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Clash of Titans
US #1 Morris Hills and US #2 Albemarle square off in 4x800 baton battle

By Jim Lambert

When Millrose Games organizers introduced a 4x800-meter relay consisting of  high school teams from New York and New Jersey last year, it was aptly named the Border Clash.  But at least for this year, the race should be renamed the Clash of Titans because that’s exactly what Friday night’s 4x800 will be when the two fastest teams in the nation, Morris Hills of New Jersey and Albemarle of Virginia, square off in a baton battle over 22 laps on the banked boards of Madison Square Garden.

Morris Hills comes into the race with the No. 1 time in the nation this season of 7:46.54, a NJ state record for meters and the 10th fastest time ever run in US indoor history.

Albemarle wanted to be part of the race as well, so last month coach Buz Male began lobbying for his foursome to be added. Their addition has given the 4x800 a lot more juice and generated lots of excitement and discussion on the message boards.

``I knew that it was a New Jersey and New York thing, but I told them we ran 7:42 outdoors (7:42.21 to place second at the Nike Outdoor Nationals last June) with the same four guys, and I guess they made an exception,’’ said Male. ``We’re obviously very excited and feel like both teams can push eachother, which should make for a great race.’’

Albemarle was accepted for the renamed Millrose 4x800 Invitational before briefly taking over the top spot in the nation last Friday when it ran 7:49.88 to win the Virginia Tech Invitational in Blacksburg.

Morris Hills regained the national lead the following day with its 7:46.54 win at the New Balance Games at the Armory in New York. Morris Hills’ all senior lineup had splits of 1:55.5 for Vinny Chiusano, 1:57.8 for Tyler Hendrickson, 1:59.7 for Lucas Clyne and 1:53.2 for Liam Tansey. That’s the same order Morris Hills will run at Millrose.

Three of the four legs (Hendrickson didn’t run) were on the Morris Hills team that placed third in the Border Clash last year.

Meanwhile, at the Virginia Tech meet, Albemarle’s order was senior Zach Vrhovac (1:55.5), senior Luke Noble (1:57.4), senior Garrett Bradley (2:00.3), and junior Anthony Kostelac (1:57.6). Male is flirting with the idea of shuffling the legs.

Morris Hills was ecstatic when it learned that it would be racing Albemarle.

``The competition before was pretty good, but with the team from Virginia coming, it makes this a real showdown,’’ said Tansey. ``It adds so much more excitement. We can’t wait for the race. ``We really haven’t had anyone to push us yet this year, so it will be good to see what we can do when that happens.’’

Tansey said Morris Hills has an entirely different outlook on its races this year.

 ``Last year, it was easy to accept defeat since we had the mentality that we were all juniors and we can do it next year,’ he said. ``But now that we’re all seniors, we take the line every race looking to win and have no regrets.’’

Vrhovac said his Albemarle team is looking forward to the challenge.

``We know that they (Morris Hills) have the fastest time in the nation right now and we are just excited to race against a highly competitive team,’’ said the Virginia-bound Vrhovac. ``Our team is very excited to just be running in such a prestigious place like Madison Square Garden.’’

Vrhovac also said the race could one for the ages.

``This race has the potential for going down in the books and as one the best races ever,’’ he said.

Maybe it could produce a new Millrose record? The record of 7:53.36 was set in 1992 by Brooklyn’s Bishop Ford.

``I definitely think we have a shot at it,’’ said Tansey.  

Interestingly, Morris Hills coach Sean Robinson and Albemarle’s Male know each other from working together the last few summer’s at the Kutztown Running Camp, held at Robinson’s alma mater, Kutztown University.

``It’s funny because we ran into one another at the Hispanic Games (Jan. 10 at the Armory),’’ said Robinson. ``He brought his team to run a 4x400 and we were there to run the 4x800. We started talking about the 4x800 and he told me what his guys could run.  And then after we ran 7:51.07 that day, we kind of talked about how cool it would be if we got together in a 4x800. And now here we are running each other in what should be just a great battle.’’

The rest of  the 4x800 field includes New York’s Warwick Valley, the defending champion, Pine Bush, Northport and Half Hollow Hills West, and New Jersey’s Washington and Pleasantville.

While the Morris Hills vs. Albemarle matchup is sure to keep the crowd buzzing, it’s not the only 4x800 on the card that will keep the fans on the edge of their seats. One of the most popular races at every Millrose Games is the Catholic School Boys’ 4x800.

This year’s field consists of  Msgr. Farrell, Fordham Prep, Bishop Ford, St. Joseph By The Sea, Chaminade, and defending champion Kellenberg. Kellenberg was added when St. Anthony scratched from the race because of injuries and illness.

Fordham Prep has run the fastest time in the race (7:52.99), but Msgr. Farrell, thanks to a 1:54.5 anchor from senior James Farley, ran 7:54.73 to nip Fordham Prep at the Millrose Trials on Jan. 14 at the New York Armory.

There is a chance that the meet record in the girls’ 4x400 could fall as US #1 Benjamin Cardozo of Queens attacks the mark of  3:53.17 set last year by Brooklyn’s Boys & Girls. Cardozo, favored to win the PSAL race, ran its US #1 time of 3:51.55 at the Trials. Cardozo, which has changed its lineup a few times this season, features US #1 400 runner Chamique Francis (55.48).