The La Salle quartet of Andrew Stone, Mike DeCandido, Jack Magee, and Tom Coyle was almost never even in the race.
With a qualifying time of 10 minutes, 24.35 seconds, the four were the 17th and final qualifier for the high school boys' distance medley relay Championship of America at the Penn Relays.
Then they shocked the field.
Hanging with some of the best distance runners in the nation, the Explorers blazed to a third-place finish in a chilly Franklin Field on Friday evening. With a time of 10:10.76, La Salle broke a school record, which had stood since 1983, by two seconds.
It is the fastest time in the state this outdoor season by nearly four ticks, and was exactly three seconds off the first-place pace set by St. Benedict's Prep of New Jersey.
"Coming in here, it was no pressure," said Stone, who led off with a 3:05.3 1,200-meter leg that had the Explorers in second place at the first handoff.
"Being seeded 17 out of 17, the worst we could do is stay in our spot. We did what we knew we could do. I think we're all a little surprised, but I think we all knew in our hearts that we could do it."
La Salle jockeyed toward the front of the pack throughout the entire race. DeCandido clocked a 50.8-second 400 leg, and Jack Magee ran the 800 in 2:02.5. By the time junior Tom Coyle took the baton for the 1,600 anchor leg, the Explorers were firmly in third.
"It's kind of indescribable," Coyle said. "I got the baton, and I knew what to do. I worked really hard for this moment, waking up at 5:30 sometimes. I just knew I had to execute."
Coyle's split of 4:12.1 was the second fastest among the anchor runners.
North Penn placed seventh in 10:20.40. Great Valley, the indoor state champion in the event, took ninth in 10:22.84. Cardinal O'Hara ran 10:35.34 for 14th.
Trending Panthers. For the second consecutive year, the Strath Haven girls' 4x800 relay proved to be one of the finest in the country, placing fifth in the Championship of America.
On a day when gusty winds slowed times across the board, Allie Wilson, Kristen Miller, Megan O'Dell, and Hannah Grossman clocked in at 9:17.41.
The time was far from the team's best - in fact, it was nearly two seconds slower than the quartet's time in the qualifiers, when the weather was far more suitable for a relay of this distance. But it was still good enough to secure the Panthers' second consecutive top-five finish in the prestigious race.
The two-year run marks the program's most successful ever in the event, a stretch that included two indoor state titles.
"It's a big deal," said coach Bill Coren, at the school since 1992 and who led the program to the 2006 outdoor state title. ". . . We've had a couple good distance runners in the mix. We've never had a 4x800 this strong."
Last year, with Wilson and Grossman part of the team, the Panthers took fourth in the event in 9:05.34. In 2010, they placed 17th.
The time Friday was the second best by a U.S. team. Just five teams in the championship bettered their preliminary times.
Miller, who ran the second leg in 2:12.9, registered the race's fifth-best split overall.
"I get pushed to catch people. I tried to catch the girl in front of me, and I think I did a pretty good job," she said.
Jamaica's Edwin Allen (8:52.97) won the event for the second straight year and fifth time overall, beating the field by more than 11 seconds.
Fayetteville-Manlius of New York was the only U.S. team to best Strath Haven, taking silver in 9:04.22.
Wilson had the team in third place by a shade after the leadoff leg. Miller handed off to O'Dell in third as well, but the junior fell to fifth by the time she gave way to anchor Grossman. A mile specialist, Grossman zipped into fourth, but eventually was overtaken by Spalding runner Simoya Campbell.
"Relays are my favorite part about track," said Grossman, the foursome's lone senior. "I would take doing a relay any day over an individual thing. So I was really happy this year we had a chance to come in here and compete. It meant a lot."
Another PR. Chestnut Hill senior Dustin Wilson ran a personal-record 8:30.18 to place second in the boys' 3,000-meter championship.
Wilson, seeded 12th in the 22-man field, bested the 8:30.96 time he clocked in the same race as a sophomore.
"Although it would have been nice to have the Penn Relays win, I know there was a reason that this happened to me right now," said Wilson, who has been battling a calf injury for weeks. ". . . I sort of have my confidence back going into the late season."
Wilson was six seconds off Syline runner Thomas Madden's winning time of 8:25.54, which is the fastest time in the nation this year.
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