Tom Kennedy has watched a handful of Cardinal O'Hara relays come close at the Penn Relays' most esteemed high school level through the years, but the Lions coach has never gotten his hands on a Championship of America plaque.
Last year's fourth-place finish in the distance medley relay championship race ranks among the better chances in the school's history to earn the ultimate Penn Relays title.
Kennedy will look for the distance medley quartet of junior Kevin James and seniors Connor McCullough, Nick Smart, and Jim Belfatto to give O'Hara another shot at Penn Relays glory Saturday, as the Lions relay will run the DMR as the top seed.
The Penn Relays will be held Thursday through Saturday at Franklin Field.
James (1,200 meters), Smart (800), and Belfatto (1,600) teamed with Dan Cooper to win the New Balance Indoor Nationals' DMR race in March.
James, Smart, and Belfatto "are national champions, and I want to give them the best 400 I can possibly give," McCullough said. "That's really how I'm preparing for it."
If the Lions win Saturday, it will mark the first Penn Relays championship in school history.
"There's only one Penn Relays and one Championship of America race," Kennedy said. "No boys' team from [Delaware County] has ever won at that level, and it's a big deal to our kids for obvious reasons."
"This is a big one for us," James said. "We almost won this race last year and we didn't, and we just want to come back this year and get the 'W.' "
With the Lions relay pegged as a bona-fide national contender in the DMR, the runners know that fending off legitimate gold-medal hopefuls such as West Chester Henderson and Christian Brothers (N.J.) will not be easy.
Henderson will send out Eric Stratton (1,200), Steve Thompson (400), Kevin Moy (800), and Tony Russell (1,600) as the second seed.
"There's definitely a lot more pressure on us now than there was at nationals, where we were ranked fourth going into it," Smart said. "Now we're supposed to win since we're the top seed, and we won at nationals."
Other area boys and relays to watch are Council Rock North's Ross Wilson, who will compete in the Championship of America 3,000 as the 14th seed; Pennridge, which will be in the Pennsylvania Large Schools' 4x800 relay in the "C" heat; and Neshaminy's Dave Marrington, who will run in the 400 hurdles championship.
In girls' action, familiar foes Megan McCloskey and Claudine Andre will compete in the long-jump championship starting Thursday.
McCloskey, a Germantown Academy senior, will seek to eclipse her season-best jump of 5 feet, 7 inches and enters the event as the sixth seed.
The 14th-seeded Andre, an Upper Darby senior, is coming off a career-best jump of 5-7 at the R. Joseph Kellerman Relays on Saturday at Great Valley.
Unionville is seeded fifth in the Championship of America girls' DMR on Thursday.