Chris Bennett a question:
“When you get a second ring what finger does it go on?” Kelly asked.
Kelly and his CBA teammates were on top of the world Friday night at New Balance Nationals Outdoor after running No. 11 all-time 7:34.67 to win the 4x800 relay. The New Jersey school won the Nike Cross Nationals last December, but there have been some trying times since then.
At NBN Indoor, CBA didn’t perform up to their usual standards.
And at Penn Relays, Kelly took the baton in the distance medley relay with a huge lead but misplayed it and lost to Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict’s. Kelly, who bleeds for his school, was crestfallen that day. He went home feeling blue and soon became sick and missed 10 days of training.
Everything after that was a slow process of building up to what happened Friday – an anchor leg of 1:53.10 – and Kelly’s will to get to the finish line first. Westfield (Va.), the Penn Relays champs and national leaders, improved by more than four seconds but had to settle for second in 7:35.10.
“(Westfield) is an awesome team,” Kelly said. “We weren’t going for (a fast) time. We just wanted to win.”
Kelly has been the face of the CBA franchise this year and the emotion that wears – from elation to despair – have told the story of the program in 2011-12.
How did he bounce back after Penn?
“I did every little thing that I possibly could,” Kelly said. “I made sure I would never let my team down again like I did at Penn. I didn’t want that feeling. I wanted to make sure I gave 110 percent in every single thing. I did it, and it paid off.”
Kevin Olsen, Clark Mangini and Tim Gorman got the baton to Kelly with a chance to earn some redemption. The same ‘A’ group will go after the distance medley title on Saturday.
More hardware for two-mile champs
Wesley Frazier and Cheserek know a thing or two about multiple rings.
Frazier, who lives an hour away in Raleigh, earned the NBNO in a third distance event on Friday, sprinting past Natalie Shields of Utah to win the two-mile in US#1 10:13.43. In 2011, Frazier won the 5,000 and the mile.
This year, the junior from Ravencroft School is tackling four events. She placed third in the 5,000 on Thursday and has the mile and the 1,600-meter leg on her team’s DMR still to come on Saturday.
Frazier said the secret to racing all of those laps is ice. She sits on bags of ice in the car on the way home each night.
“Icing has a lot to do with (success),” Frazier said. She got a lot of sleep, took an ice bath, and was good as new after a somewhat sluggish 5,000 the night before.
“I felt a lot of pressure because of last year and didn’t feel very good in the (5,000),” she said. “I felt tired at the end. I hoped to have a better finish (Friday).”
There were six girls still together at the front with a lap to go. Dana Giordano of Bernardsville, N.J. made a move to the lead with 300 meters left. Shields, of Salt Lake City, was in the lead coming off the final turn.
But Frazier, who ran a state record 4:42.78 mile in New York City last weekend, kicked into overdrive and her speed carried her to the win.
Cheserek will travel home to Kenya on Monday and see his family for the first time since he arrived at St. Benedict’s in the summer of 2010. He could show off a bagful of rings and other awards when he gets there.
The junior had things go haywire earlier in the afternoon during the sprint medley relay but came back to run expertly in the two-mile, which he won in 8:55.12. Cheserek played the right notes, asserting himself at key moments and yet conserving for a decisive kick over the final 120 meters to break away from Thomas Graham (Cary, N.C.).
In the sprint medley relay, Cheserek took the baton for the 800-meter anchor leg in sixth place and worked his way to first. But after losing the lead with less than 300 meters left, someone bumped him and he dropped the baton. He picked it up and finished last.
“If you have a good day or a bad day, I’m OK with that,” Cheserek said. “We can come back next year and get (the sprint medley) again.”
Cheserek ran comfortably in the pack for much of the two-mile and had the spike marks to prove it on both legs.
Already a prep running legend, Cheserek said he would be back at St. Benedict’s in the fall for his senior year and try to defend his Foot Locker championship. He is due to return from Kenya on July 15.
Graham, bound for Stanford in the fall, finished with a strong 8:56.52. He and others said that Cheserek’s 12th place finish in the Dream Mile (and his difficulty in the sprint medley) showed that he was human.
“I didn’t feel like he was as untouchable as I might have after Foot Locker,” Graham said. “We watched the Dream mile and figured he was coming back from an injury or lost some speed sharpness. My whole strategy was to stay on his shoulder and be ready to cover when his move came.”
Cheserek didn't make his move until he was sure his sprint could overtake Graham.
Big anchors lead sprint medley titles
In the girls sprint medley relay, Megan Moye split 2:08.02 to push Cosby (Va.) to its first national championship. (Later in the evening, Moye ran about 2:09 on the team’s seventh place 4x800 team).
“Going into the final stretch I was pumping my arms to get a kick (going),” Moye said. “I was getting a little wobbly. I just kept thinking I’ve got to get the title and make my team proud.”
Cosby finished in 3:55.17, good for No. 16 all-time.
In the boys sprint medley, Allen Eke ran a ferocious anchor leg in 1:49.39 to lift Union Catholic (Scotch Plains, N.J.) to the title in 3:23.15 – No. 15 all-time. Eke overcame Cheserek's bid for the lead, and behind him, Zavon Watkins anchored in 1:48.05 for second-place Liverpool (N.Y.), which finished in 3:23.98.
“It was insane,” Eke said of the win. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Did that really happen?’”
In the 100-meter finals, Tevin Hester of Oxford (N.C.) ran 10.50 for the victory and his second national championship. He also won the 60-meter title indoors.
Ky Westbrook of Chandler, Ariz. won the girls race in 11.63, a wind-legal PR. Westbrook has been staying busy since winning state titles in Arizona. She competed in Puerto Rico and at last’s Golden West Invitational in California before coming to North Carolina.
“I was extremely nervous,” she said. “I came here thinking it’d be very good competition.”
Carla Forbes of Hyde Park, Mass. also won her second New Balance title of the year, adding the triple jump crown to the one she earned indoors. Forbes cranked out a winning mark of 42-9.50 on her second attempt that was wind-aided (+4.7). It’s an all-conditions best in the country this spring. Runner-up Marshay Ryan of Chambersburg, Pa. improved to US#3 with her wind-legal 42-2.75.
Junior Jeremiah Green of Tampa, Fla. won the boys triple jump with 50-10.25 – taking the title by two feet.
In the hurdles, Skylar Ross-Ransom from Houston ran 13.59 to win the girls title. Zaza Wellington of Swarthmore, Pa. got a narrow win the boys 110 hurdles in 13.91.
In the multis, Kris Horn from Pembroke, Mass. won the decathlon by almost 650 points, with 6,720. In one of the meet’s new events, the octathlon, Zachary McDermott of Christian Brothers Academy score 5,180 and beat Michael Cummings of Hackensack, N.J. on the second tiebreaker criteria (most points in a single event). The first tiebreaker was also a tie because each of them had won four of the eight events.
In the heptathlon, Aaron Howell of Farmington Hills, Mich. scored 5,071 points to win the championship. Howell said her expectation was to score about 4,500 points, but she surprised herself with a 118-8 in the javelin, an event she’d only practiced a couple of times. She earned PRs in six of seven events, everything except the long jump, normally her best event.