SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - This time there was no doubt. No longer could anyone second-guess Gwynedd-Mercy Academy's domination of the 4x800-meter relay at the PIAA track and field championships.
The Monarchs had won seven straight Class AA races before moving up to Class AAA last season. After each victory, skeptics would say, "It's nice, but it came against a less competitive classification."
They can't say that any longer.
After placing second last season, Gwynedd-Mercy won the Class AAA event Saturday at Shippensburg University's Seth Grove Stadium. And it wasn't even close.
The quartet of Meredith Jones, Kelly McEldrew, Erin Ryan and Taylor Bumpas combined for a school-record time of 9 minutes, 4.35 seconds. The old record of 9:04.57 was set in 2004.
Council Rock North was a distant second in 9:08.35, and Conestoga placed third in 9:08.49.
"In double A, there was always a level above us that people would compare us to," Ryan said. "They didn't think that we would last. To come in here and win it just silences the crowd."
With Ryan and McEldrew nursing pulled hamstrings, some questioned whether Gwynedd-Mercy even could place in the race. But the two seniors showed no signs of their injuries.
The Monarchs were in fourth place when Ryan took the baton from McEldrew.
Ryan, who ran a 2:13 split, caught the leaders on the first lap. The standout took the lead on the backstretch of her final lap.
Gwynedd-Mercy had a six-meter cushion when she handed the baton to Bumpas.
"I've got nothing to lose," Ryan said of not holding back despite her injury. "I have a whole summer before I go away to college. I can recover. Basically, I was going all out. We really wanted it this year."
The victory was all but clinched shortly after Bumpas received the baton. The junior, who ran a 2:12 anchor leg, quickly separated herself from the pack and cruised home.
"I had total confidence in Taylor," Ryan said. "I would put her up against anybody. I knew as long as I would get it to her, maybe within five strides of the leader, she would get them."
Engineering and Science won the Class AA girls' 4x400 relay for the fourth consecutive season. The quartet of Acoya Goings, Kasia Taylor, Benita Taylor and Jona'e McAllister won Saturday's race in 3:55.71.