NEW YORK – To fully appreciate Chariho’s national record Saturday in the boys 4x1 Mile relay, try imagining the vantage point of longtime coach Bill Haberek, who will soon enter his 23rd season as the outdoor track head coach at the Wood River, R.I. school.
There he was, bellied up to the rail, wearing the Steve Prefontaine T-shirt , watching his first three runners log PRs and then once-in-a-career standout Mike Marsella chase Shaker (Latham, N.Y.) anchor Christian Delago with a national championship on the line.
“First of all, I wanted Mike to hold on and win the thing,” Haberek said. “Then, I’m looking at the clock and trying to savor as much as I can. I knew it was going to be close. When I saw (the time) posted, I can’t explain the emotions.”
Tiny Rhode Island doesn’t often barge into a meet like New Balance Nationals Indoor and rearrange the all-time list with a national record. But Chariho turned the stick over to Marsella within striking distance of Delago, right on time and according to plan.
“I had a feeling I’d be 15-20 meters behind the guy in first,” said Marsella, who split 4:11.7. “I just wanted to keep my eyes open and hopefully catch him with 800 meters to go. I was hoping to sit on him, but I knew we had a chance at the national record so I made a move and just had to keep going for it.”
By the time Chariho’s quartet – Dan Kilcoyne, Bryce Kelley, Jake Kilcoyne and Marsella – was kneeling next to the reader board stuck on 17:20.20, it had been nearly forgotten that the squad wasn’t even favored to win the race.
Christian Brothers Academy (Lincroft, N.J.) was expected to be the team that pushed all of its chips into the record chase, but the Nike Cross Nationals (and defending 4x1 Mile) champs fell behind early and were barely a factor in the race.
Meanwhile, Chariho knew it had a foursome that could average close to 4:20 per mile.
“We wanted to stick on the leader and be as close as possible so I could go after him, whether it was CBA or Shaker,” Marsella said.
Dan Kilcoyne split 4:24.1 and Kelley followed that with 4:15.6. Then Jake Kilcoyne, more of a long-distance specialist, stripped six seconds off his mile PR to split 4:28.8. Marsella did the rest.
“It was crazy, absolutely crazy,” Marsella said. “I couldn’t see the time (coming around the final lap), I just knew I had to close as fast as possible. I didn’t want to leave anything out there.”
Chariho took down the 2009 record of West Windsor-Plainsboro North (N.J.), which ran 17:21.58. Shaker ran the second-fastest time in history, clocking 17:21.56.
Relays in the spotlight all day
Chariho’s record came on the heels of a near-miss by The Tatnall School (Wilmington, Del.) in the girls version of the same event.
With pressure coming from Saratoga Springs (N.Y.), Tatnall ran aggressively throughout and put together legs of 5:03, 5:03, 5:00 and 4:54 on the way to 20:00.97. Senior Haley Pierce, who placed second (and #2 all-time) in the 5,000 meters the night before, anchored the race and came up just a second and a half short of the national record.
Saratoga Springs, which set the record of 19:59.24 in 2005, finished second in 20:16.23 – good for No. 6 all-time.
In the 4x800 relays, much later in the day, the Armory crowd was treated to more sensational relay action. The powerhouse Fayetteville-Manlius (N.Y.) girls ran away from the field and won in 8:58.18 – four seconds shy of the national record and No. 4 all-time. The school won the same event in 2010 and then claimed the distance medley relay last year.
NXN championship team members Katie Brislin, Katie Sischo and Jillian Fanning were joined by Heather Martin, who returned to training in January after missing out on cross country with a foot injury.
In the boys 4x800 race, Boys and Girls of Brooklyn produced the No. 2 time in history, 7:41.10, thanks to Robert Rhodes’ heroic 1:52.1 anchor. Rhodes gave it everything he had, to the delight of a roaring home crowd.
“It was all about my team,” Rhodes said. “I was not giving up this race. The whole time I was running I was thinking ‘I’ve come way too far.’ If I would have gave up, and let them pass me, I’d be ashamed of myself. I was too close and I wasn’t letting it go.”
Rhodes paid a price for his effort. He spent nearly 10 minutes doubled over, on his knees, throwing up and trying to recover. But after he and his teammates had their fingers sized for championship rings, it was all worth it.
In the boys sprint medley relay, Edward Cheserek led St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark, N.J.) to its second relay title of the meet. Cheserek anchored with a 1:51.2 800 to bring the baton home in 3:25.88, for No. 4 all-time – outrunning a quartet of the nation’s best half-milers. He will try to add third and fourth titles on Sunday in the two-mile and mile.
Hillhouse (New Haven, Ct.), spurred by long sprint superstar Precious Holmes running on the third leg, won the girls sprint medley relay in 4:00.58. Her teammate Kellie Davis gradually extended the lead on her 800 anchor, then provided one of the day’s best expressions of delight at the finish.
Conley, Blankenship win marquee events
When the coach in your corner is an Olympic champion and an American record holder, it’s a little bit easier to react in the big moment and not get overwhelmed by it.
Sydney Conley made the adjustment she needed to on her sixth and final attempt to win the girls long jump with 20 feet, 1.5 inches.
Conley, of Fayetteville, Ark., said it was the first time she had ever pulled out the victory on her final attempt. She needed it because Jasmine Todd of Chandler, Ariz. had taken the lead in the fifth round with a leap of 19-11.5. Todd’s jump surpassed Javanique Burruss of Louisa County, Va., who took the early lead with a second-round 19-8.75.
There were four current 20-footers in the loaded event, including defending champ and Newton North (Newtonville, Mass.) junior Carla Forbes, who was fifth.
The boys’ pole vault competition lost some of its luster despite the presence of three vaulters who had scaled 17-6 or better this winter. Jacob Blankenship won the competition with a clearance at 17-0 and then took the bar up to 17-8.5 and missed all three attempts at that height.
Reese Watson of Spring, Texas had been nursing a quadriceps injury that he hoped would heal in time to compete. But when he tried to run on it at the start of the competition, the leg didn’t respond as he’d hoped. He ran through three times and didn’t attempt a jump.
Shawn Barber of Kingwood Park, Texas worked his way up and over 16-8 – good for second place – but couldn’t summon the energy he needed to keep pace with Blankenship.
“I was going slow,” Barber said. “(I was) trying to get up, trying to get moving. I had a hard time getting down the runway, getting upside down. I tip my hat to (Blankenship).”
Blankenship, of Lincoln (Gahanna, Ohio) had a few early misses, but then found his rhythm and made majestic first attempt clearances over 16-8 and 17 feet. It was his second NSSF title, following his triumph last June in the outdoor meet.
“At the end, sometimes you run out of adrenaline,” Blankenship said. “There was so much competition, I was worried about Reese Watson being there and Shawn Barber. That’s good for me, but maybe I kind of played it a little long. It worked out well, though.”
Blankenship has two more indoor meets scheduled (Ohio has not had its state meet yet) in which to try and surpass the national record of 17-9.75.
In the boys’ long jump, US#1 Devin Field of DeSoto, Texas won his first New Balance championship, finding a 24-footer on his fourth attempt. It wasn’t an easy day for Field, who has been suffering from back pain and also had cramping issues in his calves. He sought help from the meet trainer three times during the competition and fouled his final two attempts.
“The last jumps I tried to hide (the pain,) but I really couldn’t (go),” Field said.
The 2011 U.S. junior champion has a 25-5.75 from earlier this year. But he has been ruled ineligible to compete this spring for DeSoto because residency issues. He has transferred twice in the past year. He may be able to compete unattached in a few meets, but he will not be allowed to defend his state title in the long jump.
The nation’s top-ranked shot putters closed the deal on NBNI titles as well.
Torie Owers of Athens Academy (Georgia), part of the Throw1Deep Club’s contingent, threw a new PR of 51-0.75 to win the event as well as move to No. 11 all-time. She won by three feet.
Braheme Days, Jr. of Bridgeton, N.J. continued his dominance of the boys shot put, throwing 68-10.75 to win the competition by more than eight feet.
“It’s all about development,” Days said of his progress this winter. “I didn’t throw 70 feet today, not even close, but I’m more happy about the win. It’s my first national championship and I’m excited. A lot of guys can say I threw this far, or threw that far, but I like titles.”