The PIAA District 1 track and field championships are across the board one of the strongest and most competitive district meets in Pennsylvania, if not the country.
But in several events, even through competition that is nearly unmatched in the state, one athlete emerged far and away above the rest – proving herself peerless among a talented group.
Saturday morning, there were 45 girls racing in the Class AAA 3,200-meter race. The field was one of the largest in any event.
But just one lap into the race, Pennsbury's Sara Sargent was running by herself.
Those in attendance at Coatesville High School who didn't already know soon found out that Sargent is one of those special athletes.
Sargent – a freshman – won the race by 16 seconds and set a meet record of 10 minutes, 33.8 seconds. That surpassed the mark of 10:37.55 set by Norristown's Donna Fidler in 1995. Central Bucks East's Katie Kinkead finished in 10:49.70.
These were Sargent's comments after her record-breaking performance:
"I wouldn't say I was holding back, but I was being a little bit more conservative, trying to save it up for states so hopefully I can get my personal record at states. I was running hard, but not as fast as I could have run."
The strategy was common Saturday for many heavily favored athletes – the PIAA state championship will be Friday and Saturday in Shippensburg. Breaking a meet record while implementing that strategy is nearly unheard of.
The 3,200 wasn't the only record Sargent broke this weekend, and it wasn't the most storied.
In Friday's preliminary for the 1,600, Sargent ran a 4:51.64, breaking the record of 4:54.1 set by Kim Gallagher in 1981. Gallagher, an Upper Dublin graduate, went on to win the silver medal in the 800 meters in the 1984 Olympics.
"That makes it even more special," Sargent said. "The people who held the records before were absolutely unbelievable runners. So it's an honor to break the records that they set, because it shows me that if they can overcome all that they did, then maybe I can do the same."
Saturday, Sargent won the 1,600 in 5:00.17, with Gwynedd-Mercy's Meredith Jones taking second in 5-04.67.
"I really wanted to break that record in the trials, and then come in today and win the race," Sargent said. "Now, I just have to get ready for states."
Consider Class AAA runner Tom Mallon as Sargent's male counterpart. The Central Bucks South senior entered Saturday's district final with the nation's fastest time in the 800 meters.
By the time Mallon got up to defend his district title, rain was pouring down on the Coatesville track, making for less-than-ideal conditions, according to Mallon. But his 1:52.71 set a meet record, surpassing the mark of 1:52.7 (handheld) set by Coatesville's Jim Brooks in 1983.
"I'm happy with the performance," Mallon said. "I'm actually a little tired because I had prom last night. I was just trying to go for the win."
Also, Abington's Leah Nugent defended her Class AAA district titles in the 100 and 300 hurdles. Nugent's 13.92 in the 100 earned the junior this season's top spot in the state and fourth in the country. Trinity Wilson from Berkeley, Calif., holds the nation's fastest time, 13.49.