PIAA Feature: Townsend impressed on biggest stage after overcoming largest hurdle

When it’s time to select a leader for a team, coaches scan their roster for that individual who can be a positive influence on the field and off, many times choosing an upperclassman to fill that role.

For head coach Lincoln Townsend, he most certainly had to tweak the process slightly, with a roster laden with talented AND young athletes. Underclassmen flexed their muscles in many events at Shippensburg, and the Saints were at the head of the youth movement in Class AA girls.

“We are really comprised of a bunch of freshmen and sophomores,” Lincoln Townsend said of his group of former AAU and USATF national champions as members of the Delco Stallions track club. "Just the youth club time that we have to get in shape and the high school time is the big difference.

“It was a shock to their body this year. They are not used to being ready to run until the first week of August. Now they had to get ready to run the third week of May.”

And run they did, positioning themselves with Hickory in a tight team battle in AA.

Both teams scored in four events, with 36 of the Hornets’ points coming from the arms of senior Elena Marchand and sophomore Tori McKinley with 1-2s in the shot put and discus.

The Saints countered with a pair of victories by freshman Sydni Townsend, who was a three-time AAU age-group national champion last summer. At Seth Grove Stadium, Townsend won the 200 meters in 24.55 seconds and 400 in 56.86, and teammate Ariana Ruffin was fifth and seventh, respectively, in the dashes.

“For her to do this today was remarkable,” Lincoln Townsend said of his daughter, who was out of action from December 20 to April 1 because of an appendectomy.

One place where the young sprinters from Neumann Goretti were just a part of the crowd was in Saturday’s 400 final. With three freshmen and a sophomore picking up heat victories, the points race was bound to be dominated by underclassmen, and it was.

Led by Sydni Townsend, three of the top five were underclassmen, and six of the first seven to the finish have at least two more seasons of high school track.

With only freshmen and sophomores handling the batons, Neumann Goretti’s sprint relay squads scorched the competition. The 4x400 team also shattered a state meet record by more than 2 seconds with a 3:49.36 from a foursome consisting of sophomores Amirah Colman and Ariana Ruffin and freshmen Eliza Brooks and Sydni Townsend.

In the 4x100, the Saints were also easy winners, with a 47.70 lap by freshmen Townsend, Brooks and Selah Dixon and 10th-grader Ruffin.

“They weren’t used to the work that had to be put in to be where we are now,” Lincoln Townsend said of the adjustment to high school competition for his state runner-up team. “Now that they have had a taste of it, they understand. I look forward to bigger and better things next year.”

And after a week off, Neumann Goretti’s youthful core will prepare for the New Balance Nationals Outdoor next month in North Carolina.