Nicole Clifford’s electrifying anchor leg led the Cherokee girls to a 3,200-meter relay win at the 126th annual Penn Relays Thursday morning and a berth in Friday’s Championship of America.
On a cold morning at Franklin Field, Clifford split 2:14.49, and Cherokee placed first in the first of two large-school races in 9:21.19, winning by 40 meters.
Cherokee’s time was 4th-fastest from among two small-school races and two large-school races. The 12-fastest schools from those four races advance to the Championship of America at 3:55 p.m. Friday.
This will be Cherokee’s first Championship of America relay in the program’s history. It’s been quite a year for Cherokee, which won the Meet of Champions and Nike Regionals in cross country and finished among the top four in three relays at Armory and Ocean Breeze nationals indoors.
Junior Kelsey Niglio led off with a 2:18.25 split that put Cherokee in the lead, and the Chiefs were never farther back than second the rest of the race. Sophomore Kerry O’Day ran 2:24.26 and freshman Megan Niglio 2:24.21 to set up Clifford, who got the stick even with the anchor from Shenendehowa of Clifton Park, N.Y.
Clifford moved into the lead on the first backstretch, and Cherokee wound up winning by 40 meters over Morgantown (W.V.), which passed Shenendehowa for second in 9:29.45.
Clifford’s split was fastest in the race by more than three seconds. The only faster split in any of the four races was recorded by Union Catholic anchor Peyton Hollis, who ran 2:12.53. Union Catholic won the first of the two small-school races in 9:13.08.
Cherokee ran 9:07.27 indoors at Ocean Breeze Nationals, No. 2 in South Jersey history.
Here are the 12 qualifiers for the Championship of America race:
9:13.08 … Union Catholic, Scotch Plains, N.J.
9:13.89 … Edwin Allen, Middlesex, Jamaica
9:19.75 … Cuthbertson, Waxhaw, N.C.
9:21.19 … Cherokee, Marlton, N.J.
9:23.48 … Holmwood Tech, Christiana, Jamaica
9:26.88 … Penn Charter, Philadelphia
9:29.45 … Morgantown, W.V.
9:30.43 … Shenendehowa, Clifton Park, N.Y.
9:30.76 … Penncrest, Media, Pa.
9:32.13 … Padua Academy, Wilmington, Del.
9:33.41 … St. John’s College, Washington, D.C.
9:37.28 … Middletown South, Middletown, N.J.