April 17, 2007

Four Seniors Get Rare Relay Chance

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It’s not often that a relay squad is made up of four players as seasoned and as accomplished as the one the Cornell women put forth last Saturday in Knoxville.
Cameron Washington is a co-captain who owns ten conference titles and four ECAC titles — as well as all-time Ivy records in the 4×100, 4×400 and spring medley. Morgan Uceny, the other co-captain, has multiple Ivy and ECAC victories to add to two All-American awards and a top-5 800-meter finish at the NCAA Indoor championship. Nyam Kagwima, a natural cross country runner, is favored in this year’s 1500 at Heps after finishing second last year and reaching the final round of Regionals. And Toni-Lynn Salucci is the owner of the 2006 Penn Relays steeplechase title (among collegiates) and a former all-time Cornell record-holder in the event.
In its first race together, the senior quartet raced to another school record at the Sea Ray Invitational this weekend: the distance medley relay. Its time of 11:13.81 was good for third place in the meet — second among collegiate teams — and best ever at Cornell by over six seconds.
Coming into the race, the players were excited both because of the unique opportunity and the teamwork they would get to use.
“We wanted to do one for the last few months but never had the opportunity to do so,” Salucci said. “I haven’t done a relay in years so I was really pumped to do it, especially with the people that I did it with.”
“There is really nothing like a relay event. … I used to play soccer before track took up most of my time. During the relay I get the same feeling I got in soccer,” Washington said.
One factor that helped the new team overcome its lack of familiarity with each other was the distance of the event. Unlike shorter relays, the hand-off is not as critical in the distance relay.
“We didn’t need to practice [the hand-off] before the event,” said Kagwima. “The team[work] would come from each individual making sure that she is ready to run the best that she can.”
That mental preparation was much easier for the relay team than it was for other members of the Red, who faced high winds and plummeting temperatures as the meet progressed. In sunny weather, the players actually had the record in sight prior to the race.
“I don’t like to think too much about [the time]. … I just focused on doing my part, but my teammates knew that we were going for the record after talking to the coaches,” Kagwima said.
During the race itself, Uceny proved to be the key part as she pushed the Red from seventh place to third following legs from Kagwima and Washington. Salucci was able to maintain that position in the final leg to secure the result.
Not surprisingly, senior leadership was crucial to the Red’s success.
“With this group of girls, I always know we’re all going to rise to the occasion,” Washington said. “We’ve been there, done that.”
“It gave me more confidence because we are all experienced. … I knew that we wouldn’t let our nerves get to us,” Salucci said.
Kagwima, like the other team members, also felt a sense of urgency that younger players do not have.
“There’s nothing like knowing you’re approaching the end to motivate you to make the best of what time you have left,” she said. “We all savor each meet now.”