Correction: The Coatesville freshman's name is Kelly Boulger
By the time Leah Nugent took the stick from Rachel Strother, it wasn't a question of whether she'd pass the lone runner ahead of Abington's quest for a Penn Relays title.Nugent's challenge was a matter of logistics.
During her leg of the 4x400 Philadelphia Area race, Nugent, he speedy senior, caught Coatesville's Kelly Boulger. She tried inside and outside, then improvised.
"I just kind of jumped," said Nugent, who may have confused Boulger with a hurdle. "I don't know why, but I guess it worked."
Abington made the rest of the afternoon's goal — actually crossing the finish line — look relatively easy. Nugent opened a wide lead and anchor Jordan Matthews coasted for a meet-salvaging win in this, their personal favorite race, and their last as a group at the Relays.
The Galloping Ghosts' team of Nicole Grasty, Strother, Nugent and Matthews won the relay in 3:47.16, nearly eight seconds faster than second place Delsea Regional's (Franklinville, N.J.) 3:54.74.
While their time fell a little more than a second short their best career finish, they enjoyed standing on the winner's podium.
"I'm pretty pleased," said Grasty, who ran the first leg. "This is our race and a nice way to leave."
The three-day event began with some disappointments, both individually and as a team. On Thursday, Nugent, who couldn't defend her 400-meter hurdles championship, earned a time of 59.15 seconds. She slipped to ninth with a time of 62.43.
The Pennsylvania state record holder in the 300-meter hurdles (41.4 seconds) and 60-meter hurdles (8.57), who would've finished third even if she matched last year's time, said she wasn't as prepared, and was saving up for this race.
Later that afternoon, Matthews repeated her 2010 Penn Relays fourth-place in the long jump championship with a top leap of 18 feet, 7 inches — more than two inches worse than her 2010 distance (18-10 3/4).
"I wasn't consistently on my mark," said Matthews, whose career-best jump is 19-7. "It just wasn't a good jumping day."
A few hours before Saturday's Philadelphia Area race, Nugent and Matthews muffed the final handoff in a 4x100 Tri-State championship, just as Nugent's sprint had given the Ghosts the lead. They didn't finish the race and walked silently across the field.
It had been forgotten by 5:20 p.m., in time for the 4x400.
"We're used to adversity happening," Nugent said. "We said in the beginning that the 4x400 is our bread and butter. We came here to get that, so [the earlier mishap] didn't really faze us."
A dropped baton cost Philadelphia West Catholic High School, forcing them to a fourth-place finish.
"We wish they didn't drop the stick," Nugent said. "We knew from the door, it was going to us and them. It's a shame, but it happens in track and field."
These four Ghosts have plenty to remember from their combined 13 Penn Relays appearances, and will likely have more to come. Nugent should return next season with Virginia Tech, and Grasty still hopes to attend Virginia Commonwealth. Matthews and Strother, both juniors, will certainly be back.
They still have districts and states coming up in the next two months, and preparation likely starts on Monday, after resting and savoring on Sunday.
"After all the training and hard work, winning this race just makes the day worthwhile," Matthews said. "It showed that we can still run good races after disappointment."
Results for Event 491: High School Girls' 4x400 Philadelphia Area
1. Abington (Abington), 3:47.16 — Nicole Grasty, Rachel Strother, Leah Nugent, Jordan Matthews.
2. Delsea Regional (Franklinville, N.J.), 3:54.74 — Felicia O’Donnell, Ashley Woodards, Lateaque Jackson, Brianna Crofton.
3. Central Bucks West (Doylestown, Pa.), 3:54.89 — Lizanne Furst, Jamila Branch, Alex Gervais, Sherry Ben-Joseph.
4. West Catholic (Philadelphia, Pa.), 3:55.74 — Caela Williams, Jada Steward, Mia Hicks, Michelle Davis.
5. Coatesville (Coatesville, Pa.), 3:56.56 — Kenya Woodall, Deborah Douglas, Kelly Boulder, Jasmine Sampson.
6. Winslow (Atco, N.J.), 3:57.35 — Brittany McClain, Jaleela Bey, DeAnn Cross, Ste'yce McNeil.
7. Spring-Ford (Royersford, Pa.), 3:57.45 — Mikaila White, Deirdre Magolon, Nikki Lynch, Amber Muhammad.
8. Strath Haven (Wallingford, Pa.), 4:00.14 — Val Wilson, Katie Balmer, Megan O'Dell, Rheanne Pahl.
9. Christiana (Newark, Del.), 4:01.10 — Kenny Akojie, Taino Akojie, Keyairra Boyce, Adrienne Tingba.
10. St. Basil Academy (Fox Chase Manor, Pa.), 4:01.59 — Alexa Keehfuss, Katie Cassidy, Regina Wilson, Gina Vanore.
11. Paul Robeson (Philadelphia), 4:03.76 — Braxton Spriggs, Shali Muhammad, Merceded Johnson, Kevia Delorme.
12. Upper Darby (Upper Darby, Pa.), 4:05.11 — Sharmaine Burke, Georgia Mason, Shakiya Jacobs, Lynnese Beyan.