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Strath Haven seeks Relays repeat

Bill Coren, Strath Haven girls' track and field coach, is nervous.

Hannah Grossman of Strath Haven leads the pack during the PIAA Class AAA 1600 meter run in Shippensburg, Pa. (Photo/Kalim A. Bhatti)
Hannah Grossman of Strath Haven leads the pack during the PIAA Class AAA 1600 meter run in Shippensburg, Pa. (Photo/Kalim A. Bhatti)Read more

Bill Coren, Strath Haven girls' track and field coach, is nervous.

Nervous that his 4x800-meter relay team, a year after placing fourth in the Penn Relays Championship of America, won't advance past the preliminary heats Thursday. Nervous that the field is too deep and talented.

Nervous about Megan O'Dell.

"I'd be 100 percent certain that we'd make it to the finals of the Penn Relays with her running, but with Megan - Megan is a quarter-miler and we're stepping her up to the half," Coren said.

"We're hoping she can hang on."

"Her" refers to sophomore Bri Irons, who with Allie Wilson, Hannah Grossman, and Kristen Miller won the 4x800 indoor state championship in February.

Then spring hit, and with it, lacrosse, Irons' primary sport. She ditched the track flats for cleats, and O'Dell was tabbed as her replacement.

At last year's carnival, the Panthers quartet of Allie Wilson, Val Wilson, Grossman, and Katie Balmer turned in the third-best qualifying time in the event, going on to place fourth in the Championship of America with a time of with 9 minutes, 5.34 seconds. That was a minuscule .02 seconds off the bronze-medal pace.

"I would say that our three girls, not including Megan, are better; Allie and Hannah are better than last year," Coren said. "And Kristen is as good as those girls. It's a lot of pressure on Megan. She's going to have to get us at least close to the race."

O'Dell, a 400-meter dash specialist, will handle the leadoff leg for the Panthers when they run their preliminary heat at 10:30 a.m. Thursday inside Franklin Field. Grossman will run second, Miller will be third, and Wilson will anchor.

The best split O'Dell has run in the event is 2:24. Coren thinks she'll need to clock in at least two seconds faster Thursday to give Strath Haven a chance to advance to Friday's championship, which will take the top 12 times from among the 72 teams in the prelims.

This year's field is deep, and includes other local contenders in Downingtown East and Notre Dame, which returns all four of its runners from a team that qualified for the final heat last year.

In 2011, the qualifying cutoff time in the event was 9:21.54. Coren thinks it will take something in the 9:14 range to advance this year. The last time the cutoff was that low was in 2008, when it was 9:14.53.

So far this season, O'Dell has not held her teammates back. The group accounts for Pennsylvania's top time in the event this year, 9:18.79, set at the Delco Track and Field Carnival on April 14.

If Strath Haven manages to emerge from the prelims, Coren plans to shuffle his lineup for the finals, moving O'Dell to the third leg.

"It's going to be really tough to make it back," Coren said of the final. "I'm really nervous."

Hometown hurdler. Seeded third in the boys' 400-meter hurdles championship, Penn Wood sprinter Eric Futch represents the area's best chance at a gold medal at this year's carnival.

Futch, a Houston signee, owns the state record in the 300 hurdles, set at last spring's PIAA outdoor championships, when he broke a 29-year-old record in the event with a time of 36.43 seconds.

But the 400 is a different animal, an event not sanctioned by the PIAA. The 5-foot-11, 160-pounder does have experience, and past success, in the event. This past July, he clocked a personal record of 51.67 seconds to win the event at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in New Orleans, besting the rest of the field by more than a full tick. The Penn Relays record in the event is 50.47, set in 2001.

Only Javarn Gallimore of Jamaica College (Kingston, Jamaica) and Tsegofatso Mathopa of Uitsig High (Pretoria, Russia) are seeded above Futch, among a field of 27 runners in the event.

"It's a big thing for him," Penn Wood coach Lenny Jordan said. "It's the first time he's running at the Penn Relays as an individual, and him being the state-record holder, it's going to be a lot of excitement because he's the hometown favorite."

The race is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday.

"I'm confident that Eric is going to put on a good show," Jordan said.