By Christopher Hunt
NEW YORK – She looked like she had climbed a mountain or finally shouldered down a locked door that she pounded on for years. When Cory McGee finally snapped the finish line tape all she could do was stand there and take a second to enjoy a moment that teased her for her entire high school career.
For three years, McGee of Pass Christian (Miss.) watched while girls triumphantly raised their hands and broke the tape in front of her. This time she wouldn’t leave any doubts. McGee dominated the girls high school mile in her final scholastic appearance at the Millrose Games and this time she broke the tape herself, finishing in 4:52.77 Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
“I’ve seen that a few times but it never was mine,” she said. “That was the best feeling I had. It’s been great, all the races I’ve won before but it’s just how much I’ve wanted that and how long I’ve wanted it, it just kind of built up in the race.”
And that’s how she raced, like she had something built up. McGee snatched the pace on the second lap and little by little McGee let it all out with a grueling pace that folded Roslyn’s Emily Lipari in the last half mile.
“I knew that if I wanted to win today that I was going to have to set the pace,” she said. “I’ve raced Emily a few times and she’s really good with tactics. She just knows how to run the race with the best focus for her. She has a strong kick and I was aware of that.”
McGee, who said she is leaning toward Baylor or Rice University, then downplayed her own kick but said, “I know that I just have the guts to take it out fast and just try to hold on. That’s what I tried to do today. It worked.”
Even though McGee’s been the bridesmaid instead of the bride her entire high school career before at the Millrose Games, she said it is still her favorite meet. The fact that her win was so decisive simply made it sweeter.
“I think I did exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “I knew in my mind that I could do it. I’ve thought that many times before going into races totally confident, putting everything on the line from the start and I just followed through. For years, and then even just for months that’s been my main focus is this meet."
Delbarton’s Pat Schellberg waited a bit longer before he decided he would blow the race open. Schellberg darted out from the crowd 800 meters into the race after the field seemed determined to ensure a quick but still tactical race. Then surged again just after 1,000. The move was so bold that no one followed. Until they realize Schellberg wouldn’t fade by into the crowd and by the time Anthony Kostelac of Ablemarle (Va.) worked his way from ninth to second and gave a hard charge to catch Schellberg, the Delbarton senior was too close to the finish. He won in 4:14.84 with Kostelac second in 4:16.75.
Schellberg said one of the reasons for his bold surge was to put some room on Kostelac, who looked to be languishing in the rear. But Schellberg’s plan proved genius and even Kostelac’s mountainous finishing kick couldn’t corral Schellberg.
“I glanced back with a quarter left and I already had a huge gap,” he said. “I was really surprised about that.”
The North Carolina-bound senior said the win is the biggest of his high school career.
“This is the one I really wanted,” he said. “I came in second and third a lot last year and I really wanted to beat some of the top milers in the nation and win and Madison Square Garden.”
The group went through the first 400 in 64 seconds. But when Schellberg realized they hit the halfway point in 2:11, that signaled him to go.
“Right when that happened, I just took over kind of,” he said. “I just had to run away from them otherwise I probably would have lost.”
He called the feeling indescribable and when Schellberg crossed the finish line someone tossed him a Delbarton flag that he draped around his shoulders.
“My throat kills right now,” he said. “It was definitely hard those last two laps.”
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com.