Sheepshead Bay brings gold to Brooklyn

Rodriques wins 400, helps record relay

By Christopher Hunt

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The whole crowd stood up. Then they waited. Naquan Alexander waited too.

They all watched the scoreboard and waited some more. It took more than twice as long to figure out who won than it took to actually run the race. Now Sheepshead Bay’s Alexander was forced to stand around breathless to find out if Ja-Vell Bullard of Bethel High in Virginia caught him before the line in the 4x100 relay nationals championship at Aggie Stadium at North Carolina A & T.

“Yeah, I was scared,” he said.

One by one the times where posted for places third through eighth. Then Sheepshead Bay was posted first and then Bethel – but with identical times. They waited some more.

Five-thousands of a second.

That’s what separated Sheepshead Bay from a gold ring that said they are the best sprint relay in the United States or the most disappointing all-American finish they could stomach. Sheepshead Bay won in 41.221 and Bethel second in 41.226.

“You can’t go back to Brooklyn with second,” leadoff leg Darryl Bradshaw said.

Sheepshead Bay’s fastest relay of the season was anything but flawless. Bradshaw ran up Ayo Isojola’s back on the first exchange and Alexander looked like he started to stumble before connecting with John Thomas for the third exchange. Then Alexander barely held off one of the top sprinters in the country in Bullard, who won the 400 in 46.54, while the crowd grew to a roar.

“You gotta learn to dip man,” Bradshaw ribbed Alexander, relieved for the win. “You can’t stroll across the finish line out here.”

Sheepshead Bay’s relay wasn’t the only ones to return to Brooklyn with some jewelry. Nadonnia Rodriques capped a spectacular senior season for Boys & Girls by winning he national title in the 400 in 52.86, the fastest time in the country this season. She won from the slower-seeded section. Rodriques, the National Scholastic Indoor 400 champ, was originally in the fastest heat but buried in lane 2, despite her indoor time of 52.83.

Rodriques’ season best before yesterday was 54.09, which is what earned her the unfamiliar lane. But coach James Jackson compromised with officials and Rodriques was put in the third of four heats with the preferred lane 4.

No surprise, the South Carolina-bound Rodriques went unchallenged and untouched. She stood with her back to the final heat mostly. She only glanced at the finish to assure she had won. Then jogged over to the clerking area for the 4x400. No celebration. No reaction.

Soon after, Deandra Nelson, Meghan Gillespie, Rodriques and Shamika Morgan broke the New York State record while finishing second in the 4x400 in 3:39.77. The Blazin’ Raiders’ Tasha Stanley went by Morgan on the anchor leg. The Blazin’ Raiders (Eleanor Roosevelt, Md.) broke the meet record in 3:37.02.

The quartette broke a 2001 record of 3:39.90 by A.P. Randolph. Rodriques covered her face and cried when she left the track. Gillespie consoled her. They sat quiet until they received her medals. They expected more.

Rodriques said she didn’t cry because they lost.

“It’s my last race in high school,” she said. “I’m just sad.

Nelson said the same.

“I’m going to miss this team,” she said. “We’ve been through so much on this team.”

It was also Stanley’s last race. She’ll continue on at the University of North Carolina next year. New Rochelle’s Elizabeth Mott, who won her first national title in the 400 hurdles, will join her in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Mott won the 400 hurdles in 59.96 but butchered her eighth and ninth hurdle and looked like she might even go down. But she righted herself and captured the win.

“That was disgusting,” she said afterward, trying to enjoy the win but obviously frustrated. “I mean I’m happy I won but I wanted to break a record.” She meant the state record is 57.09 by Cardozo’s Dalilah Muhammad last year.

“I practically jumped over the hurdle with two feet,” she said. “It was unacceptable. I’m really upset. I wanted to run 57.”

One of the more stunning performances of the meet came from Great Neck South junior Terrance Livingston, who finished third in the 800 coming from the unseeded heat. He finished in 1:50.80, a three-second personal-best.

“I should have went earlier,” Livingston said. “I want that 1:49.”

Livingston made his move with 200 left and took over in the last 100. Then practically dove across the finish line after he looked at the clock to see how fast he was running. Livingston had been talking about a sub-1:50 half-mile all season. He finally got close.

“I was like, it’s about time,” he said. “I think (the slower heat) might have been better for me because if I was with the faster heat I might have went out too fast.”

He had to wait nearly four hours for the last two sections of the 800 to finish before he could officially be an all-American.

“I was in the stands screaming, ‘Slow down. Slow down,’ he said. “I got all-American. I’m happy.”

Emily Lipari of Roslyn also found redemption in the girls mile. After a sub-par race in the 2-mile Friday, Lipari finished second in a personal-best 4:50.24. Lipari looked like was out of the race with 300 left but found another gear on the home stretch.

“I came all the way out here, drove 11 hours,” she said. “I was not going to disappoint myself again.”

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