SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Suzanne Sanders will likely never run another race. A West Chester Henderson senior, next fall she'll join Bryant University's soccer team. Her track days are now, in essence, finished.
On Saturday, at the PIAA state track and field championships, though, Sanders' teammates on the Warriors' 4x800-meter relay team orchestrated what was, undeniably, the perfect send-off for their only senior.
The Henderson foursome, which also included Janie Augustine, Michelle Tracy, and anchor Natalie Deacon, ran a winning time of 8 minutes, 55.33 seconds at Shippensburg University. That was good enough to beat Strath Haven's highly decorated relay, but that was just the very tiny tip of the iceberg.
The time broke the PIAA Class AAA girls' record by exactly three seconds, and is the nation's best time in the event this outdoor season. It shattered what was the team's previous best, a District 1-record 9:06.45 turned in last week.
All of that and, still, Sanders' first thought after the race was not of her own end, but of the teammates to whom she must say goodbye.
"It's a great way to end it, but it's kind of bittersweet," Sanders said. "I love these girls. I'm kind of upset that I can't run with them anymore."
Henderson's state championship was one of 26 won by Philadelphia-area teams this weekend. Moreover, more than 140 other athletes and relay teams from the area earned state medals.
West Catholic won the girls' Class AA team title for the second year running with 59 points, blowing away the field.
Abington's Leah Nugent set the PIAA Class AAA record in the 300-meter hurdles en route to her second career state title, and first since 2009.
Upper Moreland's Drew Magaha, a junior, dropped jaws with his record-setting victory in the 1,600, which he won in 4:07.32, highlighted by a 58-second final quarter-mile, to smash the mark of 4:09.33 set in 2004. Magaha's time is the fourth fastest in the country this year, according to MileSplit.us.
Penn Wood junior Eric Futch claimed the boys' 300 hurdles title with a record time of 36.43, breaking the mark of 36.94 that had stood since 1982. And Abington's girls' 4x400 relay set the event mark in 3:46.20, besting the 2010 time of 3:46.31.
Including Friday, when West Catholic's 4x100 girls' relay broke the AA record in preliminaries (the Burrs won the finals Saturday), District 1 and 12 athletes accounted for six state records in 2011.
Engineering and Science's Cierra White triumphed in both the AA girls' 100 and 200 for the second straight year, giving her four individual state titles for her career. Norristown senior Tyler Smith defended his AAA 100 title, despite eight stitches on his top lip after being accidentally hit in the face with starting blocks last week.
The Central Bucks West boys' 4x800 relay edged rival Abington by .06 second, when Connor Manley kicked in one of the most spirited final 100 meters anybody raced this weekend to overtake Will Taylor at the finish line, clocking in at 7:41.51.
And Pope John Paul II's Tom Lang won the AAA javelin with a throw of 211 feet, 4 inches. Lang, who last year was at now-closed St. Pius X in Class AA, has won two straight state titles across separate classifications.
The other champions were John Trueman, Springfield (Montco) in the AA boys' 3,200; Glen Burkhardt, Unionville, AAA boys' 3,200; Tori Gerlach, Pennridge, AAA girls' 3,200; Chris Williams, Strath Haven, AAA boys' 110 hurdles; Matt Gilmore, Cheltenham, AAA boys' 400; Michelle Davis, West Catholic, AA girls' 100; Alicia Evans, Quakertown, AAA girls' 400; Chidi Okezi, New Media, AA boys' 400; the Norristown girls' AAA 4x100 relay; Todd Townsend, West Catholic, AA boys' 300 hurdles; Hong Cho, Wissahickon, AAA boys' 800; Emma Keenan, Gwynedd-Mercy, AAA girls' 800; Ronnie Gillespie, Upper Perkiomen, AAA boys' 200; West Catholic's AA girls' 4x400; and Cardinal O'Hara's AAA boys' 4x400.
But none stood above Henderson. The four Warriors did not run individual events, putting the emphasis on a relay that they had run in 9:16.79 to finish eighth at the Penn Relays, where Strath Haven took fourth.
They led from wire to wire and, when Deacon took the baton for the anchor leg, it was all but over. "I knew if I got the baton in first, no one was going to get me," Deacon said.
As for Sanders, whose high school track days are effectively over, maybe, just maybe she has one more race in her, one more to share with her teammates.
"Our team hopes to run in the Penn Relays in the [40-and-older] 4x400. So maybe that will happen," Sanders joked. "But that's a long time away."