Saturday, May 5, 2012

Piccirillo Wins McKinney Mile in #2 Prep Time of 4:44.08

Piccirillo Blitzes McKinney Mile
Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
May 5, 2012

When Angel Piccirillo sprinted the straightaway moments before the McKinney Mile, the old track coach watched with admiration how effortless and fluid her stride appeared despite producing so much power.

"You can always tell the great ones. They stand out," said Chuck McKinney, who founded the Baldwin Invitational and in whose honor the event is named. "She truly looked like she was in a class by herself."

Since McKinney started the meet 39 years ago, the Baldwin Invitational has grown to where it now draws 170 teams and 1,900 athletes. On Friday, we witnessed record-setting performances by South Park's Billy Stanley in the javelin and Hempfield's Larisa Debich in the pole vault.

Yet a shy, straight-A student from tiny Homer Center in Indiana County, where she is one of 68 students in the senior class, stood head and shoulders above them all.

Piccirillo drove nearly two hours to run the mile, an event that gained worldwide prestige when Roger Bannister became the first man to break the four-minute barrier 58 years ago Sunday. The race has been replaced at most high school meets by the 1,600-meter run.

When Baldwin resurfaced its track four years ago, it included markings for the mile, about 9 yards behind the starting line, in hopes of making it one of the main attractions to the meet.

"It's the number: One mile, a nice, even, round, standard unit," Homer Center coach Michael Gentile said. "Since Bannister broke it, it's been a mystical event. It's a magical number. You can't pace yourself. You have to go after it."

Piccirillo stumbled onto the event as a sophomore, when Gentile suggested she try it at an indoor meet at Slippery Rock and instructed her to run with defending state champion Kelsey Seymour of Central Cambria. When Piccirillo passed her, a stunned Seymour dropped out of the race.

"I didn't know what I got myself into," Piccirillo said. "I was so naive. I learned to realize it was a big deal. You get a lot of respect for running the mile."

Now, the 5-foot-9 Piccirillo is one of the best milers in the country. The Villanova recruit's time of 4 minutes, 44.20 seconds at the state indoor meet was the nation's fastest until the Penn Relays last weekend.

That's when the two-time defending champion finished second to Bronxville (N.Y.) sophomore Mary Cain, who won in 4:39.28. To grasp how great that time is, consider that it's only 4.04 seconds slower than Polly Plumer's national high school record, which has stood since 1982.

Piccirillo saw no shame in defeat, although she admits it served as motivation for racing against North Hills senior Margo Malone, the defending PIAA Class AAA 1,600-meter champion. Piccirilo wanted to run the mile in 4:40, which meant she needed a 2:20 split after two laps. So she came here to put on a show.

And she did.

At the sound of the starter's pistol, Piccirillo took off, with Malone a step behind. They finished the first lap in 66 seconds, a ridiculous pace.

After two laps, Piccirillo was right at 2:20, Malone two seconds behind. Gentile encouraged his star not to wait until the final lap to let loose, promising that the crowd would carry her.

"Please," Piccirillo said to herself, "because I'm going to need it."

Malone couldn't keep up with the maniacal pace. She normally runs a lap at 72 seconds, knowing that it puts her under five minutes. So she could only watch as Piccirillo opened the lead on the third lap and pulled away at the bell signaling the fourth and final loop around the track.

"I've never been in a race that fast, especially that first lap," said Malone, a Syracuse recruit. "It's always great to run against Angel. She's an amazing runner. Just to be in a race with her is always special."

Malone didn't mind that Piccirillo shattered her meet record by more than 10 seconds, charging down the homestretch to a cheering crowd to win the McKinney Mile in a personal-best 4:44.08, now the nation's second-fastest mile.

"If she can run that fast," Malone said with a smile, "she can have it."

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