By Christopher Hunt
SYRACUSE – When Chamique Francis crossed the finish line and looked up at the clock on the big screen, she closed her eyes tight, and then opened them again. She wanted to make sure she saw what she thought she saw.
It was right. The Cardozo sophomore won the 400 state federation championship in 53.42 seconds, the fifth-fastest time in the country this season.
"I can't believe I just did that," she said.
But the both of them came careening down the home stretch, both waiting for the other to break. Neither did. Francis won. Hylton was second in 53.77 and last year's champ, freshman Kala Allen of Williamsville East, was third in 54.86. Francis said she had doubts before the race until she spoke to her club coach, Charles Weeks, on the phone the night before the race.
For Francis the race didn't just mean a state title, it validated all the attention and expectations she had garnered once she burst on the scene during the winter season. It meant that she had become the runner that people thought she was – that she thought she was.
"People don't understand me," she said. "When I was young, track was something you played. Club track was something you did for fun. But high school is different. People hype you up and you don't want to let them down. This is a lot more serious for me."
It's not just Francis that made her name this year. Monroe-Woodbury's Megan Patrignelli had been known as a half-miler for most of her scholastic career, yet she tackled the 1500 this season. And in her fifth attempt at the race, the junior won the state federation championship, set a three-second personal best and lowered her time as the third-fastest in the country this season.
Patrignelli led the entire way with Molly Malone of Fayetteville-Manilus attached to her right shoulder. But Patrignelli kept pressing, looking to drop Malone and add some cushion to her lead.
Rarely do plans work so perfectly. Lipari couldn't hang on to the quick early pace and when she made a strong move with 250 left, Patrignelli already put the race to bed. Lipari finished second in 4:28.92, the nation's fourth-fastest time this season, with Cornwall's Aisling Cuffe third in 4:28.17.
"This time last year, I never thought I would be here," Patrignelli said. "I always thought of myself as an 800 runner. This is only my fifth time running the 1500. I think I can still go faster but I'm happy."
Saratoga Springs junior Madalayne Smith won her third straight Division I and state federation championships in the 100 hurdles. First she won the Division I race in a personal best 13.88 only to better that time in the federation race in 13.80.
"I'm really, really happy," said Smith, who dipped under 14 seconds for the first time. "This is what I wanted. Fourteen and thirteen for the hurdles are completely different."
She meant that breaking 14 seconds puts Smith in an elite class of hurdlers. Her time is the fourth-fastest in the country this season. But Smith attributed her effort partly to Kailyn Arcury of Williamsville South (second in 14.00).
"I kept seeing her foot and I knew she was right there," Smith said. I knew if I screw up just once, she got it."
Suffern's Jen Clayton repeated as state federation champ in the long jump. Clayton won the Division I title Friday and injured her hamstring in the process. She never considered sitting out the federation final.
"It would just look weird to have the state championship and not win the federation," she said.
Clayton cleared a wind-aided 20 feet, 7 inches. "I feel like I should have done this a long time ago. I know I can go much farther."
While many of the most familiar names enjoyed success, Amherst sophomore Ashley Fields turned in the best meet of her life. Fields won the Division I 100 and 200 meters in the morning. Then returned in the afternoon to win both federation finals.
Fields had never run faster that 12 seconds for the 100 or 24 seconds for the 200 before Friday. She took advantage of an illegal wind to win the federation 100 in 11.86 and then upset Columbus junior Whitney Fountain in the 200 in 23.66. Fields won the Division I 100 in 12.16 running into a headwind and the Division I 200 in 23.92 with legal wind. By the time she got to the 200 final Saturday she felt every step of the five races (including trials) she'd already won.
"At first I was just tired," she said. "I got out the blocks pretty slow. I was slow around the turn. I just saw (Fountain) getting farther and farther away. I just told myself not to give up and I just gave it all I had."
They finished eight seconds ahead of the next finisher.
"We're not disappointed at all," she said. "Everyone ran great. We were expecting a fight but we were prepared for anything. For us, it wasn't even a possibility if we would win. We knew."
Elmont earned an upset win the 4x100 in 47.84 ahead of Robeson (47.99). Hempstead's Hylton, VelmaMorant, Asheka Gibson and Charlene Lipsey avenged a loss to Garden City in the Division I race Friday to win the federation final in 3:50.59, a season best.
Lipsey also won the 800 final in 2:08.67 in a race that mirrored the indoor national championships. Lipsey led throughout with Phyllis Francis of Catherine McAuley on her shoulder. Then off the last turn Francis made a strong move – the move that won her the indoor national title – but this time Lipsey held her off in the stretch. Francis finished second in 2:10.03.
"I took the race at nationals personally," Lipsey said. "I'm actually surprised that I didn't come out here and try to prove a point. But I kept my composure. I didn't want to go to my arms too early because I wanted to have enough at the end. I'm just ready for nationals."
Shenendehowa, NY - 4x800m State Champions
Hempstead, NY - 4x400m State Champions