By Christopher Hunt
PHILADELPHIA – Joanna Stevens said she knew. She knew it all week. She knew it when she took the baton.
Even as Saratoga Springs’ anchor Keelin Hollowood, tried to discourage those chasing by trying to bury them early, she knew.
“I knew I was going to run well today,” the Blacksburg (Va.) senior said. “I felt it. I’ve been feeling it.”
Over the first two laps of her anchor leg, Stevens weathered Hollowood’s aggressive start and chopped away the gap before leading Blacksburg to win the distance medley relay Championship of America at Penn Relays in 11:38.69, a meet record.
“I saw the lead and I was just like, ‘OK’,” she said. “I was excited.”
Saratoga had led for almost the entire race before Stevens took over just before the bell lap. Kathleen Stevens (3:35.85), Sarah Dorrell (60.69), Hannah Brown (2:13.73) and Joanna Stevens (4:48.42) bettered a Penn Relays record of 11:40.51 set by Jamaica’s’ Vere Tech in 1992.
“We all ran really well today,” Stevens said. “No one ran a PR but everyone did what they were supposed to do. We all ran solid, which is what you need. We really have a great team.”
Blacksburg and Saratoga turned the race into a two-team contest after two legs, which Saratoga earning a slight advantage. That was until Saratoga senior Brianne Bellon tried to blow the race open with a 2:11.8, 800-meter leg. It looked like she had given Hollowood enough room to keep Stevens out of contact but Amanda Borroughs (3:35.70), Margaret MacDonald (59.42), Bellon and Hollowood (4:56.94) finished second in 11:43.79.
“It’s a little disappointing because we always come out to win,” Bellon said. “I think we definitely prepared as best we could. It just wasn’t our day. You can’t do anything about it but go back and try to prepare better the next time.”
Shenendehowa’s finished third in 11:43.82 behind Lizzie Predmore’s anchor (4:51.79) and almost came up for second but ran out of room before the finish.
The 3,000 championship turned out to be just as exciting even as the field learned just before the race that Greenhill’s Chelsey Sveinsson had pulled out. Instead Sara Sargent of Pennsbury (Pa.) led through the first half of the race until Cornwall’s Aisling Cuffe decided to stretch the field.
With three laps left, Cuffe led with a tight pack behind her that included Laura Hoer of T.C. Roberson (N.C.) on her shoulder, Haddonfield’s Marielle Hall (N.J.) and Emily Lipari of Roslyn.
Just then Lipari started to drop off the pace and seemed to be breaking down before she regained her composure and sprinted back into the group then up behind Cuffe. The Cornwall junior kept dropping the pace, hoping to drop the field but only Lipari followed.
“With like three to go I felt myself falling off,” Lipari said. “With me, the type of runner that I’ve been, it’s all or nothing. If I feel great. I’m great. If I feel off, then I have these give-up moments.”
The difference this time was that Lipari pushed through that moment to stay with the group. When Cuffe surged at the bell lap, Lipari followed. Cuffe changed gears on the back straight. Lipari covered it. Then Lipari, the indoor mile national champ, summoned an enormous kick down the home stretch to win in a personal best 9:34.52. Cuffe finished second in 9:36.84.
“I figured I’ve been here all day since 11 o’clock this morning, sleeping in the stands,” Lipari said. “I might as well go for it. I would have rather tried and failed then not. I could have settled for fifth and you would have saw me in the corner crying again.”
Cuffe showed an “aw-shucks” kind of frustration after the race.
“I’m happy with my time,” she said. “I just wish that that time won the race.”
The mile championship came down to a kick as well. Angel Piccirillo of Homer Center (Pa.) squeezed by Tatnall’s Haley Pierce to win in 4:53.41. Before the indoor Pennsylvania state meet, Piccirillo had never even broken 5 minutes for the mile. Pierce finished in 4:54.39.
“With 100 meters left I wasn’t even thinking about winning,” she said. “Then around 25 meters I saw her getting close and I went for it.”
Cardozo (N.Y.) rebounded from a crushing performance at last year’s Penn Relays to qualify for the Championship of America in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
First Lateisha Philson, Chamique Francis, Elizabeth Myers and Ahtyana Johnson ran the third-fastest time among large schools, finishing in 46.87, the second-fastest time overall among American schools. The same team ran 46.97 last week at New York Relays despite Philson losing her shoe just steps into the leadoff leg.
“We thought we’d see what we could run if Lateisha kept her shoes on,” Francis said afterward.
Philson ran a lights-out leadoff leg on the 4x400 as well. Philson (55.9), Johnson (54.1), Sabrina Southerland (57.3) and Francis (54.3) have the fastest time headed into Saturday’s championship in 3:41.62.
“A lot of people say that when it comes to the big races, where there are people that are supposed to be as good as us are there, that we step back,” Francis said. “We kind of what to prove everyone wrong.”
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com.