By Christopher Hunt
Photos by Tim Fulton
NEW YORK – When Michael Jennings split the tape at the finish line at Madison Square Garden he cemented his team in history at Fordham Prep. The history is built on tradition, a tradition that had the Garden sounding like a college basketball game during the CHSAA 4x800 relay.
“This is awesome,” Jennings said still looking in shock. “It’s just awesome.”
Fordham Prep won its sixth 4x800 title in eight years Friday night at the 102nd Millrose Games in 8:05.27 over rival Farrell in the most intense race of the night. Farrell led for two and a half legs before Zach Keefer blew the race open before the final exchange. Farrell’s James Farley erased the gap – apparently by Jennings’ design – then Jennings blasted through the last 150 for the win.
“This wasn’t just for this 4x800,” Keefer said, “it was for all the Fordham Prep relays that have been here, for everyone in the crowd that came for us.”
Most expected the boys invitational 4x800 relay to be the heavyweight matchup of the night but the race didn’t provide the fireworks people anticipated. Virginia’s Albemarle sprinted out to the front straight off the starting line and despite Morris Hills’ best efforts, Albemarle kept widening the gap. Ablemarle won the race in an impressive time of 7:54.59 on the tough track at MSG. Morris Hills placed second in 8:03.31.
The teams traded positions atop the national leaderboard headed into the race with Morris Hills regaining the national leader at the New Balance Games last Saturday at the Armory, running 7:46.54 after Ablemarle ran 7:49.88 the night before.
“It was supposed to be a big showdown but it didn’t turn out that way,” Morris Hills’ anchor Liam Tansey said. “If we raced them again I’m sure we’d put up a better fight. I’d love to race them at the Armory. It’d be fun. They spanked us today.”
Jillian Smith made it fourth consecutive wins in the girls invitational mile for Southern Regional, dominating the field yet again. This time she finished in 4:51.88. Cory McGee of Pass Christian in Mississippi was second in 4:54.59 and Roslyn’s Emily Lipari third in 4:57.70.
Smith spend most of the race out in Lane 2 while Melaine Thompson of Voorhees and McGee battled in the front. Soon the leadpack became McGee, Smith and Lipari until Smith decided to take over with three laps left.
“It’s kind of cool following in her footsteps,” Smith said of former teammate Danielle Tauro, who also has two Millrose mile titles.
The crowd watched for her to take an attempt at the meet record held by Sarah Schwald of 4:49.94 but Smith, who is considering Virginia, Washington, Michigan, Tennessee and Stanford, said that simply winning was her primary objective.
“If I’d crossed the tape and it was a record that would have been awesome,” she said. “But I just wanted to win and if I broke the record so be it.”
Manalapan senior Robby Andrews won the boys mile dropping a devastating kick, even more jaw-dropping than the kick that Kyle Merber of Half Hollow Hills beat Andrews with last year. Andrews left Brett Johnson of Ocean City and Mark Feigen of East Greenwich to win in 4:17.42. Johnson finished second in 4:19.61. Andrews were nearly beside himself, running another 75 meters after crossing the finish.
“It’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever had before,” he said. “I’ve never felt like this before. … This is my nationals right here. If I peak after, I peak it.”
Newburgh’s squad of Robert Graham, Akinto Morgan, Fred Locklary and Randy Patterson won the Boys Suburban 4x400 relay in 3:28.84. They trailed Rahway and Freeport when Locklary took over on the third leg. But when Rahway and Freeport began bumping each other on the first curve, Rahway baton went flying and the jostling created space for Locklary to move up.
“I saw them start hitting each other and then they just opened up for me,” Locklary said.
He slipped by on the inside and gave Patterson, Newburgh’s best leg, a solid lead headed into the anchor. Rahway was expected to be Newburgh’s top competition in the race. It finished third in 3:31.10 with Camden second in 3:30.33.
“I thought we could have done better,” Locklary said. “It’s hard to run on this track. It’s good though. It shows up how to be a tactical runner.”
Cardozo repeated as the winners of the Mayors Cup girls 4x400. Chamique Francis, Claudia Francis, Tessa West, Antyana Johnson sprinted away with the title in 3:57.65, the fastest girls relay on the night. Once Chamique Francis gave the Judges a lead Claudia Francis only extended it for West and Johnson.
“This is my last year so I’m really happy,” West said. “We came out here stronger (than last year) and with a lot of determination.”
West was referring to last year’s appearance when they dropped a close race to Boys & Girls. It proved to be motivation for West, the only holdover from that team.
“Things happen for a reason,” she said. But Cardozo didn’t abandon the same strategy they employed last year when they put their strongest leg up front. This time it worked.
“We needed that lead because on this track you can’t make it up,” West said.
That’s not entirely true. Springfield Gardens’ Weymour Johnson led his time to a comeback victory, surging ahead on the anchor leg to give Springfield the win in 3:30.13. Johnson zipped by Boys & Girls anchor leg, whose team finished second in 3:30.91.
St. John Villa won the girls Catholic schools 4x400 in 4:04.31 with the squad of Mariah Claudio, Samantha Lauro, Dominque Claudio and Alexis Bivona. A monsterous leg by Dominque Claudio brought Villa from buried deep in third place to pulling away with the race. St. John the Baptist finished second in 4:05.04 and Kellenberg third in 4:05.52.
“The first lap, it was a huge gap so I just wanted to catch them,” Dominque Claudio said. “A lot of friends and family came to we just wanted to run the best we could.”
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com.