Ridgewood runs sensational distance medley at Penn Relays by Paul Schwartz of The Record
PHILADELPHIA — The three Ridgewood seniors who returned to the distance medley relay at Penn Relays Thursday evening ran with the abandon they did not show last season. And the result was the second fastest time in Bergen County history, joy and redemption.
The Maroons didn’t medal, finishing eighth, but ran 11:54.22, one of the top dozen times in the country this year and second only to the 2012 Ridgewood team that won the national championship.
“We had a lot to prove to ourselves because last year didn’t go that well,” said Cassie Keyes who led off the race by running 3:41.32 for 1,200 meters, nearly four seconds faster than she had ever run the distance before. “It’s been something we wanted all year and we worked hard to get there.”
Katherine Muccio ran the best 400 split of the race by nearly two seconds and her 56.79 left the Maroons in fifth place on the handoff. This came nearly eight hours after she ran in the first high school race of the day, tying for seventh in the 400 hurdles in a personal best 61.33.
“The middle of the day was rough,” said Muccio, who left school at 6 a.m. to get to her 10:20 a.m. event. “But my teammates got here around 2 or 3 and that gave me even more motivation.”
Virginia Morley followed with an almost too enthusiastic start, running out of a box after running a 66.1 opening lap and actually taking the lead with 250 to go.
“I was really really excited but I was all in,” said Morley, who held it together to split 2:21.77 for her 800 leg, keeping Ridgewood in the race. “I was in such a slump all winter I thought I might never get out of it. But running like this today boosts my confidence and now I know the slump is over.”
That left it up to freshman Camryn Wennersten, running her first Penn Relays and admittedly nervous.
“I tried to block it out and just concentrate on what I was doing,” said Wennersten, who has had an amazing first high school year. “I thought of my teammates and how much this meant to all of us and kept going.”
All the way to a terrific 4:54.35, running the second two laps faster than the first two.
“Now it’s on to counties, sectionals, groups, states and nationals,” said Wennersten.
“We’re gonna to get that record, too,” said Keyes.
Three mini wheels go back to Bergen
It’s been two years since a Bergen County team had taken home a mini-wheel plaque representing a win in one of the signature 4-x-400 races that is the centerpiece of the Penn Relays.
Thursday, three teams won plaques within 15 races, and for NV/Old Tappan and Holy Angels it was the first win ever.
Both the Golden Knights and Angels went wire-to-wire behind great leadoff legs.
Junior Nicole Barbaro continued her stunning breakthrough season running a 57.18 opening 400 to break open Holy Angels race. Senior Abby Sheehan, freshman Eliza Hoover and junior Maris Rodriguez ran the rest of the way, untested and ran a school record 4:01.67.
“I was so excited when I got the baton with a big lead and I thought to myself, ‘Don’t mess this up,”’ said Rodriguez, who also anchored the school record 50.01 4-x-100 relay. “I tried to get it under four minutes but there was no one to push us.”
Three races later, senior Taylor Newman led off the NV/Old Tappan team with a 60.07 leg, propelling the Golden Knights to a 4:06.78. Freshman Cara Hilboki ran 59.81 and seniors Serena DeBenedetto and Taylor Dolan finished off the win.
“Coach (Dave) Burns told me to get out hard,” said Newman. “I did and the other girls showed the dedication and determination to finish it.”
Ramapo completed the triple despite the absence of junior Sophia Schwartz and went wire-to-wire behind sophomores Cortney Lander, Megan Schneider and Sophia Vernieri and senior Sarah Adams, running 4:00.58.
“It’s been a great experience coming here every year,” said Adams, who’ll be at Dartmouth next year. “I enjoyed running anchor as a freshman and it’s exciting to win another plaque.”
Waldwick, Northern Highlands, Wayne Valley, Hackensack and Ramsey also earned medals.
Notes and quotes
Daisy Liljegren of Northern Highlands, finished 15th in a 25-girl field in the 3,000 meters in 9:57.70, fourth all time in Bergen history at the Penn Relays and just three seconds slower than teammate Monica Hebner ran in this race last year.
“I’m so happy to be healthy and running well this year, and this gives me confidence for the rest of the year and going in to next year,” said Liljegren, who battled injury and illness.
Paramus Catholic (48.79) and Ramapo (48.80) had season leading 4-x-100 races to lead area teams.