PHILADELPHIA – As hard as it is to believe, the Union Catholic girls managed to do something that even its teams with legendary high school Olympian Sydney McLaughlin couldn’t do when she ran for Union Catholic at the Penn Relays.
Competing on one of the biggest track and field stages in the world, UC put on a dazzling show with a pair of electrifying performances at the 125th running of the historic meet on Friday at Franklin Field.
UC finished second overall and first among U.S. teams in the 4×800-meter relay Championship of America race in a Union County record 9:00.36, and came back later after a long weather delay to finish fifth overall and second among U.S. teams in the 4×400 Championship of America race in 3:46.55.
In between those two sensational performances, the Vikings, without using its top lineup, placed fourth in the Northeast 4×100 final in 48.23.
UC’s second-place finish in the 4×800 is its highest finish ever at the Penn Relays. With 2016 OIympian McLaughlin running anchor, the Vikings finished third overall and first among U.S. teams in the 4×400 in both 2016 and ’17.
UC placed behind Edwin Allen of Jamaica (8:54.02) in the 4×800, and ahead of third-place Neumann-Goretti of Philadelphia (9:03.07) to earn prestigious watches for being the top U.S. team. Neumann-Goretti, who finished 10 seconds ahead of UC in Thursday’s trials, won the New Balance National Indoor title in the 4×800 last month.
UC’s 9:00.36 was more than 15 seconds faster than it ran in Thursday’s trials, and it smashed the Union County and school record of 9:10.04 that UC ran in the trials at the Penn Relays last year, and is the No. 1 time in the U.S. this season.
UC junior Leena Morant, who ran on both the 4×800 and 4×400, said what UC accomplished helps set a new legacy of greatness for the Vikings program after McLaughlin left behind her own remarkable legacy. McLaughlin, who graduated from UC in 2017 as arguably the greatest female track and field athlete in U.S. high school history, now runs professionally.
“This kind of becomes our own legacy,” said Morant. “I know a lot of people bring up Sydney and we all know how amazing she is, but this kind of proves to us and everyone around us that with or without Sydney we can be great.”
UC senior Jerika Lufrano, who anchored the 4×800, said the Vikings proved they are more than a sprint school.
“A lot of people know UC as Sydney’s team or they know you as someone who was her teammate, but to come in second in the 4×800 at the Penn Relays shows that we are not only great on the sprint side, but we are also very good in the middle distance and in the longer distances. We are dominant on all levels.”
UC, fifth in the 4×800 C of A last year, gave Edwin Allen all it could handle.
Morgan Williams led off the 4×800 with a huge personal best of 2:15.19 for UC and handed off to Morant in third place. Morant moved UC up to second with a 2:11.80 carry and stayed on the heels of Edwin Allen. Ashleigh Patterson then cranked out a gutsy 2:18.43 split as she handed the baton to Lufrano in second place.
Lufrano, who finished off the race by blasting a personal best 2:14.96 on the anchor, raised her hands in total euphoria as she crossed the line. Lufrano then crumbled to the track in complete exhaustion. After she was helped to her feet, Lufrano she was mobbed by Williams, Patterson and Morant as the foursome hugged and started celebrating.
“We knew what we came here to do and we went out and did it,” said Lufrano. “We weren’t leaving here without something, either a wheel, a watch or medals. This was like getting silver at the Olympics for us.”
UC coach Mike McCabe switched his order for the final, moving Morant from anchor to second, and Lufrano from second to anchor.
“It worked perfectly,” said Morant. “Coach McCabe knows his runners and makes the best decisions for us, and it worked out in our favor. I got the baton in third, and my goal was to run off the girl from Jamaica, and she pulled me through the race and put the girls on my team behind me in good position and I was able to hand off in second.”
Patterson was determined to hold her position.
“My main goal was to maintain position, and if anyone came up to challenge me I was focused on fighting them off and staying in second,” said Patterson.
Morant said she and her teammates aren’t surprised by dropping more than 15 seconds from the 9:15.58 it ran in Thursday’s trials.
“We know that people in the stands didn’t think we could run this fast after yesterday, but we knew and our coaches knew what we were capable of,” said Morant. We just had to execute it.”
In the 4×400, which was run in a heavy downpour after an hour weather delay because of lightning, Khamil Evans, Chi Chi Nkulume, Sydney Tucker (56.84) and Morant (56.92) shared the baton for UC.
Coach McCabe was ecstatic with what his team did.
“I’m just so super proud of what our girls did today over these last two days,” said McCabe. “To see the 4×800 put it all together the way did was so awesome. The way they walked off the track yesterday after running 9:15 and with a lot of people probably thinking we couldn’t drop our time like we did, they believed. They believed they could do this, and they went out and executed perfectly and beat the national champions and ran faster than we ever have. The only thing we’ve never done is win a wheel, but we are getting closer. And in the 4×400, for our girls to run almost as fast we we did in the trials yesterday (3:45.39) in these conditions was a great performance. This was such a great day, one of the best we’ve ever had at UC.”
Union Catholic’s Conor Reilly competes in the pole vault at the Penn Relays
PHILADELPHIA – The Union Catholic boys placed fourth in its 4×400-meter relay heat with a very fast time, and Conor Reilly finished seventh in the pole vault in front of a crowd of 48,195 at the 125th Penn Relays on Saturday at Franklin Field.
UC’s time of 3:24.92 in the 4×400 was the 40th fastest time among the 534 teams that competed and the seventh fastest time among N.J. teams. .
The splits for UC were 51.95 for Tyhir Jones, 49.57 for Elijah Brown, 51.50 for Myles Plummer, and 51.92 for Connor Cooper.
In the pole vault, Reilly cleared 14-5 1/4 on his third and final attempt to secure the seventh-place finish.