PHILADELPHIA — It’s called the paddock area, that holding area before you reach the starting line at the Penn Relays where the myriad of girls wait their turn to run one of nearly 50 high school 4-x-400 relays.
But to Jillian DiGiacinto and her Hasbrouck Heights girls track teammates, it’s known as the “panic” area, as they inch their way up during a 45-minute journey from the staging area under the scoreboard toward the starting line.
But the Aviators didn’t panic Thursday, winning their heat impressively in 4:08.77 on a cold and windy afternoon, one of a record five North Jersey teams to win their heats and earn a coveted “mini-wheel” plaque, signifying them as a heat champion.
And in addition to the five winners, five other North Jersey schools earned medals in their respective heats, and the 10 sets of medals representing one-third of the North Jersey schools that made the trip were a record. More than 600 schools competed in the event.
“We call it the panic because you’re getting cold and tired of waiting, and we just want to get out there and run,” said DiGiacinto, whose excellent second leg broke open the Aviators’ race and helped junior Stacey Porzl, freshman Haylle Thomas and sophomore Ashley Quinn earn Heights’ first plaque in five years.
“I learned last year what to do when I led off,” said Porzl, the only returning member from last year’s team. “I knew I had to get out quick and make sure I got the baton to Jillian in position.”
Thomas and Quinn ran their legs with a large lead, and even though both were Penn rookies, they were confident they could finish the job.