In a race that will go down in Pennsylvania running lore for decades, Taryn Parks emerged victorious in a stunning AAA girls 1600 meters that saw two girls run 4:37 over the distance.
Parks, the two-time defending state champion in the event, took down top-ranked Marlee Starliper, with the two central PA distance stars running the nation's top two times this season. Parks clocked a US No. 1 time of 4:37.07 for the win, while Starliper took second in 4:37.45.
Those times shattered the previous meet record of 4:41.08, held by Olympian Kim Gallagher since 1981. Gallagher still holds the all-time PA state record at 4:35.3 from '81 with Parks and Starliper now sitting at PA all-time No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
Parks took the race out hard in the early going, opening up a gap on Starliper. Starliper, a Northern junior reeled Parks back in with about 250 meters to go. Over the final half lap, Parks managed to hold off Starliper with her patented kick. It was a desperate race to the line, with Parks matching Starliper's attempts to make a late pass
Going to the front wasn't exactly in Parks' pre-race plan.
"I was hoping to fall in line behind Marlee and use her as a pacer," Parks said, adding that she would the unleash her kick in the final 200. "But at the start I found myself in the front and I just wanted to find a strong pace."
It's the third straight 1,600 state title for Parks, who won the event as a freshman and sophomore. Now a junior at Greencastle-Antrim, Parks faced her stiffest test yet at the state meet: a fresh Starliper, who had just run 4:38.70 a week earlier to beat Parks at the District 3 Championships at Shippensburg University. Parks, who ran 4:52.69 in that race had been conserving energy for an 800 and 4x400 leg at the district meet, was still aiming to defend her state title.
Back at Shippensburg on Saturday, both Parks and Starliper opted to run the 1,600 fresh, not contesting any other events (a year prior, Starliper won the 3,200 and came back to take third in the 1,600, which Parks won).
Though the races played out differently, the end result was not dissimilar to the New Balance Nationals Indoor race between the pair in the mile. Both girls were credited with 4:39.08 times, but Parks took the narrow win.
Parks believed before the race that she had a 4:37 in her.
"I focused all season for this race and I think and all the racing I've done up to here was to prepare me for today," she said.
It's been something about the state meet at Shippensburg that has helped Parks claim the 1,600 title over the past three years.
"I think it's just the atmosphere, with all the people in the stands, it's definitely super motivating," she said.
Saturday was another instant classic in the Taryn Parks-Marlee Starliper rivalry. The Mid-Penn Conference and District 3 foes have been battling it out in cross country and on the track for three years now. After the showdown at NBNI, the state meet was a tremendous sequel.
"It's awesome," Parks said of her races with Starliper. "It just definitely pushes me to be the best I can be at each race."
"It is a very fierce competitiveness that we have with each other," Starliper said after the race. "We make each other work hard. Win or lose, you always get a great experience and you always learn."
"I was the underdog going into today," Parks said. "So it was nice to get a win in the mile this season."