Abington's Nugent reigns in 400-meter hurdles

Abington junior Leah Nugent also anchored her 4X400 relay team to a victory.
Abington junior Leah Nugent also anchored her 4X400 relay team to a victory.
Posted: April 23, 2010

Abington junior Leah Nugent did something no other American girl had done before Thursday.

Nugent legged out a victory in 59.15 seconds in the girls' 400-meter hurdles championship at the Penn Relays. And in doing so, she clocked the nation's new top time for this outdoor spring season and defeated Ristananna Tracey of Jamaica. Tracey finished second in 59.42, also below the old record.

Nugent's time was one second below her time at the Penn Relays last year. Before Thursday, the nation's fastest time this season was 59.60 seconds by Dotrine Jacobs of Newburgh Free Academy (N.Y.).

Nugent, the reigning PIAA Class AAA state champion in the 300 outdoor hurdles, received the gold watch that goes to Penn Relays winners and was honored on the podium at the center of Franklin Field.

"She looked fabulous out there today," Abington coach Nicole Williams said of Nugent's personal record hurdles run. "She still has some work to do on her steps between the hurdles. This win has got to do so much for her morale. She's on top of her game right now."

Nugent said the experience of running anchor for the Ghosts' 4x200 and 4x400 relay teams has helped her performance in the hurdles. Her 4x400 team also won Thursday.

"My base training has really helped me," said Nugent, who runs both the 100 and 300 hurdles in outdoor high school meets. "I love the hurdles."

On March 6 at the PTFCA state championship, Nugent competed only in the 400 dash and finished third to a pair of West Catholic juniors - Chante Moore and Michelle Davis. She set a personal record in that event at Penn State, however, with a time of 55.42 seconds.

Stepping to the starting blocks at 10:20 a.m. on the first day of the 116th Penn Relays, Nugent said she decided to push all out from the gate. That enabled her to keep Thursday's 400-meter hurdle time under one minute.

"I decided to take it out," Nugent said of her racing strategy, "and pray to God."

Pennsbury freshman Sara Sargent successfully employed the same strategy of going all out early in the 3,000 championship under the lights.

The talented Falcon jumped into the lead for about the first 1,300 meters and, though she fell out of the leading pack midway, finished third with a personal- best time of 9:39.26.

"I wanted to go out in a good comfortable spot and just hang on with that lead group for as long as possible," Sargent said, standing alongside the track after the race, still winded from a furious finish. "I knew if I stayed with the leaders, not only would I possibly get a good place, but my time would drop dramatically, which it did."

And how.

Sargent beat her previous personal best in the 3,000 by an eye-opening 22.41 seconds. Sargent won the 3,000 PTFCA indoor championship in 10:01.67 on March 6 at Penn State.

Thursday, she had fallen to eighth place with about 600 meters remaining. But then she turned on the jets and blasted from eighth to third in a blur of blond hair and orange jersey.

In the process, she overtook Haddonfield senior Marielle Hall, who will run next year at Texas.

"I definitely work on my kick a lot," said Sargent, who went to Pennsbury by way of Penn Wood Middle School. "That's one of the big things I focus on, because if I do need to put it on like I did tonight, I'm able to. Even if I'm in the lead by 50 meters, I'll still put on that kick."


Staff writer Don Beideman contributed to this article.

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