By Christopher Hunt
Cardozo has a new star. Her name is Chamique Francis and she’s making sure that people remember it.
Francis, a sophomore, won the invitational 400 meters Saturday at the Hispanic Games in 55.48, the fastest time in the United States so far this season.
“In the beginning I was nervous because I know that I can do well in the 400 but I just have to gain more confidence in myself,” she said.
It’s funny that Francis said that because her race said something completely different. Hempstead’s Donna-Lee Hylton beat her to the 200-meter mark but Francis sat tight on her shoulder before surging ahead. Her powerful strides ripped the track behind her until she rounded the final curve in command.
“On the last turn I just started pumping,” Francis said. “I was starting to feel it and I just wanted to move my hands as fast as I could.”
It’s Francis’s first season at Cardozo, she attended Queens High School of Teaching last year and did not compete for the team. But she has already made her mark this season after winning the 300 at the Bishop Loughlin Games in 38.88, also the fastest time the nation this season.
“It’s building,” Francis said of her confidence. “I’m just trying to run as best I can.”
Francis also anchored Cardozo’s winning 4x200 relay that also included Lateisha Philson, Tessa West and Ahtyana Johnson. They finished in 1:40.23, which is the fastest time in the country this season as well.
“We can be really good,” West said of the relay. “We all get along. We all have known each other for years and we mesh well.”
Philson is another emerging star for Cardozo. The freshman finished second in the 55 hurdles in 8.02. Medgar Evers senior Janice Jackson won the race in 8.01 but wasn’t satisfied with her performance at all.
“I stumbled out the start and I was really banking on the start,” she said. “My coach told me that if I could get out with the sprinters my hurdle form would carry me through. I didn’t do that.”
But she didn’t panic. Jackson worked herself back into the race and edged Philson and the tape.
“I’ve been in situations like that before,” Jackson said. “I kept telling myself that I can’t worry about the mistakes. I just have to keep running.”
For Roslyn junior Emily Lipari, playing the role of front runner may have been a mistake. Melanie Thompson of Voorhees (N.J.) paced her front nearly the entire race before making a move for the front with just over 300 meters left in the invitational mile. First Lipari held Thompson off, but then Thompson made another hard surge with 150 left.
Lipari dropped her head and barreled down the back straightaway, fended Thompson off on the final curve and held on for the win. Lipari finished in 4:54.40, a personal best and the fastest time in the country this season. Thompson finished second in 4:55.65 with Ariann Neutts of Roxbury third in 5:00.80.
“I think I’m just overly competitive,” Lipari said. “So I really didn’t want to give up the lead. It’s like, I’ve been leading the whole way, I feel like I have to finish it out.”
With the win, Lipari earned an automatic spot to her second appearance at the Millrose Games Jan. 30 at Madison Square Garden. She finished seventh last year at the Millrose Games and never really got into the race.
“I ran terrible last year,” she said. “I just wanted to get a chance to go back and redeem myself.”
Because of her success in cross country, Lipari is known as more of a distance runner but said that she would concentrate her efforts on the mile this season. North Shore’s Brianna Welch was doing the opposite. Welch is known as a middle distance runner but competed in the 3,000 Saturday.
For most of the race she led Foot Locker finalist Aisling Cuffe of Cornwall until Cuffe took the front with five laps remaining. Welch took the opportunity to let Cuffe carry the load then she made a decisive move with two laps left. Welch won the race in 10:03.74, which is the leading time in the U.S. this season.
“I’m happy that I won,” Welch said. “I wanted to run faster. … It shows the strength I have. Now I just have to focus on the speed.”
If she wanted to see speed all she needed to do was watch the 200-meter final. Shanae Bailey of Swenson won in the nation-leading time of 24.30. The junior admitted that having Immaculate Conception’s Dominque Booker on her inside made her nervous enough to push her to a faster time.
“I’m thinking in the back of my mind that I don’t want to get caught,” she said. “I didn’t expect to run that fast.”
Charlene Lipsey of Hempstead expected a prime-time matchup with Catherine McAuley's Phyllis Francis in the 800 meters. But Francis didn’t race. Lipsey then started out the race in a torrid pace of 28 seconds then dramatically backed off in the second and third laps to win in 2:11.62.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “But I know we’ll see each other at states and again at nationals so we’ll definitely have a chance to race each other.”
Reach Christopher Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org.