Stories by Steve Mazzone from Thursday's events at the Penn Relays.
- Girls 3000m - The sky is the limit for super soph Hannah DeBalsi
- Girls DMR - Alcorta carries West Springfield to the wagon wheel
- Girls Mile - Paladino positions for a patient late pass en route to Penn Relays title
- Girls Long Jump - Kayla Richardson picks a big state for first 20 footer
- Girls 400 Hurdles - Runner-up often, Morgan Harvey is content being US top finisher on this day
- Girls Discus - Future U-Penn thrower Hojnaicki already comfortable at Franklin Field
- Girls Pole Vault - Gruver attacks headwind to get over bar to win
- Girls Shot Put - Clancy is last to throw in shot finals for a reason
- Girls High Jump - Cyre Virgo takes her competition seriously
When you’re in seventh place going into the final leg of a relay, the odds of winning are usually very slim.
When you’re anchor is Millrose mile champion Carolina Alcorta, the possibilities for prosperity improve dramatically. The West Springfield senior proved that on Thursday as the anchor for her team’s distance medley relay.
Just like she did during the indoor season when she led her team to a national title, the gifted runner shifted to another gear with her mile leg, lifting the Spartans to the crown in the Championship of America event. The Virginia squad combined for a winning time of 11:53.07 with Alcorta sizzling her mile in 4:46.46!
“It was so spread out by the first 200,” she said. “I kept thinking about what my coach told me beforehand: to be conservative the first 200 and then do whatever I want after that. By the time I started trucking by the last 200 I was feeling pretty confident but I wasn’t sure I could get everyone.”
Senior Katie Kennedy led off the quartet by hitting 3:44.83 for her 1,200 split. Michelle Lipka, another senior, was timed in 61.3 for the 400 leg. Sophomore Reagan Bustamante ran 2:20.86 for the 800 before handing the baton to Alcorta for her clutch leg.
“We personally felt a lot of pressure because we won the outdoor (national) title and the indoor title,” Kennedy said. “We just wanted to come together and really make this one work. It didn’t go exactly well but I think we’re all happy with what we accomplished today.”
Penn Relays Results: HS Girls DMR
The question wasn’t whether Hannah DeBalsi was going to win the 3,000-meter run at the Penn Relays Carnival on Thursday. The bigger question was by how much.
Earlier in the week, the sophomore from Staples, Ct., learned that top seed Tessa Barrett would not be on the line due to a serious illness in her family. Barrett had recently beaten DeBalsi in the indoor two mile at the New Balance Nationals and also defeated her rival in a pair of down-to-the-wire affairs at the Foot Locker regionals and nationals.
“I was looking forward to racing her because I have a lot of respect for her,” she said.
With the best time in the field by close to 10 seconds, the favored DeBalsi coasted to the win with a time of 9:34.57 (US #5). Running a conservative pace in the early stages, the talented tenth-grader took the lead for good after 600 meters. She passed the mile mark in 5:07.
“I was looking more at five (minutes) flat,” she said. “I just went out too fast at the beginning.”
DeBalsi’s victory was never in jeopardy, but her sizable gap established early was cut considerably the final few laps by the next three finishers, who all achieved strong personal bests. Taking the runner-up placement was Hannah Christen of Lake Braddock, Va., at 9:37.57. Regan Rome of Dallas, Pa., was third at 9:37.71, an 11-second best. Another Pennsylvania runner, Paige Stoner, was fourth at 9:37.81. She was the final seed and improved on her PB by 33 seconds!
As for DeBalsi, her performance was nothing new. So far in her career, she already has a multitude of state and New England titles in cross country and track as well as her second-place finish at Foot Locker in December.
“Every time that Hannah steps on the track she can do something special,” Staples’ coach Jessie McCrae said. “The two years that she has had it’s been unexplainable what she has accomplished. I am just amazed at what she has been able to do at this point. I think that the sky is the limit with her and everything that she has accomplished when she steps on the track. We are amazed but we learned to not be surprised. “
Penn Relays Results: HS Girls 3000m Championship
Amelia Paladino didn’t mind hanging back from most of the championship mile of Thursday’s Penn Relays Carnival. The New Balance National Indoor runner-up, a senior from University, W.V., was perfectly content with letting star runner Kennedy Weisner of Elk County, Pa., do the pacesetting.
“I felt confident,” she said. “I thought about taking the lead a little early but she was very feisty and I thought maybe I’ll wait until around the third lap. “
Utilizing a patient approach, Paladino made her one and only surge on that third lap, and did she ever make it count! With a decisive kick with 200 meters remaining, Paladino broke away from Weisner and the rest of the lead pack to win the crown with a time of 4:45.34. Ellie Gonzalez of Catholic, Md., was second at 4:47.26 and Weisner took third in 4:50.96.
“I was a little nervous. I saw Kennedy was going to be here and I got excited,” said Paladino, about the two-time MIllrose qualifier, who captured the 1,600 and the 800 at last spring’s PIAA T & F Championship. “She did great. I feel bad because she kind of paced the whole thing. She ran a wonderful race. I couldn’t have asked for better competition.”
Paladino, who accepted an invitation to compete in the prestigious Brooks PR Invitational in May, couldn’t help but marvel at the scenery inside Franklin Park.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “This is my second year being here. I love it. The atmosphere was fantastic. I was even admiring the flags. There’s a lot of support and some wonderful camaraderie. It’s a blast to be here.”
Penn Relays Results: HS Girls 1 Mile Championship
For the first time in her career, Kayla Richardson broke 20 feet in the long jump. After witnessing the Columbia, N.J., senior place second on Thursday in the championship event of the Penn Relays Carnival with a leap of 20-2, head coach Duke Richmond stated it was just the beginning of future greatness from his star leaper.
“My expectations for her are way beyond what anyone has seen,” Richmond said. “We haven’t done much work at all. But the things we have done she is technically sound base. Her potential will take her to 22 feet before she leaves high school. It sounds crazy, but she can do it.”
Jamaica’s Claudette Allen won the event with a distance of 20-4.5. Richardson moved into second on her last attempt.
“It was very nerve-racking, but I had to let everything go, stay relaxed and that’s all I did,” she said. “Everything went out the window. The whole entire time I kept on thinking I can do this. That I am here for a reason. It was nerve-racking but I had to let everything go and do what I was trained to do.”
“It’s very exciting,” she continued. “I don’t know how to explain it. I am very proud of myself but I couldn’t have done it without my team and the support of my coach, the great coaching that he had. I am just overwhelmed.”
When asked about her coach’s bold prediction, Richardson didn’t hesitate to agree that a nearly two-foot improvement from Penn was possible before she graduates.
“I think I can,” she said. “I do have some doubts, but with my team, my coach and if my mind is right, he’s correct, I can go 22 feet. I just have to believe and try and trust in my training.”
Keturah Orji, senior from Mount Olive, took the gold by leaping a wind-aided 43-10.5, a distance that ranks No. 1 nationwide. Orji, who has won three national title (indoor and outdoor), beat second-place finisher, Javonne Antoine, Md., by more than two feet! Antoine secured second at 41-7.75.
During last year’s junior season, Morgan Harvey of North Hunterdon, N.J., twice cracked a minute for the 400-meter hurdles, both times finishing second in a pair of high-level meets. The first came at the New Jersey Meet of Champions on June 5 and the next came just nine days later at the New Balance National Outdoor Championship.
The star hurdler, bound for the University of Tennessee in the fall, was runner-up once again at the Penn Relays Carnival on Thursday. Only this time the hardware was a little more special.
With her runner-up clocking of 1:00.02, Harvey was the top U.S. finisher earning her the Championship of America title.
“I feel great what I did today,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Harvey, who captured the first heat of the event, had a strong start and was already in control of the race by the third turn. Her time was just .39 from her all-time best of 59.63, set at the Meet of Champions. She was just a tick away from individual champion, Andrenette Knight of Vere Technical in Jamaica, who won the second heat at 59.58.
Harvey felt her quick start the first half of the race made the difference in the outcome.
“We worked on the first 200. I usually go out slow the first 200,” she said. “We have been working on getting there at a certain time and being able to close on the straightaway. Even though the wind was really rough on that (backstretch), I was able to really push through it and it really helped.”
Penn Relays Results: HSG 400m Hurdle Championship
Taylor Hojnacki was looking for a PR performance in her final appearance tossing the discus at the Penn Relays.
Competing in front of her future coach at the University of Pennsylvania, the senior from Central Bucks South, Pa., delivered in a big way on Thursday with a nine-foot best of 146 feet, 7 inches. That distanced earned her a third-place finish and, more importantly, a gold watch as the first U.S. finisher.
Prior to the competition, Hojnacki’s top throw was 137-5, which she did to win last May’s PIAA District AAA Championship. She erased that mark right away by opening up with a 145-0.25 effort on her first toss in the prelims.
“Coming out I wanted to get a good opener and I was just staying relaxed, trying to focus on my technique as best as a I can and not worry about anybody else, just focus on myself and what I can do,” said Hojnacki, who was given a congratulatory hug by UPenn women’s coach Tony Tenisci after the competition. “We’ve done a lot of mental drills in practice and just keeping focused on what I have to do and not worry about what other people are there or what coaches are there, just feeling relaxed and doing what I can to get a better throw.”
Jamaica’s Rochelle Frazer of Edwin Allen took the individual crown with a heave of 155-10. Fellow compatriot Shadae Lawrence of Hydel was second at 155-8.
Hojnacki knew she had some good throws in her, but a 146-plus effort was certainly surprising.
“I wanted to get a PR but I could not imagine a nine-foot PR,” she said. “I am thrilled. I know my coach is happy. He said I know you can throw 140 or above. I am so glad he said that. It gave me the confidence to know that I could and it happened.”
Virginia’s Zakiya Rashid of Nansemond was fourth overall at 145-7.5. Jessica Wilson of Wilson, Pa., was fifth (137-2) and Denise O’Rourke of J.R. Taylor, Va., was sixth (133-10).
Looking ahead, Hojnacki hopes to improve on her recent performance, but she won’t complain if she can’t match it.
“I am just hoping for another PR,” she said. “Another PR would be great but if this was my PR for the season and I threw around that distance I would be ecstatic.”
Penn Relays Results: HSG Discus Championship
With no help from a nasty headwind, Olivia Gruver fell more than a foot shorter than her best in the pole vault at Thursday’s Penn Relays Carnival.
But on this day, a foot shorter was still good enough to garner her a victory.
In a tight competition where the top five finishers were separated by just 3.75 inches, the senior from Franklin, Md., claimed the prize with a leap of 12-3.5. Gruver defeated runner-up Kennedy Shank of Northern, Pa., who matched her height but lost on more misses.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “Coming in, you never know how the competition is. You can have a good day but you can also have a bad day.”
Gruver was competing in her first competition since placing third at the New Balance Nationals this past March with her PB of 13-4.5, a new Maryland state record. It was her initial appearance at the Penn Relays, where she admitted she wasn’t intimidated by the electrifying atmosphere inside Franklin Field.
“I kind of black (the crowd) out,” she said. “I like it because I like the pressure. I feel like I do better under pressure.”
Gruver is aiming for bigger and better things by the time the season comes to a close.
“I would like to get to 13-10,” she said. “Hopefully, I’ll do that at regionals, counties or states.”
Penn Relays Results: HSG Pole Vault Championship
In the championship shot put, Kailyn Clancy was the final seed at the Penn Relays Carnivals
By the time the competition was done on Thursday, the senior from California Area, Pa., was securely on top. With a near personal best, Clancy took the individual title with a winning distance of 45-3.5. She was just a half an inch further than second-place finisher, Courtney Ababio of Clarksburg, Md.
With little emotion, Clancy took the win in stride.
“I was just trying to get the best that I could,” she said. “I wanted to do a little better but I guess that throw was good enough.”
Clancy achieved her winning toss during the preliminaries. She held off a field that not only featured Ababio, but fellow Pennsylvania rival Courtney McCartney of Selinsgrove. McCartney, who five days earlier had a career best of 47-2.5 to win the Roddick HS Invitational, was third with a distance of 44-4.
“It’s pretty cool,” Clancy said. “But I definitely want to get over 45 feet and try and get better.”
Penn Relays Results: HSG Shot Put Championship
One thing that Cyre Virgo learned from the indoor track season was you can’t take your competition lightly.
The Fleetwood, Pa., senior found that out the hard way at the New Balance Nationals this past March when she fell short of defending her title by taking runner-up honors to Ellen DiPietro of Marshfield, Ma.
“I was confident at nationals but I only had one practice before I went there because of basketball,” said Virgo, who stars for the Tigers’ hoop team. “I only got second there but I guess that opened my eyes that I can’t just come out and jump and expect to win. It really opened my eyes.”
The standout leaper’s recent experience made Thursday’s results at the Penn Relays Carnival a little easier to handle. She claimed the U.S. title but couldn’t make it two in a row inside Franklin Field, taking second overall with a height of 5-9. Jamaica’s Krista-Gay Taylor of Alpha Academy won at 5-10.5. Third place belong to another Pennsylvania athlete, Abby Jones of Franklin Area, who also cleared 5-9.
“I am not mad about it but I know I could have jumped the 5-10.5,” Virgo said. “I haven’t really gotten what I want lately. I know I could have definitely got it, but I am happy with how I did.”
At times, jumpers in the competition had to deal with a strong headwind. Virgo didn’t let it affect her mindset. She just kept her head down and went to business.
“I tried not to really let it get into my head,” she said. “I just concentrated more on how my approach was and how I was going to get over the bar.”
Penn Relays Results: HSG High Jump Championship
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