South Eugene girls break 4x1,500 record

Sara Tsai, Paige Kouba, Phacelia Cramer and Erin Clark are all smiles after breaking the national record in the 4x1,500 relay on Friday in Portland. Curt Hawkinson

PORTLAND, Ore. -- On paper, the 1,500-meter PRs of four South Eugene runners added up to a promising total.

But it took Friday's effort at the Portland Track Festival to make the national record in the seldom-run relay come to life for Erin Clark, Phacelia Cramer, Paige Kouba and Sara Tsai.

The quartet ran uncontested and shaved 10 seconds off the 30-year-old national record and clocked 18 minutes, 42.33 seconds.

Clark (4:31.3), Cramer (4:54.6), Kouba (4:37.4) and Tsai (4:38.8) took down the 1982 record of University (Irvine, Calif.), which was led by all-time mile record holder Polly Plumer.

"It's no surprise to any of us that this team could do something fantastic," said Kouba, the lone senior and Oregon's Class 6A 800 meters champion. "It's amazing to end my senior year by being part of something historic."

The idea of going after the record germinated in April when South Eugene coach Jeff Hess added up the personal records of all four girls and noticed the sum was just a few seconds shy of the national record. Clark, Tsai and Kouba finished the season ranked third, fourth and fifth in Oregon in the 1,500 meters and all three ran their personal bests at the Jesuit Twilight Relays on May 4. Coming into Friday's record attempt, the Axemen knew that they needed to run within seven seconds of their PRs to break the record.

"We knew we had a chance with each girl having a seven-second cushion, but that it was going to be difficult running alone," South Eugene coach Jeff Hess said.

Clark tore off on a first lap of 69 seconds to put South Eugen ahead of the pace right from the start. South Eugene needed to average better than 4:43 per leg to break University's record.

The Axemen thought they might get some competition from Camas (Wash.) but that fell through. Camas' star freshman, Alexa Efraimson, is running in Saturday's Dream Mile in New York City.

South Eugene is no stranger to national records in these sorts of relays. Back in the 1970s, when the Axemen dominated distance running in Oregon, the boys set national records in the 4 x 1,500 (16:03.7, 1982) and 4 x mile (17:06.6, 1976) that have never been surpassed. (Hess owns the national record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, since 1979).

Now, the girls have one too.

"It's really surreal to break a national record that has stood for so long," Clark said. "It feels really good. We're trying to build South Eugene back up to what it was in the 70s."

The achievement Friday is yet another high point for a team that overcame a heart-breaking end to the cross country season. At the NXN Northwest Regional in Idaho, South Eugene was announced as the second-place finisher and celebrated a berth in the national championship. That lasted all of 20 minutes, when meet officials had to inform South Eugene of an error in the finish results that bumped them out of the national berth.

Clark said that emotional day is something the team put behind it.

"I haven't thought about it as a motivational thing (for track season)," she said. "Maybe it is more for next (cross country season), to prove we really can make it."

Clark will be a senior in the fall, while Tsai and Cramer will be sophomores.

In the boys 4 x mile relay that followed, North Central (Spokane, Wash.) competed for the second year in a row. The foursome of freshman Tanner Anderson, sophomore Kai Wilmot and juniors Austen Frostad and Keith Williams tested their fitness and timed 17:44.63. All four ran between 4:25 and 4:27 for the full mile.

That ranks sixth all-time in Washington, with a slight conversion, on the 4 x 1,600 relays list.