By Christopher Hunt
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – The Cardozo runners said they didn’t have anything to prove at Penn Relays. They didn’t know how fast they could run.
No sense wasting energy on those things anyway.
Regardless, the Judges proved that they still have one of the best 4x400 relays in the country. In case anyone forgot.
Cardozo posted the 2nd fastest qualifying time as they advanced to the Championship of America 4x400. The time is the second-fastest in the country this season.
Cardozo’s relay has been hampered by injuries since the indoor season and before Thursday at Penn Relays, they hadn’t fielded a relay all season that could compete at a national level. Lateisha Philson had been nursing a hamstring injury since a week before the indoor state meet. Chamique Francis missed the second half of the indoor season with her own hamstring problem and had been tentative so far this season.
But after their two legs, Cardozo was just a step behind Jamaican powerhouse Edwin Allen, which finished second in 3:45.62.
“I was ready,” Francis said. I wanted to go out and run. We all just made up our minds that we would go out and run as fast as we could.”
Medgar Evers was right in the pack as well, dealing with its own uncertainty. The Cougars raced without one of their top guns, Kadecia Baird, who is in Guyana with her family after the death of her great grandfather. They also advanced to tomorrow’s final, finishing third in the same section in 3:45.63.
As impressive as the legs were by Philson (56.4) and Chamique Francis (54.5), it was Claudia Francis that ignited the crowd. The Oregon-bound star swallowed Edwin Allen’s Shawnette Lewin on the back straightaway en route to a 53.4 anchor leg split, the fastest split of the day.
“It was amazing,” Claudia said. “It’s my first Penn Relays. I’ve never been here before. I just really wanted to make sure we made it back to the finals.”
Ahytana Johnson, who was on last year’s team, attended the meet as a spectator. The senior, who signed with South Carolina, is sitting out her senior year after being diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder. Johnson said she was the most proud of senior Ugonna Okpala (pictured above), who stepped in were Johnson would have run this season and did her best keep Edwin Allen in striking distance for Claudia Francis.
Campbell came through big for Medgar Evers, which had yet to prove they had the depth to withstand losing one of their relay legs. The team also qualified for the Championship of America last year but couldn’t race because Baird injured her hamstring in the rounds.
“It wasn’t even about not being at full strength,” said UConn-bound leadoff leg Nyanka Moise-Joseph. “It was about us doing our best. I think we could have crashed. But we didn’t. We all know (Campbell) is capable of running 58. It’s just a matter of if she wants to. Today she wanted to.”
Earlier this week, Medgar Evers coach Shaun Dietz said he hoped that Baird could make it back to the states in time to run the final. Thursday he said that he would go with the team that qualified. They earned it.
“I’m so proud of them,” Dietz said. “When I first announced that we wouldn’t have Kadecia people were saying, ‘Oh man, it’s going to be hard to make the final.’ But I believed. We came out and competed today.”
Klarissa Ricks of Holy Names also won the long up in 19 feet, 10.75 inches, the third-best performance in the country this season.
Cardozo splits (3:42.73 US #2)
Lateisha Philson – 56.4
Chamique Francis – 54.5
Ugonna Okpala – 58.4
Claudia Francis – 53.4
Medgar Evers splits (3:45.63 US #5)
Nyanka Moise-Joseph – 56.2
Shakele Seaton – 55.2
Kimberly Campbell – 59.6
Sandrae Farquharson – 54.6