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Cheltenham girls win 2nd straight AAA title at PIAA Championships

SHIPPENSBURG >> The Cheltenham girls were about to accept the state championship trophy for Class AAA, and members of the team huddled together, breaking into a rendition of ‘We Are Family.’

It was only fitting, given the unity that this team possessed. The Panthers overcame it all to win it all…again.

“The fact that we really had to work for it,” sophomore Alexis Crosby said, “made it a hundred times better.”

Cheltenham had injuries, some disappointing preliminary heats and — as always — quite a bevy of competition in Class AAA.

Plus, those competing at Shippensburg University this past weekend had the 90-degree heat to contend with.

But after all, this was Cheltenham weather.

As coach Kelly Jensen said, “the heat is good for sprinters. It loosens them up. It’s like a cake — throw it in at 450 and let it bake for a while.”

The Panthers, praised for their toughness and determination by their coach, were so good in fact that they set three state records, beginning with Chanel Brissett’s 100-meter hurdles race. Her time of 13.19 not only broke the state mark of 13.35, set by former Cheltenham runner Ciara Leonard in 2014, it nearly broke the national record of 13.03, which was set by Vashti Thomas of Mount Pleasant, California back in 2007.

“I was going for the national record, but that’s okay, a win’s a win,” said Brissett, only a junior.

Brissett, having banged her knee on a hurdle on Friday, battled through the pain of the injury to get the gold. She had to sit out of the 200 dash, but poured everything she had left into a record-setting 4×1, joining Bria Barnes, Brielle Lewis and Alexis Crosby.

“So basically, it hadn’t been the best weekend for Cheltenham, so we just went into this race thinking we had to give 500 percent,” said Brissett, who ran anchor. “We were all gonna run our fastest no matter what. We were confident going into the race, and it showed.

“It’s phenomenal (to get the record). We would have never thought that we would go 45.78. Our goal was 45.99 — just to be close (to the record). We were shocked. But that shows how hard we’ve worked.”

The Panther foursome surpassed the mark of 46.39, set by Truman back in 1999.

Cheltenham added points with a silver-medal finish in the 4×400 relay and Crosby’s silver medal in the 400 dash. Madison Langley-Walker was big in the jumps, earning fourth in the triple on Friday and bronze in the long on Saturday.

Sophomore MaryGrace Rittler, displaying the balance on this young Cheltenham squad, came through with a medal in the 3,200, earning eighth place on Saturday morning.

It all added up to 48 points, best in Class AAA again, their closest competitor State College, with 32.

There were unexpected obstacles for Cheltenham this time around, but the Panthers reached their goal just the same.

“We told the girls, your back’s against the wall and you’re gonna prove yourself (Saturday),” Jensen said. “We know they’re tough because they run tough all year long.”

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