Penn Relays Day Two Distance Recap: McGorty Mile Record; LaSalle, Norris save it for the end

Sean McGorty made history by winning in a Penn record of 4:04.47. (Photo by Tim O'Dowd)

PHILADELPHIA – Officials of the Penn Relays Carnival couldn’t have asked for a better closing to its high school Distance Night.

In the boys’ competition on Friday, two U.S. top rankings were achieved and a No. 2 on the Franklin Field oval. 

Virginia’s Sean McGorty of Chantilly continued his red-hot season by claiming the mile run with a meet record and nation best of 4 minutes, 4.47 seconds. McGorty took charge from the beginning and held off a fast-charging Ben Malone of Pascack Valley (NJ), who was second at 4:05.59 (US #2).

Pennsylvania claimed the other two victories for the night with LaSalle College winning the distance medley relay with a US #2 clocking of 10:04.95 and Harriton senior Max Norris copped the 3,000 title with a nation-leading time of 8:25.62. 

McGorty, who was competing just six days after blasting a No. 1 clocking of 8:46 for the 3,200 meters at Lake Braddock Hall of Fame Invitational, made the pace honest from the start, opening up with a 58-second 400 split. 

“The 8:46 solo last week definitely gave me some confidence. I knew I could run at a solid pace by myself,” he said. “I always pay attention to who is in the race. There are great runners, Ben Malone and some of the other guys. I was confident but I was still thinking about who is going in. I know that nothing is given when you come to the Penn Relays. I really just wanted to go out there and run my race and see what I can do.”

McGorty hit the halfway mark at 2:01 and was 3:04 by 1,200. He had to battle a few challenges from Malone,  top-seed Vincent Ciattei (fourth, 4:09.27) of Perry Hall (MD) and Loudoun County (VA) senior Patrick Joseph (third, 4:07.88) throughout the race. Malone made one last charge during the closing 150 meters, but McGorty had enough in the tank to hold him off. 

“I just wanted to give it everything I had left,” he said. “I was just hoping it was enough to hold off his late charge. I knew he had a good kick. I sort of came in hoping and knowing that I needed to sort of try to get a gap on him because I know that he has a great kick and it’s hard to compete against him.”

Chantilly head coach Matt Glichrist is pleasantly surprised with how his star senior’s final season has started off.

“He asked for an extra week off of racing before outdoors. He wanted to train a little later so his first week was last week. The 8:46 exceeded what we thought,” he said. “We thought he could run sub-nine (minutes). Today, the first goal was to win. I think a win at Penn Relays is prestigious in itself. We knew if we went for the win the time would go with it. He mentioned that 4:08 was the record. I thought he could run 4:06, 4:08, somewhere around there. This probably exceeded our expectations.”

McGorty’s win adds another laurel to his senior year. In the fall, he finished second to St. Benedict Prep’s Edward Cheserek at the Foot Locker Nationals. He was a runner-up again to Cheserek in the two mile at the New Balance Indoor Nationals this March.

“It’s been a great senior year,” McGorty said. “Just to end my last year of high school this has been amazing. Having no real problems so far has been a blessing. I am just really looking forward to this last season. It has started off great for me with these two meets. I just want to really build off it from here.”

Gilchrist feels the sky’s the limit for his runner. One important race that’s on the list in the coming weeks is the adidas Grand Prix Dream Mile on May 25. In that race, McGorty will face the likes of Malone and Cheserek, who uncorked a 4:05 mile leg in the DMR

“He’s excited about the Dream Mile in May,” Gilchrist said. “I would love to see him get a real shot at breaking four (minutes), which we never talked about until today. That could be a challenge. He may try to break 8:40 at nationals. Really, I think we need to sit down. We’ll enjoy this today. We actually got a meet tomorrow. We have an invitational at home. It’s our last home meet. He’ll do a couple of relays with his team, enjoy this and go back to work on Monday.”

Max Norris put it in overdrive to win a tightly packed 3k at the line. (Photo by Don Rich)

In winning the 3,000, Norris held back in the early stages.

“I was probably in about 20th place for the first lap and then I made a nice surge, maybe until like fifth. Then I got squeezed back a few times. I made a few surges throughout the race and back into the lead,” he said. “I finally took the lead with what would normally be about 300 meters on a track. But my coach and I were joking about since Franklin Field is a little different with the wider turns and the finish line in the center of the track, I told myself, you don’t have 300 meters, it’s more like 250. I was able to do an all-out sprint from there on.”

Norris, a second-place finisher in the 5K at the NBNI, wasn’t exactly in the comfort zone once he made his final move.

“For a split second I was thinking about some of my running idols who have gotten out-kicked the final 200,” he said. “I have been out-kicked a lot recently in races. For a split second I was definitely thinking that someone would pass me. Then I knew that if you let that thought stay in your mind too long you will be out-kicked. Immediately, I did a figurative slap to the face and said, ‘Dude, it’s now or never. Pretend you are an Olympic sprinter. Olympians run here.’ I just drove my knees higher, pumped my arms harder and ran as fast as I could.”

The Columbia-bound Norris beat a strong field that saw nine runners dip under 8:30. Briarcliff (NY) senior Stephen Shine was second at 8:25.87, Fairfield Prep (CT) junior Christian Alvarado was third with a time of 8:26.25 and Christian Brothers (NJ) senior Jack Boyle placed fourth with an 8:27.66 clocking. The Harriton standout cherishes the gold watch he received for winning a championship race.

“It feels really amazing,” he said.  “Last night on Facebook on my Columbia recruit page, we have a triple-jumper, Anna Williams, who posted the watch that she won in the high school triple jump. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s so beautiful.’ I showed my mom and she said, ‘They really give that to all the winners?’ I guess so. This is the second watch I won in the past couple of months. (He also won a watch for his high placement at NBNI). It’s a lot nicer than the first one. It’s something that I am going to be able to hold with me for the rest of my life, show my kids and my grandkids. This is a day I will remember forever.”

Tom Coyle unleashed a furious kick and elation overflowed at the end of the boys DMR. (Photo by Tim O'Dowd)

La Salle College won a down-to-the-wire affair in the DMR where the top four teams were separated by 1.11 seconds. The Explorers’ Tom Coyle, running the mile anchor, held the lead on the final lap but was passed on the backstretch. He regained the lead for good with a big spurt the final 40 meters of the race. Northport (NY) was second at 10:05.47, Christian Brothers (NJ) placed third in 10:05.75 and Cardinal O’Hara (PA) was fourth with a time of 10:06.04.

For his leg, Coyle ran the relay’s fastest split of 4:13.9.

“Our coach actually said it was going to be two different races in itself; just get to the 1,200 relaxed, shoulders down and go through the motions,” Coyle said. “Just being as relaxed as I possibly could be, and at 150 meters have another gear. I know my kick is effective and I can rely on it.”

Coyle never panicked when he was passed on the backstretch by Northport’s Mike Brannigan, shortly after he forged to the front.

“I knew it was a good move and I could hold it when (he) went around me,” he said. “I just wanted to hang behind him and outkick him. I was hurting the last 150 meters, but this has been a lifelong goal to come here and win a gold watch and a wagon wheel. I did it for my team. I did it for the city and now we are here.”

Running the remaining legs for La Salle’s victorious squad was Andrew Stone (1,200, 3:04.7), Levin Hardy 400, 50.5) and Jack Magee (800, 1:55.8). Stone, like the rest of his teammates, was elated when Coyle secured the title.

“It was unreal,” he said. “I don’t even know the words to describe it. But just seeing him cross the line in first it meant so many things to us. I don’t even know what to think.”