Burrell 400 relay breaks school record, wins PIAA gold
By: Chris Harlan
Saturday, May 25, 2019 | 6:18 PM
SHIPPENSBURG — Burrell sprinter Jocelyn Vickers ran her opening leg of the 400-meter relay and then hurried toward the finish line to wait for her team’s baton to arrive.
She didn’t wait long.
Allee Kuhns ran the second leg down the backstretch. Madi Walsh handled the curve, and Olivia Kelly powered down the home stretch at Seth Grove Stadium to win the girls Class AA relay Saturday at the PIAA track and field championships.
Kelly chased down a runner in the closing meters and leaned for the finish line as Burrell edged Philadelphia’s Paul Robeson High School by one-tenth of a second — close enough that Kelly wasn’t immediately certain the Bucs had won.
“I looked up, and Jocelyn was there,” Kelly said. “She nodded, and I hit the ground crying.”
Kuhns and Walsh quickly joined their celebration after Burrell crossed the line in 48.99 seconds, breaking a school record from 2013.
The old mark was 49.22.
“My jaw dropped when I saw our time,” Walsh said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Kuhns said. “I just want someone to pinch me, and I’ll wake up from a dream.”
The WPIAL combined won 11 gold medals at the two-day state championships with Aliquippa sprinter M.J. Devonshire and Shady Side Academy middle-distance runner Melissa Riggins each winning twice.
Burrell was the only WPIAL school to win a relay.
“We knew based on some of the numbers we’ve been putting up in practice that we were in contention if we ran a perfect race,” Burrell coach Steve White said. “They did it today.”
Senior Kuhns and junior Kelly ran at states last year, but this was the first time for sophomores Walsh and Vickers.
The race was close throughout, but with 100 meters remaining, Kelly took the handoff trailing.
“When Olivia Kelly got the handoff on the fourth leg, she is just a phenomenal closer,” White said. “After about 10 strides, in my heart of hearts, I knew she was going to catch the girl and beat her.”
“I was very determined,” Kelly said. “I knew that I had to close fast because I didn’t have enough time.”
Burrell’s relay team was motivated for months to break the school record, but only recently did a PIAA championship enter its plans. It became clearly within reach Friday after the team posted a 49.44 in the semifinals, second-best in the 24-team field.
“We ran fast, but we still had not-perfect handoffs in the semis,” White said. “But based on our time and how everybody else looked, we said we can win this if we cleaned it up.”
The team won the WPIAL title last week in 49.86 seconds but shaved nearly nine-tenths off that time Saturday.
“The last two weeks at practice we started seeing some numbers that had never been run before by any of the girls,” White said. “It just really, really came together today.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .