Downingtown West sweeps Ches-Mont 4×400 relays at 127th Penn Relays

Downingtown West’s Lily Henning hands the baton to Hailey Sward on the first hand-off in the High School Girls’ 4×400 Suburban ChesMont at the Penn Relays Saturday. Cecilia Shearer and Ryleigh Hearn ran the other legs as the Whippets won in a time of 3:57.90. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY LOCAL NEWS)

Philadelphia >> Downingtown West completed its sweep of the High School 4×400 Suburban Ches-Mont relays at the 127th running of the Penn Relays at Franklin Field Saturday, as the Whippet quartet of Lily Henning, Hailey Sward, Cecilia Shearer and Ryleigh Hearn won the Ches-Mont girls race with a school record clocking of 3:57.90.

On Thursday, the Downingtown West quartet of Owen Harris, Eddi Embore, Ryan Witherspoon and Kelly Bell won the High School Boys 4×400 Suburban Ches-Mont race with a clocking of 3:26.03.

“For them to win both races is awesome,” said D-West sprint coach Tracy Robinson. “They’ve put in all the hard work, and the Ches-Mont is pretty competitive both on the boys’ and girls’ side so for them to get a double win is amazing, a testament to how hard they’ve worked.”

Throughout much of the Ches-Mont girls’ race Saturday, the Whippets and Downingtown East were trading the lead. The Cougars finished second with a quartet of Faith Fuqua, Dinah Mukulian, Keerthana Sujesh and Nia Massey (4:01.09). Avon Grove was a close third (4:01.50) with a foursome of Eden Veenema, Paige Clark, Bridget Keegan and Lily Schindler, followed by Great Valley (fourth, 4:03.61) and West Chester Rustin (4:08.68).

Hearn, the anchor of the victorious 4×400 girls relay, is a Penn State-bound senior whose first time competing at the Penn Relays was in middle school at a CYO race.

“The key for me was just pumping my arms and pushing through, trying to get ahead of East and hold that,” said a smiling Hearn. “When I crossed the finish line, I was so happy. I love my team, they all did an amazing job today.”

Downingtown West’s Ryleigh Hearn and West Chester Rustin;’s Ava Alexander exchange a hug after the race. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY LOCAL NEWS)

Hearn is a standout runner who had two individual first place finishes (400 meter run, 100 meter dash) and anchored of the Whippets’ first-place 4×100 relay team at the recent Ches-Mont National Super Meet, but Robinson praised the entire Whippet quartet.

“The (four) girls are a solid unit that has been working hard since September together, and they wanted it, they put in the work,” said Robinson. “The Ches-Mont is an amazing field, we’ve got Avon Grove, Rustin, Downingtown East, and to finish on top of that is amazing but we know that we still have Districts and the Ches-Mont Championships to go. In our league, you can’t slack off against anyone – on any given day anyone can take a win and post a top 10 time in the state.”

Hearn and Henning both were part of the Whippet quartet that finished second in last year’s High School Girls’ 4×400 Suburban Ches-Mont. Just like this year, Henning led off the relay last spring and Hearn anchored.

Henning found the wet conditions to be a stimulus rather than an obstacle: “It honestly wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I thought the rain kind of cooled us down as we were running and kind of woke me up a bit.”

Sward, a freshman running in the Penn Relays for the first time, said, “It’s a bit overwhelming; the environment of the stadium can be a bit big, it can cause a lot of nerves. But once you’re on the track you forget about it all, you just take off and do what you do. It was my first time here, and I think I did pretty well given the circumstances and being on the younger side; overall, I thought it was great and I had a great time.”

A dropped baton cost West Chester Rustin the lead in the Girls’ 4×400 Suburban ChesMont at the Penn Relays Saturday.The Golden Knights recovered to finish 5th in a time of 4:08.68/. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY LOCAL NEWS)

Shearer, a sophomore running for the first time at Penn Relays, said, “I thought this was really fun; it’s way different than a normal meet. I planned on getting my first 17 steps out hard and then just keeping that pace and striding until I get to 100 meters left and I then I just pushed.”

Robinson said, “The key (for both victorious Whippet 4×400 relays) was consistency, they’ve been coming to all of our workouts, doing the handoffs and giving it their all.”

Downingtown West’s closest pursuer in the Ches-Mont boys 4×400 was the Coatesville quartet of Donte London, Josh Miller, Elijah Morris and Tommy Silvester (second place, 3:26.45).

Robinson said, “Kelly Bell has been putting in about 47.8 I believe, and our freshman, Ryan Witherspoon, is one of our up-and-coming athletes, and for him to be part of a winning team at Penn Relays is amazing.”

Bell, a senior, will run track next spring for High Point (N.C.) University.

On Friday, West Chester Rustin’s Ava Alexander finished sixth in the High School Girls Triple Jump Championship (39’1 ¼”). Saturday, she anchored the Golden Knights’ fifth-place entry in the High School Girls 4×400 Suburban Ches-Mont relay.

Alexander smiled and said, “I wasn’t too happy with my performance (in the triple jump), I could have done better, but overall it was a learning experience, the competition was top-notch, and I didn’t do the triple jump last year here, I was injured (then).”

Asked what she thought was the most satisfying experience for her at the Penn Relays this year, Alexander responded, “Having a team together and knowing we can get through this together, it’s an amazing feeling.”

On Saturday, Downingtown East finished seventh in the High School Girls 4×100 Northeast relay (48.83) with a quartet of Katie Riley, Massey, Gigi Jennings-Scott and Fuqua. Earlier in the day, Massey and Fuqua were on the ends of the Cougar quartet that set a school record clocking (4:01.09) when placing second in the Ches-Mont Girls 4×400.

Also on Saturday, Villa Maria Academy finished 10th in the High School Girls 4×400 Philadelphia Academic race (4:26.64), and Conestoga placed 11th in the High School Girls 4×400 Central League race (4:23.26).

Another Friday standout was Kennett’s Kirstin Hoffman, who finished second in the High School Girls Pole Vault Championship (12’7 ¼”). The first place finisher was Veronica Vacca of Mount St. Joseph (12’11”).

On Friday, Downingtown West finished sixth in the High School Boys 4×100 Northeast relay (43.37) with a quartet of Spenser Dunn, Bell, Matthew Woodward and Eddie Moore.

Also on Friday, the West Chester Rustin quartet of Hannah Betchyk, Ellie Keefer, Leila Duffie and Maddie Miller finished fifth (9:33.42) in their heat of the High School Girls 4×800; and on Thursday, the Coatesville quartet of Tommy Wayne, Tommy Silvester, Marcus Evans and Josh Miller finished seventh (8:03.61) in their heat of the High School Boys 4×800.

On Thursday, the Great Valley quartet of Cameron Gosa, Sean Mahoney, Aidan Poggi and Jalen Beebe finished ninth in their heat of the High School Boys 4×100 (44.74).

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