By Christopher Hunt
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- They came in hoping to win – hoping. The national record seemed possible but not even Joanna Stevens’ best-case scenario worked out this good.
The Blacksburg (Va.) senior didn’t anticipate taking the stick all alone on the anchor lap and realizing that with a lap left, she would be racing the clock to become the fastest distance medley relay in nation history (Photo by Victah Sailer). Kathleen Stevens (3:31.56), Sarah Dorrell (58.97), Hannah Brown (2:12.61) and Joanna Stevens (4:48.14) won the DMR at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in 11:31.26 Saturday, breaking Warwick Valley’s 2008 record of 11:31.81. Warwick Valley (N.Y.) finished second in 11:41.21.
“We had no idea,” Kathleen Stevens said. “I thought a win would be really good. Then Hannah got the lead and I thought we’re going to win this. We’re going to break the national record. I was going crazy the whole time.”
Warwick Valley lead for after two legs but Brown’s 2:12.61 800-meter leg put Blacksburg in front and gave Joanna Stevens the cushion she need to make a free run at history.
“We’ve been here four years in a row and we’ve always come into in hoping to win,” Kathleen said. “I think our best is sixth place. Every year we come back like we’re going to get this. To come out here and not only win but break the national record is just crazy.”
The difference came not from the heralded Stevens sisters but from Brown, who brought the team in front and Dorrell, whose sub-60 effort, Joanna Stevens called “unimaginable.”
If anyone could be crowned for their relay effort this weekend it was Hamden senior Chris FitzSimons (Photos by John Olson and Victah Sailer). After an incredible 1:47.15 anchor to help his team win the 4x800 Friday night, FitzSimons again fought his team out of the abyss. From sixth-place FitzSimons clocked a 4:05.70 anchor, dropping Jim Rosa of West Winsor Plainsboro North (N.J.) to carry his team to a win in the boys distance medley relay the sixth-fastest time in United States history, 9:56.50. Warwick Valley, which finished second in the 4x800, also earned silver in the DMR, finishing in 9:59.03, a New York State record.
As fast as FitzSimons ran, he said he was still feeling his effort from Friday night when he took the baton.
“I was starting to feel it,” he said. “But with like 600 to go they started to go and I just wanted to go with them. I just wanted to win it for these guys.”
Friday night his teammates said they had no doubt he would come back and win for them. This time they weren’t as sure. Well, not at first.
“I knew it’d be close,” said Nick Saba, who ran leadoff. “But once he got it close I knew he had it.”
Isiah Whiting, who split 1:53.80 on the 800 leg, said: “I can honestly say that he’s the best runner I’ve ever seen in my life. All we have to do is get him the stick.”
It wasn’t that the first two legs dug a hole for Hamden, but West Windsor-Plainsboro North’s Joe Rosa, who won the 2-mile Friday, and Liverpool sophomore Zavon Watkins clocked two outstanding leadoff 1200s. Rosa came through in 2:59.56, the third-fastest split ever recorded by a high school boy and Watkins, who dropped a 1:47.99 anchor on the 4x800 Friday, handed off in 3:00.01.
Both mile championships turned into tactical races. In the girls race, the field was content to allow indoor national champ, Emily Lipari of Roslyn (N.Y.) to virtually jog through the first three laps. They bunched behind her after a 76-second opening circuit and sat until the bell lap when the field engulfed Lipari.
The Villanova-bound star dropped almost of the rear of the field, locked on the rail until she said another runner, who saw her looking for an opening, decided to let her through (Photo by John Olson).
“Another girl saw me looking around for a way out and she slowed down and told me to go,” Lipari said. “I have to find her and thank her. She gave me a chance to win.”
Lipari dropped back and was in sixth with 200 meters left and Cory McGee was trying to hold off the field. She went as wide as Lane 3 and outsprinted them all to win in 4:48.20.
“I wasn’t expecting the race to be tactical, to become a kicker’s race,” Lipari said. “But if they were going to let me lead then I wasn’t going to push the pace. I knew they would all be going with 800 left and I figured I’d let them duke it out and then sneak up on them at the end.”
Fayetteville-Manilus (N.Y.) senior Alex Hatz trotted through a tactical pace in the boys race as well. But Hatz, who is headed to Wisconsin, outkicked Elias Gedyon in the stretch to win in 4:08.09. Gedyon finished second in 4:08.42.
“I feel comfortable going out and front and I feel comfortable in a tactical race,” Hatz said. “It would have been nice to chase a time but I wanted to win.”
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com.