By Christopher Hunt
PHILADELPHIA – Each Fayetteville-Manlius runner wrote the word “Fear” on themselves.
Katie Sischo wrote “Stomp out Fear” on the inside of her wrist. Jillian Fanning wrote “Fear” on her forearm. Courtney Chapman spelled it on her fingernails.
It was the only trace of fear on them.
Fayetteville-Manlius won the Distance Medley Relay Championship of America at Penn Relays Thursday in a meet record 11:34.46. F-M led a New York-contingent that owned the DMR. North Shore, carried by Brianna Nerud’s 3:31.7 leadoff and Samantha Nadel’s 4:45.84 anchor, finished second in 11:36.10. Cardozo, which had the day’s fastest 4x400 relay, finished fourth in 11:51.16.
Hidden Valley (Va.) was third in 11:46.93.
“Everybody gets nervous,” Sischo said. “We all get scared sometimes. This was about overcoming that fear.”
The DMR is traditionally dominated by the team with the best leadoff 1,200 leg with a top gun miler on the anchor. But it was the middle 400-800 legs that carried the indoor national champs.
When Cardozo’s Chamique Francis took over the race on the third leg, F-M’s Heather Martin, with her 56.7 split, refused to let Francis pull away. Cardozo planned to blow the race open with Claudia Francis on the 800-leg. She had already clocked a 53.4 split on the 4x400. But Courtney Chapman pressed Claudia Francis down the back straight on their second lap and keep surging until Francis broke.
“That was just inspiring to watch,” Sischo said. “Courtney didn’t have the best cross country season and she won’t say it, but she would have liked to run better at nationals too. But when she saw Claudia, she just had the most determined look on her face. It was great to see her put it together.”
And in typical fashion, their congratulations from coach Bill Aris was short-lived.
“You guys did a great job,” Aris told them. “But you all know you can run better. And you’ll have to run better.”
Haley Pierce of Tatnall (Del.) couldn’t think of ways she could have run better. She executed a near-perfect race while upsetting Cornwall senior Aisling Cuffe, who’s been untouchable her entire senior campaign. Cuffe led the 3,000 championship race for nearly five laps before Waverly Neer of Culver (Ind.) moved to the front. Watch interview with Pierce.
Pierce responded with her own surge, which Cuffe followed. But Pierce’s kick on the bell lap was too much for the Stanford-bound Cuffe. The junior spoiled Cuffe’s last shot at a Penn Relays title, winning in 9:16.35, the eighth-fastest time in U.S. history. Cuffe was second in 9:19.24, the third-best time in Penn Relays history. Neer finished third in 9:22.32.
“I’ve been working on that last quarter and I was really confident,” Pierce said.
Pierce said she felt good the entire way, even when she was sitting in a three-way battle for the lead with just over a lap to go.
“I thought that this was a chance to prove myself,” she said. “No one was really expecting anything out of me. I just want to prove to myself that I could run with them.”
Angel Piccirillo of Homer Center won her second consecutive Penn Relays title in the mile. This time in a huge personal best of 4:48.83. She trailed Kelsey Margey of Harborfields with a lap left. Watch interview with Piccirillo.
Margey went at the bell. Picccirillo covered the move then made her own push with 300 left. But Margey didn’t let up and surged again.
“We were almost at the 200 when I saw her look over her shoulder at me,” Piccirillo said. “I knew I had to go. It was one-and-down. I had to go before she had a chance to respond.”
She gave another push, one that Margey couldn’t cover. The Harborfields junior finished closely behind in 4:49.38.
“I didn’t open up at all in the last stretch,” Piccrillo said. “I was just trying to hold on, hoping she didn’t’ catch me.