The atmosphere at the Penn Relays is easy to get lost in.
The 23,310 fans sitting in the bleachers at the University of Pennsylvania’s venerable Franklin Field on Thursday and the thousands of athletes and coaches on the surrounding streets are things that few, if any kids have experienced. Running a big race is hard enough, but trying to block out all of the extra curricular things can be a challenge in and of itself.
Walking into Franklin Field on Thursday morning with a legitimate chance to do some damage, the Freehold Township 4×800 squad blocked everything out, running 9:16.75 to finish third in its heat and qualify for this afternoon’s 4×800 Championship of America.
That is the top time in the Shore Conference this season and just the third sub-9:20 effort statewide
The top 12 teams overall from the two small school and two large school qualifying heats are through.
The Patriots’ quartet of Adrian Vitello, Caitlyn Poss, Abigail Faith and Emily Bracher is the second Shore Conference girls 4×800 to qualify for the Penn 4×800 COA since 2011 when Ajee Wilson-led Neptune finished 12th.
“It’s so different than what we’re used to, the warm up, everything about this,” Bracher said after anchoring in an unofficial 2:16.2 and 1:12.9 for the final 400 meters. “We just tried our best and tried to let anything get in our mental mindset and we just went out there and raced as hard as we could like we always do.”
Freehold Township was one of only four teams from its large school heat to qualify for today’s 12-team final, but it benefited from two-time defending and five-time champion Edwin Allen of Jamaica setting a hot early pace. Edwin Allen won the heat in 9:05.41, while Mamaroneck of New York was second in 9:15.32.
Edwin Allen took off early in the race, while Vitello and Poss ran strong opening legs. Poss went 2:18.2, including 1:11.5 for the final 400, on the second leg to get Faith the baton in second.
“We know where everything and now we know what to expect,” Bracher said of Thursday’s experience alleviating any nerves going into today. “I think we’ll be more comfortable and we’ll be ready.”
The only other New Jersey team to make it was Columbia, which qualified fifth. The cutoff for the final was 9:25.96, which means this is considered a slow year for the event.
The girls mile featured a plodding early pace up front as Holmdel sophomore Marin Warner went with the lead pack for the better part of the first 1,200 meters. Eventual-winner Jaimie Phelan took at the bell, holding off Reagan Anderson for the win in 4:50.60. Warner stayed up for seventh in 4:59.74.
That is the second time Warner has gone sub-5:00 and the first time outdoors for the true mile. At New Balance Outdoor Nationals in March, she ran 4:58.31.
Toms River North ran the fastest 4×400 time of the day by a local team, going 4:00.01 to win its heat. That time is good for No. 2 in the Shore Conference this season behind the 3:55.44 Neptune ran at the New York Relays last Saturday.