Union Catholic Chases After Record, Wins Penn Relays 4x800

Video: Editing by John Dalvern

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PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- In many ways, the game plan was simple for the Union Catholic girls on Saturday in the Championship of America 4x800 at The Penn Relays. 

Match defending champion Edwin Allen on every leg. 

What's more, though, the Vikings were chasing after a high school national record. 

And so, with the stakes high, the pressure on and their chance to make history in clear sight, the Union Catholic girls went after it. 

Their race on Saturday couldn't have gone more right. 

Behind the efforts of Maameyaa Nyinah, Jimmiea King, Kaleigh Gunsiorowski and Peyton Hollis, the Vikings forced Edwin Allen to run with them, pushed them to break and then ultimately claimed the title in 8:44.98, coming up just a second short of the national record of 8:43.12, which was last set in 2008 at this very same venue. 

"Just coming out here and winning the Wheel, the one thing we really wanted, for us to do it, we made history," Nyinah said. "What else could you want? We did it."

The win marked the second straight year a Union Catholic team won a Penn Relays title, matching last year's winning boys DMR. 

Previous years had seen the Vikings claim big performances, personal records, even top American finishes. 

But to win? 

That was coveted from a program like Union Catholic, which had finished third in this race last year to Edwin Allen and Cuthbertson (NC), a team that defeated them at the national indoor championships in March, earning a national record in the process. 

"One of the biggest things we're leaving here with is a smile on our face," Hollis said. "Last year we were so super happy, but it's one of those things where it's bittersweet because you didn't come home with a wheel."

Union Catholic head coach Mike McCabe had prepared the lineup for the task, though. Instructing the team to match Edwin Allen was only one variable. He also said the team had a chance to stretch the Jamaican side on one of the legs, wherever it may be. 

So the girls had to be on the lookout, essentially striking when the iron was hot. 

After Edwin Allen held strong on the first leg, leading with a 2:11.96 split, Nyinah kept her mark and handed off with a 2:12.30 split. The Jamaican side didn't relent on the second exchange, keeping the lead through a 2:12.24 split, and King matched yet again, clocking a time of 2:12.20. 

Gunsiorowski was key, however.

She began to sense the armor rubbing off for Edwin Allen. She pounced. 

* The UC girls celebrate after winning the 4x800 on Saturday at the Penn Relays; Peyton Hollis on the last carry

Photo Credit: Derick Dingle/MileSplit

* Watch the full race replay

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"We've never been more ready for this," she said. 

Handing off to Hollis on the anchor, all the Union Catholic junior had to do was close. 

Hollis, however, said she never lost focus. 

"On that last lap, all I was thinking was, 'She could come at any moment,'" she said. 

Hollis ran the team's top leg, earning a split of 2:09.73 and ending Edwin Allen's hopes. The Jamaican team, which won the 4x800 title in 2019 and 2022, faded with a final 2:19 split. Union Catholic was the first American team to win since New York's Shenendehowa in 2016. 

For the second straight year, the Vikings earned a wheel. 

"And now that we have it, we can now parade the street with it," Hollis said.