By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW YORK (14-Mar) — Coming into day-two of New Balance Nationals Indoor 2015 at The Armory, La Salle Academy of Rhode Island knew they were on the precipice of history. With strong teams in both the Boys’ and Girls’ 4xMile relays, the school of roughly 1,500 students wanted to walk away from the meet with a pair of national crowns. That they did, sweeping the 4xMile in grand fashion.
First up was the Girls’ relay, with Karina Tavares, Audrey O’Neil, Sheridan Wilbur, and Eliza Rego taking the track. Pre-meet, the quartet knew they would face hard competition from Blacksburg (VA), Corning (NY), Express TC (Elmira, NY), and Spirit of Pre (Saline, MI).
While all four of the aforementioned teams provided challenges early on, Wilbur and Rego’s strength on the third and fourth legs helped solidify La Salle’s positioning up front. Racing alone in the pole position, Rego would notch a sub-five minute mile anchor leg to give La Salle the victory going away in 20:26.13. Corning (NY) would take second, some 14 seconds back in 20:40.23.
“Our coach calculated a time, but we weren’t sure what we could do,” said Rego, noting that the team had never competed in the 4xMile before. The team decided to run this relay as opposed to the distance medley relay because they thought it’d be more of a challenge to get the win.
“All week we were talking about how hard it would be,” said Wilbur, a senior. “The bigger the battle, the more satisfaction we’d get out of it!”
Yet the school was only getting started. Coming in as the clear favorites, La Salle’s Boys’ team was favored to win their relay and potentially challenge the 17:07.17 national record set last year by Christian Brothers Academy (Lincroft, NJ).
Opening with Daniel Paiva and Matthew Bouthilette, La Salle was at the head of the field. Yet they weren’t alone: Davis of Utah, a team that finished sixth at Nike Cross Nationals last year, was right on their heels.
Davis and La Salle would consistently trade the lead back and forth, especially on the third leg. La Salle’s David Principe and Davis’s Logan MacKay went stride for stride before handing off to Jack Salisbury and Josh Ward, respectfully.
Right on national record pace, neither one of the pair would give an inch, refusing to succumb to the harsh pace. After all, a national title, All-American honors, and pride was on the line.
Admittedly, Salisbury didn’t expect Davis’s Ward to be challenging him during his leg. While Davis is regarded as one of the best teams in the nation, they weren’t predicted to go toe-to-toe with La Salle.
“I was thinking this kid is taking it pretty fast. If I can just stay with him I’d be good…I wasn’t really anticipating them to be there on the final leg or two. But they stuck in there — they are a tough team,” said Salisbury.
Knowing that Salisbury had run 4:08.76 for the open mile earlier this year, Ward tried to break him each and every lap down the backstretch, surging hard and keeping the pace honest. Ward is the brother of Jared Ward, the former BYU standout who will race the USA Marathon Championships at the Los Angeles Marathon tomorrow.
“The battle was intense, but it’s fun when you work with your teammates like that,” said Ward. “I tried not to think about it too much during the race [referencing Salisbury’s well-known speed]. Once I started I was just like race whoever it is, no matter if he is a 4:05 guy or a 4:50 guy.”
At the sound of the bell, Ward extended Davis’s lead to what appeared to be two meters — the largest it had been since the second leg. But Salisbury refused to give in. After being denied the pass around the final bend, Salisbury opened his stride and overtook Ward in the final 50 meters, giving La Salle Academy the clean sweep of the 4xMile titles. Although their winning time of 17:11.07 was four seconds shy of the national record, La Salle couldn’t have been happier.
“You can’t beat it — we just won a national championship!” said Bouthilette, the second leg.
Over the course of this season, La Salle Academy has put their school on the map with successful performances throughout New England. Between the boys and girls teams, there is a friendly rivalry of who can achieve more each meet.
“I think we do [have that]. The girls in the past have had a lot more success than we have. But the past few years we’ve really stepped it up and really been competing with them lately,” said Paiva, the only senior on the boy’s winning team.
Following their win, the girls team was track-side cheering for their classmates as loud as possible, edging them on towards the historic sweep. No school had claimed both 4xMile relay titles in the same year since 2000, when Rockford (MI) pulled off the feet. Interestingly, Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein –who will be running the United Airlines NYC Half here tomorrow– was a member of that winning Rockford squad. His wife Kalin (then Kalin Toedebusch) was on the girls’ team.
But today, the spotlight belonged to La Salle Academy.
“It’s huge. I think it shows a lot about our coaches, the program we have, and to be able to pull this off, it shows how strong La Salle’s distance program is,” said Wilbur, the third leg of the girls relay.
“It shows that we have a great coaching staff and that our kids have a great work ethic. We go in every day trying to get the most benefit out of everything we do, whether it is a workout or easy run,” echoed Bouthilette.
Davis (UT) wasn’t done for the day after their runner-up showing in the 4xMile relay. Roughly five and a half hours later, the same quartet of Stokton Smith, Colter Blanchard, Josh Ward, and Logan MacKay would return to The Armory’s oval and power home with the 4x800m national title in 7:42.19.
“It was crazy!” said MacKay, the anchor, in his post-race webcast interview. “We all came here, trained, raised money to get here, did everything to get here. We wanted to come home with a win.”
“It was so fun to come back after getting second and win,” added Smith seconds later.
Amanda Thomas anchored home Western Branch TC (VA) in the girls’ 4x800m relay, securing the national title in 9:02.27. Jewel Smith, Ceshay Joyner, and Faith Ross were also part of the victorious team, combining to record the fastest prep time in the discipline this season.
Tomorrow, in the final day of competition, national champions will be crowned in the 800m, mile, and 2 mile, among many other events.
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