Penn Relays Thursday Recap: Prep distance races rewrite record books

Cain eyes up the finish on her way to the line. (Photo by Don Rich)


The first day of the high school competition at the 118th Penn Relays Carnival couldn’t have had a better ending.

A series of girls’ events, including several finals, were held on Thursday under an occasional rainfall that gave way to perfect, cool conditions for racing in the late evening. And that it did, as the final three races created some of the biggest excitement inside historic Franklin Field.

With a sizzling mile leg from senior Haley Pierce, Tatnall High claimed the prestigious Championship of America Distance Medley Relay with a meet record of 11 minutes, 28.86 seconds. Shortly after the Delaware school was celebrating its victory and top time nationwide, Mary Cain of Bronxville, N.Y. demonstrated her superior 800 speed by convincingly defeating two-time defending champion Angel Piccirillo in the mile with a country best of 4:39.28.

The last high school event of the night saw top-seed Sophie Chase of Lake Braddock, Va., triumph by more than five seconds in the 3,000 with a personal-best clocking of 9:37.86.

Tatnall, the 2009 winner and the New Balance Indoor National 4 x 1 mile champions, did not take the lead in the DMR until the baton was put in the hands of Pierce, who scorched her mile leg in 4:42.9. Spurred by an opening 1,200 leg of 3:26.7 by Brianna Nerud, North Shore, N.Y. did the pace-setting for the first seven laps of the 10-lap event. Thanks to an 800 split of 2:12.5 by teammate Julie Williams, Pierce found herself trailing North Shore’s Samantha Nadel (4:53.8) by just a second when she got the baton. She took the lead for good after running her first quarter in 69. She was 2:19 at the halfway mark.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s faster than I go out in a mile race,'” Pierce said. “When you hear a fast half-mile time, you just have to go with it and stay as relaxed as you (can).

I was like, ‘You know what, I feel good.’ I can run 4:40. I just got to hang in there. I was happy. I kind of used it like fuel to keep going.”

The remaining winning quartet had Reagan Anderson hitting 3:35.7 for 1,200 and Lindsay Voltz running the 400 in 57.8.

“I am so proud of my teammates,” Pierce said. “It’s just like a great experience to be with them.”

The mile race featured three of the some of the fastest runners in the country with Piccirillo, Cain and Neptune, N.J.’s Ajee Wilson on the line.

With Piccirillo holding a slight edge, the trio led the crowded pack through a “slow” 2:25 at the 800. With about 300 left, Cain bolted to the front and never looked back. She ran her final 400 in 62.5.

Cain admitted she was a little worried at the half-mile mark.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh, man, I am not at 4:40 pace,’” she said. “But didn’t let that (affect) me. I didn’t focus too much on splits. I just tried to keep with the pace and keep going.”

Chase and teammate Hannah Christen worked together for much of the 3,000 with Tori Gerlach of Pennridge, Pa, just a few strides behind in third. Chase put on her move with a strong kick the final 400. Gerlach passed Christen with roughly 25 meters left to take second at 9:42.92 with Christen settling for third at 9:42.97.

“I am really excited about it,” Chase said. “It’s a big PR for me. I am also happy for my teammate. Pretty much the game plan was just to let the pace take itself out. It was a stacked field with a lot of girls from Foot Locker, a lot of All Americans. It was really anybody’s race to begin with.”

A little more than three weeks after throwing the nation’s second furthest throw in the javelin, Tamaqua High junior Christine Streisel earned the biggest win of her career by taking her specialty with a toss of 154-11. Streisel achieved that mark on her final toss of the afternoon.

“Coming in last year I didn’t know what to expect,” said Streisel, a runner-up in 2011 at 153-10. “I definitely wanted to come in here and get the win. To be able to be close with some very good competition and to be a Penn Relay champion is very exciting for me.”

The Pennsylvania standout, who had a career-best of 160-11 at her school’s Blue Raider Invitational on March 30, found herself in fifth place heading into the finals with a toss of 135. After conferring with throws coach John Kotchmar, she made some adjustments in the finals and manufactured her best series.

“I could see she was nervous,” Kotchmar said. “She wasn’t herself early on. She was rushing. Once she made the finals, I told her to do her crossover and try and relax. That’s what she ended up doing. She did her last three with big crossovers.”

“I don’t know, in the first flight I was just trying so hard,” Streisel added. “I was getting tense. The whole time running up I wasn’t helping myself. Before the finals started, I went in and got one warm-up in and did the crossovers and threw farther than I did all day.”

Alexis Franklin, a senior from Old Mill in Maryland, won her second straight gold watch by capturing the Championships of America’s 400 hurdles with a personal-best time of 59.05.

The only difference for Franklin in this year’s race is she copped the race outright. Last year she finished second to Jamaica’s Ristananna Tracy of Edwin Allen.

“It was definitely an experience,” she said, while referring to her 2011 race. “This is a great way to end my senior season (by winning) at Penn.”

Franklin held the lead virtually from the gun and had to hold off a strong effort from state rival Autumn Franklin (third, 59.78) of McDonough School and Kiah Seymour of Washington D.C.’s Archbishop Carroll (second, 59.78) the final stretch.

It wasn’t exactly a flawless effort for the victor, but it was effective.

“Coming into this race, I said I need to go out hard and hang on,” Franklin stated. “Going in, my steps were really off. I didn’t feel comfortable but I was like I have to make up for the steps. I need to be aggressive over the hurdles and really push out hard. The backstretch, it was me and Autumn Franklin. I could feel here back there. I really just had to hang on to it all and I had to leave it all on the track. That’s exactly what I did. I am so proud of myself. This was my goal to win Penn Relays and I can’t believe that I did it.”

Hempfield Area senior Larisa Debach continued her consistent season by taking the pole vault with a height of 12-5 ½. Debach was less than three inches shy of her PB of 12-8, set at the Lady Spartan Invitational on April 13.

“The season has been going really, really well,” said the Pennsylvania native. “I jumped over 12 (feet) in every single meet, except one, and that’s because it was like 30 degrees. I have jumped 12-8, 12-7 and now 12-5 ½. That’s really good.”

Next on the agenda for Debach is clearing 13 feet in a sanctioned meet.

“I made it over the summer last year, but it wasn’t a high school meet,” she said.  “I just want to do it in a high school meet.”

Rachel Fatherly of Williamsport, bound for Penn State in the fall, claimed the shot put title with a heave of 47-5. New Jersey’s Theresa Picciallo of Immaculate Heart was second at 47-1/2.

Jamaica’s Chanice Porter, the 2010 titlist, won her second long jump crown with a leap of 19-5. Finishing second was fellow compatriot Kimberly Golding of Alpha Academy (19-4 ¾). Arianna Washington of Long Beach Poly, Calif., was the first American, placing third at 18-10 ¾.

Porter achieved her winning leap on her second attempt.

“I was confident coming in,” Porter said. “I knew I could win.”

Tamara Ovejera of Governor Johnson in Maryland was the top U.S. athlete and sixth overall in the discus with a toss of 142-10. Overjera was eighth in last year’s event and owns a best of 144-7.

“I just wanted to place,” she said. “(My throws) were pretty much in my range. They were close to my PR.”

Iana Amsterdam of Essek County VoTech in N.J. moved among the top 10 nationally by placing second in the triple jump with a distance of 40-3/4 (US #9).