Lenape girls track to mark a milestone at Penn Relays

The Indians have qualified for either the 4x800-meter relay or distance medley relay for 10 consecutive years.

Lenape’s 4×800-meter relay team of Shelby Whetstone, Hayley Conway, Olivia Cao and Becca Thomas are hoping to set a personal best time at the 2019 Penn Relays on April 25. It will be the 10th consecutive year the Indians are racing in either the 4×800-meter relay or distance medley relay at the event. (Mike Monostra/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

The Penn Relays is celebrating a huge milestone this year as the meet will be run for the 125th time starting on Thursday, April 25.

Lenape High School girls track and field is also celebrating a milestone at Penn Relays this season. The team has qualified for either the 4×800-meter relay or the distance medley relay for 10 straight years. The Indians qualified for the 4×800-meter relay this year.

This is a big accomplishment as the Penn Relays accepts fewer than 100 girls teams from all over the country to participate in those two events, which are considered among the most prestigious in the high school portion of the meet.

In South Jersey, the only other girls teams to qualify for the 4×800-meter relay this year are Haddonfield and Kingsway. No South Jersey schools are taking part in the girls distance medley relay.

“This is definitely at the top with states and the Meet of Champions to me,” senior Shelby Whetstone said. “I like running in that type of atmosphere, you have the crowd and everyone cheering you on. It’s something you never get at any other kind of meet.”

“It doesn’t feel like a regular meet,” junior Becca Thomas added. “There are Olympians running there and people from other countries running there. It’s a completely different experience from any other meet I’ve been to.”

Lenape will enter a very experienced team in the 4×800-meter relay. Whetstone, Thomas and senior Hayley Conway all ran the event at last year’s Penn Relays. Junior Olivia Cao joined the relay team this year and will be running in the 4×800-meter relay at Franklin Field for the first time.

“It’s definitely hard, because I’ve had to push myself a lot to keep up with them,” Cao said of her new role on the team. “But it’s been fun.”

Making it to Penn Relays is the culmination of a year of hard work and lots of running for the Lenape relay team. The training began at the start of the school year during cross country, carried through the indoor track season and into the first few weeks of outdoor track.

“We’ve been training together since cross country,” Cao said. “We all know each other’s pace and how we like to run.”

The four upperclassmen have been Lenape’s 4×800-meter relay team since the start of the indoor season. Whetstone felt this was important as it allowed the team to build chemistry and improve skills such as handoffs.

“The four of us run really well together,” Whetstone said. “We’re all friends. We run together at practice. There isn’t anything new. We all get along really well.”

Lenape was able to qualify for Penn Relays thanks to a pair of strong performances. At the Eastern States Indoor Championships in New York City on Feb. 19, the team put up a strong time of 9:44.27. The time was its best of the indoor season and not far off from the 9:43.10 the Indians ran at the 2018 Penn Relays.

In the outdoor season, the relay team bested its indoor mark during one of its first outdoor meets of the season. At the Lenape Invitational on April 13, Lenape finished in second place in the 4×800-meter relay with a season-best mark of 9:42.60. Not only was the time the best of 2019, it was also better than any time the team ran in 2018.

“It made us really excited,” Thomas said. “We were able to PR from our really good race at the Armory and it was only the second meet of the season. It was really exciting.”

With its 10th consecutive berth in the Penn Relays sealed, the relay team is now focused on improving on its finish from last year. Head coach Gerald Richardson believes the team is capable of running around 9:35 on Thursday, and Lenape’s four runners agree they can improve dramatically over their 2018 time.

“We can definitely make a lot of improvements from last year,” Conway said. “Especially me and Becca, it was our first time running there last year. Now that we have three veterans on the team, we’ll be looking to follow through with a faster time.”