Abington, La Salle and West Chester Henderson separated from a pack of 66 boys' teams running the 4x800-meter relay in various heats Friday, qualifying for Saturday's 12-team Championship of America race at 4:10 p.m. on the final day of the Penn Relays.
Abington, the reigning PTFCA 4x800 indoor state champion that finished second at the Nike Indoor Nationals in Boston, won the first large-schools heat with a time of 7 minutes, 50.99 seconds.
Junior Tevin Smith led off with a split of 2:00.8 and was followed by seniors Charles Ross (1:55.1) and Eleazar Cardoso (2:01.0), and junior anchor Kyle Moran (1:54.1).
Though the same four runners recorded a slightly faster 7:50.86 to win the indoor state title on March 6, Ghosts coach Bill Neely said Friday's time was impressive considering Abington left seconds on the clock.
"That's with two two-minute splits on there, and they're capable of running 1:57s," Neely said of Smith and Cardoso. "That's going to have to come out [on Saturday]."
Abington's boys are seeking a win to complement Ghosts junior Leah Nugent, who captured the girls' 400-meter hurdles with a national season-best time of 59.15 seconds on Thursday.
Stiff competition awaits in the 4x800, however, including locals West Chester Henderson and La Salle.
Henderson finished second in its small-schools heat with a time of 7:51.24 behind seniors Stash Grab, Will Kellar and Achraf Khattabi and junior Luke Lefebure.
The Warriors' Lefebure ran the third-fastest split of any runner on Friday in the 4x800 at 1:52.88.
La Salle clocked in at 7:51.39 in its large-schools heat, coming in fourth. Freshman Andrew Stone, junior Chris Muggler, and seniors Nick Molloy - he is headed to Lehigh - and Tom O'Kane led the way for the Explorers.
"Our young guys really set us up well," said O'Kane, who said he is leaning toward attending St. Joseph's University. "Nick and I went along for the ride and were able to hang on."
Molloy agreed, saying the young Stone rose to the occasion in his most important high school outdoor meet to date, helping the Explorers blow away their time of 7:58.08 that earned them fourth at indoor states.
Despite strong local representation in the 4x800, the lead qualifier for Saturday's championship - and the favorite - will be Long Beach Poly of California.
Long Beach Poly won La Salle's heat by running a 7:43, the fastest time in the nation this season. The top seed was originally scheduled to run in Abington's heat but showed up late, Molloy said.
Abington seized the opportunity to place first.
"It turned out to be pretty good for us, so we really wouldn't have to run hard," Neely said. "They ran 7:43, so if we would have wanted to win that [heat], we would have had to run pretty fast ourselves."
Neely did not see the difference of more than seven seconds between Long Beach Poly's qualifying time and Abington's as meaning the Ghosts are at a disadvantage Saturday.
"[Yesterday's race was] a trial, so ultimately they have to be able to come back and do the same thing [Saturday]," Neely said. "That's what you have to worry about when you run your fastest time in the preliminaries. Can you come back and do the same thing the next day?
"Because that's what it's going to really take to win. . . . It's really still anybody's race."