By Christopher Hunt
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – St. Anthony’s didn’t get quite what they came for but the Friars certainly did not leave empty-handed.
The Friars were hoping to top the performance that earned them a silver medal at the indoor national championships but instead, they had to settle for fourth-place medal in the biggest track meet most of them has ever seen.
“The positive part was that they will learn from this experience,” St. Anthony’s distance coach Rachelle Clinton said. “They’ll learn that Penn Relays is a different kind of meet.”
St. Anthony’s placed fourth in 9:09.10 in the girls’ 4x800 Championship of America Friday at Penn Relays, bettering its state-leading time. It wasn’t enough for the team, who expected to place in the top three but Clinton made sure to remind them of the bigger picture.
“Literally, they have no experience,” Clinton said. “It wasn’t what they could do physically but this was monumental. To get a medal in the Champions of America, that’s history they made.”
Lauren Fontana, Danielle Cornell and Alex Russo had never run at Penn Relays before. Junior Olicia Williams, who split 2:09.40 on the anchor, was the only returnee. In fact, Cornell and Russo had never even run outdoor track before.
“Before this season, Danielle didn’t even know they ran 800 meters outdoors,” Clinton said.
Cornell, a senior, gave up lacrosse to run spring track. Russo, a sophomore, passed on playing softball. And in their first outdoor track season, they raced a field of the best relay teams in the country and the best that Jamaica could offer.
“It’s intimidating,” Cornell said. “Bur we worked hard and we tried our best. Now we know for next time.”
The team was already talking about next year and knew they wouldn’t let the moment and the atmosphere take over.
“I think we let the nerves get to us,” Fontana said. “Next time we are going to be more aggressive.”
Mamaroneck finished ninth in the championship final in 9:18.70. Gina Talt kept her team in contact on the first leg with a 2:16.87 leadoff. Anima Banks split 2:11.39 on the anchor.
Sheepshead Bay’s girls’ 4x100 enjoy its best race of the season, finishing third in the Large Schools final in a season-best 47.76 with Khadijah Cudjoe, Jahlisa Williams, Loraine Cruickshank and Shareece Charles.
It spoke volumes that the team posted a season best even while they struggled with baton exchanges.
“Once everything comes together it’s going to be crazy,” she said.
Sheepshead Bay coach John Padula was the most proud that his girls team is starting the gain the kind of recognition that he’s boys squads have garnered over the years. He said much of it has to do with the team’s maturity.
“Last year I put them in a lot of big races and I just don’t think they were ready,” Padula said. “That was my fault. This year they’ve been great. Khadijah is a great kid and just a leader. Jahlissa has really stepped up. Last year she’d be so nervous before races that she literally couldn’t race. Now she’s a beast.”
The New York powerhouses Cardozo and Medgar Evers both struggled in the girls 4x400 Championship of America. Cardozo finished sixth in 3:50.61 while Medgar Evers was eighth in 3:55.62.
Cardozo seemed stunned afterward.
“I can’t say anything because I don’t even know,” Cardozo coach Ray James said. “I don’t want to offer any excuses. It just wasn’t our day.”
Claudia Francis couldn’t find an answer either.
“You’re only as good as your last race,” she said. “We weren’t good today. I think we got caught up in the idea that we could win instead of focusing on our individual selves. You can’t do that here.”
Warwick Valley, the indoor distance medley national champs, had their own issues in the boys DMR championship final. Leadoff Dan Paez, who was a sparkplug in their win indoors, fell behind on the bell lap and the team never recovered.
Warwick coach Mike Potter said his team simply lost focus.
“Guys think since we won indoor nationals that we are unbeatable,” he said. “That’s how guys approached today. I let him be like that on purpose. Now back to work.”