Cunningham jump-starts Lenape's relay victory


By REUBEN FRANK
Burlington County Times

Fifty meters into the race, Moira Cunningham had a five-meter lead.

One lap in, she was up by 12 meters.

Two laps in, the lead had grown to 25 meters.

With 1 1/2 miles to go, it was over.

“She was so far ahead, at first, I thought she went out too fast,” Brianna Beddall said. “But she kept it up. It was incredible.”

Cunningham, leading off Lenape's 3,200-meter relay team, ran away from the field on her leadoff leg and made life easy for Caitlin Orr, Beddall and Miya Johnson.

“I knew my teammates were counting on me,” Cunningham said. “I didn't want to let them down.”

The Lenape girls not only won the 3,200 at last night's 74th annual Eastern States Track Championships, they ran the fourth-fastest time in state history and third-fastest time in meet history and shattered the South Jersey record by eight seconds.

Powered by Cunningham's 2:15.7 leadoff leg, Lenape won the first major relay championship in school history, clocking 9:11.94 - ei*hth-fastest in th* U.S. this winter. W*th Orr (2:18.6), Beddall (2:21.9) and Johnson (2:15.7) all running solo, Lenape beat top-seeded Pope John XXIII by a staggering 45 meters.

“I just told Moira to relax and have fun,” Lenape distance coach Jack Walsh said. “I guess that's her idea of having fun.”

When Cunningham handed off to Orr, Lenape led by 50 meters.

“She blew the field away,” coach Gerald Richardson said.

Cunningham ran four seconds faster than she ever had, but the 2:15 was no surprise to her coaches.

“She was due for a race like this,” Richardson said. “We knew she was capable of running that fast.”

The only teams to run faster than Lenape in meet history are Pope John, with their 9:06.94 last year and Upp*r Perkiomen of Pennsburg, Pa., with a 9:11.22 (converted from two miles) in 1982 in Boston.

“I was surprised no one went with me,” Cunningham said. “I don't know why they didn't - they just let me go. Coach Walsh is always telling me to get out fast, coast the second lap, then pick it up the third lap and just go. It's the first time it worked.

“I really wasn't aware how big the lead was. I never think about anybody else in the race. It doesn't matter if they're just behind me or 1,000 meters behind me, I just run my race.”

Lenape broke the South Jersey indoor record of 9:19.35 set by Woodrow Wilson in 2002 and their own indoor county mark of 9:26.67 set last year. They also broke the overall county mark of 9:18.94, set in 2006 by a team including Beddall and Johnson at the Penn Relays trials and ran the No. 2 time in South Jersey history under any conditions. Haddonfield ran 9:10.32 in the spring of 2000.

“We just wanted to come here and show we're as good as anybody else out there, and I think we did that,” Orr said.

Johnson, so used to chasing, went out fast, opening with a 30-second lap to eliminate any hope Pope John anchor Emily Carrollo - a 2:11 half-miler - had of catching her.

“We talked about winning,” Johnson said. “But to actually come out and do it and run that kind of time, that's really exciting.”

Lenape's time guarantees them a lane in the fast heat at the Nike Invitational in Landover, Md., next month, and makes them a team to watch at the Penn Relays in April.

“Gerald and I told them, You can show up and run well and be happy with that or you can go out and do something that people will talk about in 10 years,'“ Walsh said. “We've run well the last few years, but we hadn't dropped a bomb. We wanted to come up here and drop a bomb.”

Lenape senior Lindsey Walsh also had a huge day, winning the long jump with an 18-5 3/4 - the best indoor jump by a county girl since Carol Lewis set the national record of 21-7 1/2 27 years ago. Walsh's jump is No. 7 in South Jersey indoor history, best by a South Jersey long jumper in six years and No. 5 in county history indoors or outdoors.

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“I long jumped last year at sectionals for team points, but I've never practiced it,” Walsh said. “We went out yesterday and did some run thoughs to get my steps down, but that was it. I didn't know what I was doing. I just jumped.”

Walsh also placed second in the high jump at 5-4 and reached the semifinals of the high hurdles with an 8.66.

“I'm trying to get a feel for doing a lot of events to be ready for the pentathlon at nationals,” Walsh said. “I definitely surprised myself in the long jump. You don't PR by two feet two often.”

Cherokee senior Chris Steliga placed second in the boys long jump at 22-7 1/2, finishing three-quarters of an inch behind Jarenn Stewart of Archbishop Malloy of Briarwood, N.Y.

Steliga was over 22 feet on all three of his jumps in the trials, then fouled on all three of his attempts in the finals.

“The thing that's really aggravating is that I know I'm capable of doing a lot better,” the Penn State-bound Steliga said. “I'm not unhappy with it. It's not bad for not jumping the last two weeks. The worst part is knowing you have the potential to win and can't put it together.

“It's just t*ugh because we never get a chance to practice (jumping) during the winter. The last time I ju*ped was actually here, at the Varsity Classic (here on Feb. 4). All three of my jumps in the finals were out there - I'm sure they were over 23 feet. I just couldn't get my steps right. I'm definitely expecting big things outdoors. My goal is 24 feet, but I should definitely be well over 23 feet.”

Seneca sophomore Michelle Brown, who ran 56.40 at Saturday's Meet of Champions, picked the 55 last night and moved into the No. 4 spot in Burlington County history with a 7.26, good for seventh place. Not bad, considering Brown was seeded No. 31 in the event.

Brown ran 7.37 in the trials, then PR'd at 7.30 in the semifinals, then 7.26 in the final, a time that's been surpassed in county*history only by the legendary Michelle Gl*ver (6.73 in 1981), Moorestown's Amandi Rhett (7.00 at this *eet in 2000) and Willingboro's Magenta Taylor (7.07 here in 1999).

Brown came back to anchor Seneca to seventh place in the 3,200-meter relay with a time of 9:36.42, a school record by 11 seconds and No. 5 in county history. Mary Bohi, Nicole McGrainer and Lyndsy Horn also ran for Seneca, with Horn splitting 2:21.3.

Holy Cross senior Mike Sheehan ran a season-best 4:24.86 for sixth place in the 1,600-meter run.

Holy Cross senior Mike Sheehan ran a season-best 4:24.86 for sixth place in the 1,600-meter run.

The Cherokee girls placed fifth in the 1,600 out of a* unseeded heat in 4:*0.09, with Jess Lo*inger (59.6), Emily Kulcyk (60.9), Erin Mason (61.3) and Rachel Montague (58.2) breaking the school overall record of

Montague ran 8.53 in the 55-meter high hurdles, seventh-best in Burlington County history.

Closing the six-hour meet, the Cherokee girls placed fifth in the 1,600 out of a* unseeded heat in 4:*0.09, with Jess Lo*inger (59.6), Emily Kulcyk (60.9), Erin Mason (61.3) and Rachel Montague (58.2) helping the Chiefs break the school indoor and outdoor school record of 4:01.67, set in 2002 at the Eastern Regional Relay Invitational at Willingboro.

Montague also ran a personal-best 8.53 in the 55-meter high hurdles, seventh-best in Burlington County history and a Nike Invitational National Championships qualifier.

rfrank@phillyburbs.com