Friday Stories from Penn Relays


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Stories by Steve Mazzone from Friday's events at the Penn Relays.


Hunter wins in Soph record time, leads loaded field

Drew Hunter, a sophomore from Loudoun Valley, Va., is coached by his parents. His mom, Joan, was on a recent masters’ world-record 4x400 relay squad at the Millrose Games and his dad, Marc, was a onetime world-class miler.

It appears the young Hunter may be following in their footsteps.

Competing in a loaded 3,000-meter field at the Penn Relays Carnival on Friday night, Hunter turned a few heads inside Franklin Field by capturing the Championship of America event with a nation-leading 8:16.31. Hunter held off Ontario’s Justyn Knight, a runner-up at 8:17.63.

Running like a high-schooler that’s far more experienced, the Virginia teen hung back in the pack until the final 400m. He made his most decisive surge on the backstretch, bolting to the front with 300m remaining and then ignoring a last-ditch effort by Knight in the closing stages.

“The pace was fast and our first quarter was very quick,” Hunter said. “It kind of waked me up. I kind of held back because I knew a lot of the guys were doing all the work. As the race went on, I slowly moved up and got in a good position with 400m to go and then with 300m to go I started kicking there because I had a lot left.”

Alex Ostberg of Darien, Ct., finished third at 8:20.14 and Dominic DeLuca of Dallas, Pa., placed fourth with an 8:20.14 clocking. A total of 13 runners dipped under 8:30.

Already in his promising, young career, Hunter has won a state cross-country title and in March won the Virginia’s Meet of Champions with a best of 9:11.22 for 3,200 meters.

The future looks bright for the talented tenth-grader. Right now, his latest victory ranks at the top.

“No doubt this is the best race I have ever been in,” Hunter said. “Just being able to come out on top is a surreal feeling. It’s definitely the best performance I ever had.” 

Penn Relays Results: HS Boys 3000m


A sub-60 first lap did the trick for WC Henderson 

As rivals in Pennsylvania, West Chester Henderson’s Tony Russell has faced Jim Belfatto of Cardinal O’Hara numerous times on the track. 

Trailing Belfatto by about a second when he got the baton for his anchor leg of the distance medley relay Friday night at the Penn Relays Carnival, Russell knew what he had to do.

“He’s more of a speed guy,” he said. “He’s not as strong as I am on the longer things. I knew if I went out and ran a really fast 800 I could try and break him a little bit, ease off for a lap and try and drop him a little more.”

With an opening 800 at just over two minutes, Russell’s strategy worked to perfection as the gifted runner was able to pull away and solidify the Championship of America crown for his teammates, who combined for a winning time and nation No. 1 of 10 minutes, 3.77 seconds. Northport, N.Y. finished second in 10:10.86 and O’Hara was third at 10:11.17.

Russell finished with a 4:09.99 for his anchor.

“Originally I was going to try and go for a really fast time and do a 4:05,” he said. “But (my teammates) did such a great job to put us in position.”

Northport was the early-race leader with leadoff Mike Brannigan running the opening 1,200 at 3:04.21, more than three seconds ahead of Henderson and O’Hara. The New York squad continued to hold the edge after the 400 leg with Cardinal O’Hara assuming the front-runner position by the third exchange, thanks to a fast 800 split of 1:53.65 from Nick Smart. 

Henderson also moved up a placement, taking over second before Russell got the baton with a strong 1:55.17 split from Kevin Moy.

“I was really thankful for my teammates keeping us in it,” said Moy, about leadoff Eric Stratman (3:07.78, 1,200) and Steve Thompson (50.85, 400). “There’s a lot of strong guys out there and I knew I had to run smart. I knew I had to do it.”

Russell and his teammates admitted that finishing third in the DMR at the NBNI meet, a race won by Cardinal O’Hara, provided a little motivation for Penn.

“We have been working so hard,” Russell said. “It seems like every time we have done a relay something has gone wrong. Just the fact that everything has come together on the right day is such a relief.”

Penn Relays Results: HS Boys DMR


There was never a doubt with Baker on anchor

There was never a doubt. 

Head coach Lisa Morgan knew it and, in some ways, so did the members of her Columbia, N.J., 4x800-meter relay team.

Even though her squad was ranked No. 5 prior to Friday’s competition, Morgan felt her talented crew, which included indoor national 400 champion Olivia Baker as the anchor, could earn a victory for the second straight year in the Championship of America (COA) event.

“Our goal this year was to get the national record,” said Morgan, about the 2008 mark of 8 minutes, 43.12 seconds. “Whether it came together or not, I knew that they would run fast and they were running to victory.” 

She was right.

With a blazing anchor by Baker, Columbia earned the COA plaque once again with a nation No. 1 clocking of 8:45.37.  The Stanford-bound runner blazed her 800 split in a time of 2:02.55.

Baker’s performance was similar to what she did last year when she had to make up a five-second gap to snare the triumph. In Friday’s race, she got the baton in seventh place and passed the last runner on the final turn and never looked back.

Baker had a tough task to fulfill. Running the anchor for eventual second-place finisher Edwin Allen (8:50.36) was Jamaican national titlist Marleena Eubanks. Eubanks opened up with a 400 split of 56 seconds to hold about a four-second edge over Baker.

Baker gradually reeled her in and made her most decisive surge on the backstretch. She was confident she could get it done.

“With 300 to go, I knew I had to make my move, get within range and go,” Baker said. “I saw the girl in first place and just focused and gave it all I have.”

Columbia had half of the same team that won the 2013 crown – Baker and second leg Imani Coleman (2:11.82). Aigner Bobbitt, who led off with a 2:17.21 split, and third leg Emilie Cowan, who was timed in 2:13.80, were newcomers on the squad.

Bobbitt stated having the veteran runners on the team was an advantage.

“They know the adrenaline rush, they know what the crowd is like, they know what our competition is,” she said. “Even today, I have never seen any of these girls in my entire life. But Imani and Olivia are like that girl is from that team and they did this last year and that girl is from that team and they did this last year.  We were coming in blind but it was really good to not only tell us what we had to do and coach us and train us but also be our teammates at the same time. It was really great.” 

For Coleman, whose family is Jamaican, it was somewhat bittersweet beating a team from her parent’s homeland.

“We are used to rooting for them,” she said. “To actually be running against them, I was really nervous. It felt so good to be proud of something that I am proud of, that my family is proud of. The section of Jamaicans were cheering when we were doing our victory lap. It was great. It’s a great feeling to be here, to participate... I can’t even describe how wonderful I feel right now.”

Penn Relays Results: HS Girls DMR


Gavigan's electrifying kick gets it done

When he won the high school mile at the Millrose Games back in February, Luke Gavigan used a patient approach, waiting until the closing stages of the race to unleash his patented kick.

Using a similar game plan on Friday at the Penn Relays Carnival, the junior from Tappan Zee, N.Y., added another important victory to his career.

Electrifying the crowd gathered inside Franklin Field for the boys’ distance night, Gavigan blasted past race-leader Ian Milder of Mount Taber, N.C., with just over a 100 meters remaining to win with a time of 4:13.35. 

Coming down the final straightaway, Gavigan gutted out the final few meters to edge out Milder, who finished second at 4:13.67.

“My legs were so dead,” he said. “I felt it coming up and I knew I just had to pull through. Coming across the finish line I almost fell over. My legs were so done. It’s amazing. It feels good. It was so worth it to push through.” 

Gavigan held back in sixth place for most of the race. He passed the 800m mark at 2:13. 

“I knew it was slow,” he said. “I didn’t want to panic because I knew I have a kick. I just stayed back and stayed with my race plan and the last 100 meters I just took a shot.”

Gavigan, whose last mile was a second-place finish (4:11.67) at the New Balance Nationals in March, has been prepping for a big race at Penn, a meet he placed tenth at last year.

“After my indoor season I took off some time,” he said. “The last couple of weeks I have trimmed down my mileage and done more speed stuff to get ready.”

Gavigan is now focusing on the more-important meets towards the end of the season, including the New Balance Nationals where he’ll surely be among the favorites to break the tape.

“I’ll take it easy for a little bit and start building up my training and hopefully peak for the end of the season,” he said. “I don’t really have any big meets coming up.”

Penn Relays Results: HS Boys Mile


One down, one to go for Mathew Zajac

Matthew Zajac has his eyes on two milestones this season.

The senior from E.C. Glass, Va., took care of one of those on Friday.

With a heave of 200 feet, 9 inches in the discus, Zajac earned the coveted gold watch at the Penn Relays Carnival. It was his first time over the 200-foot plateau.

“That was the big one for him,” said coach Rodney Coleman. “No one in Virginia has ever thrown more than 200 as far as I know, so that is certainly a nice milestone. “

Zajac, a three-time state champion in his specialty, achieved his winning throw on his last attempt. He defeated Jamaica’s Basil Bingham of Calabar, who was second at 196-3. Third place was Alec-Verne Longmore of Jamaica College at 180-8.

“My series was okay,” he said. “I definitely felt that I had the ability to throw something hard. I didn’t know I was going to throw that far but I am definitely very pleased with it…I definitely knew it was a good throw. Two hundred wasn’t really at the corner of my mind. I knew it would be a good throw. That was kind of shocking and hard to believe.”

Zajac’s will now be looking to knock off another milestone, perhaps as early as Saturday. He’s on the bubble for 60 feet in the shot put with a best of 59-9.

“He’s been close to that a few times,” Coleman said. “He wants to get 60 feet and if he wins the state meet in the discus outdoors then he will be a four-time discus champion. That would be another neat accomplishment.”

“I got a meet tomorrow in Lynchburg so we’ll see,” Zajac added.

Penn Relays Results: HS Boys Discus


Long Beach Poly strings 'em up

Long Beach Poly has had a long history of producing standout 4x100-meter relays that often compete at the Penn Relays Carnival.

That tradition continued on Friday.

The California squad won its fourth consecutive Championship of America plaque, finishing fourth overall with a country’s fastest time of 45.63 seconds. Jamaica captured the top three placements with Edwin Allen winning the overall title with 44.70.

“Definitely we came out to give it our best effort,” said coach Doc Moye. “That was a PR for the season. We don’t focus too much on other people. If we execute and do the best that we can, we’d be fine.”

Comprising this year’s team was Autumn Wright, Jade Lewis, Maya Perkins and Arianna Washington.

“It’s always a goal to be the first American team. We knew there were some Jamaican teams and this was going to be fast,” Wright said. “We were looking at 45, 44 (seconds). We knew the weather was going to be kind of cold today. That was our goal today.”

“It’s a definite significant win here with the teams here,” Moye said. “We come all the way from the west coast. It’s a great place, one of my favorite places.”

Penn Relays Results: HS Girls 4x100m


Thompson has high hopes for the javelin

Curtis Thompson is hoping to achieve some high marks this spring in the javelin.

With the season about a month old, it’s certainly off to a good start.

On Friday, the senior from Florence Township, N.J., came agonizingly close to achieving a victory in the javelin at the Penn Relays Carnival with a runner-up and personal-best toss of 220 feet, 4 inches. Thompson earned the status as the top American finisher, just three inches short of the winning distance of 220-7 by the Bahama’s Denzel Pratt of St. Augustine.

The New Jersey standout took the lead with his best distance coming on his fifth throw. Pratt secured the crown on his last attempt.

“It was tough but I wasn’t really upset about it,” he said. “Once he threw it, I knew I was going to have to try and beat that.”

Thompson’s throw was about six-feet further than his previous best of 214-7 at the Hall of Fame Relays last April.

“I’m happy with the way the results ended,” he said. “Goal-wise coming in it was pretty much to beat my 214 (feet). Now that I beat it my next goal is 230 (feet).”

The Mississippi State-bound Thompson was competing in his third straight appearance at Penn. He was 12th as a freshman and fifth as a tenth-grader.

“The first year, of course, I was nervous. It was my first Penn Relays and everything,” he said. “Coming into this year I just knew what I had to do. I was competing against myself.”

Penn Relays Results: HS Boys Javelin


Bonhurst breaks the NJ streak

For the last seven years, a New Jersey shot-putter has claimed the title at the Penn Relays Carnival.

That streak came to an end on Friday.

Benjamin Bonhurst, a senior from Smithtown West, N.Y., copped the individual title with a winning heave of 63 feet, 5 inches. He was comfortably ahead of runner-up Andrew Robinson of McDonogh School, Md., who tossed the metal ball a distance of 59-7.

Bonhurst didn’t get his first-place toss until late in the finals.

“It didn’t start off well in the beginning,” he said. “I kept slipping out of the back of the circle and I wasn’t getting that comfortable in the circle.  When I hit 63-5 on my fifth throw, I was like, ‘Okay, decent, but I could have went over 20 meters (65-plus feet). I am not going to complain about that because I should have adjusted to it. I’m happy with the gold watch.”

Bonhurst, who captured the shot at his indoor state meet and the New Balance Nationals this past winter, was thrilled with his latest victory at a big meet. 

“One of my best friends last year, (two-time champion Braeme Days, 2012-13) won this gold watch,” he said. “I told him, I’m going to win that gold watch next year. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

Penn Relays Results: HS Boys Shot Put