Francis upsets Lipsey, Cardozo & Newburgh claim 4x4 titles

By Christopher Hunt
photos by and
Tim Fulton /

They’d been in the same position a bunch of times before. With the finish line approaching and Hempstead’s Charlene Lipsey straining to hold onto a lead, Phyllis Francis of Catherine McAuley fought to snatch it away. This season it seemed impossible to take down Lipsey in the home stretch of any race. Until impossible happened.

Francis blanketed Lipsey’s every move in the 800 meters at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships and with 60 meters left and Francis trying to make a move coming off the turn, Lipsey tried to ward her off with a nudge that sent Francis off quilter. But in the one place that Lipsey seemed to be untouchable – the last 50 meters – Francis grabbed the national title by a half step, winning in 2:07.69. A disappointed Lipsey finished in 2:07.77.

“I just felt like I had to push it and I really wanted to focus on my time,” Francis said.

Francis didn’t mention the bump coming off the last turn or the fact that the race had been a showdown waiting to happen all season but she raced like she knew it would be a two-man contest. It just seemed that Lipsey, who is headed to LSU, never made a move to drop Francis until Francis made a decisive move to take the race. Lipsey tried to respond but when Francis surged again, Lipsey couldn’t answer and Francis won her first national title.

“I guess I’m happy,” she said. “I wanted to run faster though.”

You could call it redemption for Francis but no one knew redemption like Cardozo’s Chamique Francis. One of the top contenders in the 400, Francis was disqualified in the trials heats for breaking to the inside lane too early and was forced to watch while Akawka Ndipagbor of Long Beach Poly (Calif.) won the final in 54.74 and her teammate, sophomore Ahtyana Johnson finished third in a breakthrough race, finishing in 55.35.

But once Chamique Francis got her opportunity to take the track she made sure to leave a mark. She dropped a 54.7 anchor leg split on Cardozo’s national championship 4x400 relay that finished in 3:46.13 with senior Tessa West (56.9) and sophomores Johnson (56.1) and Alexis Mapson (58.4).

“I was a little disappointed because I got DQ’ed in the 400 but I really wanted to come out and run well for my team,” Francis said. “We’ve all been working really hard and I really just didn’t want to let them down.”

West gave the Judges a lead in a field that contained mostly area teams that Cardozo had bested all season. But they said they understood the stage they were on and couldn’t consider this like any other race.

“This time we knew we had to work because you never know what’s going to happen out there,” said Johnson, whose time in the 400 is the fastest in New York State this season. “We also wanted to make sure we got Tessa a ring because it’s her senior year.”

Newburgh’s Robert Graham, Akinto Morgan, Fred Locklary and Randy Patterson also dominated a mostly local field, winning in 3:17.47, a season best and the third-fastest in the country this season.

“It feels good to finally run a time that we know we can run,” Graham said. “The plan was to get out of the mess early. We didn’t want get caught up in anything stupid.”

In the girls 4x800, St. John Villa won in 9:04.80 behind a spectacular 2:10.8 anchor leg by freshman Dominque 

Claudio. The team included Samantha Lauro (2:19.0), Dominque’s twin sister Mariah Claudio (2:15.6) and Alexis Bivona (2:19.3). Bronxv

ille led nearly the entire race when Bivona closed the gap on Bronxville’s Olivia Bruton just enough to put Dominque Claudio in position to draft off Bronxville’s anchor C

aitlin Hudson. But Claudio didn’t latch on for long. She took over after 200 meters and kept extending her lead.

“We knew we were going to have to fight for it,” Bivona said. “Mariah caught up to it was pressure on me to stay close and just make sure that I gave Dominque a chance and we knew she would come through for us.”

Lost in the excitement of Robby Andrew’s national record in the 800, Colonie senior Tyler Stewart, (left), came up for second in 1:52.15, the fastest time in New York this season.

Reach Christopher Hunt at