By Matt Williams
---- — Anticipation built throughout the girls mile at the Reggie Lewis Center Saturday morning, where the Massachusetts All-State championships were held.
Peabody’s Catarina Rocha was closing in history, and with each lap that she finished the eyes of spectators shifted between the clock and the track. Could the senior All-American break a 32-year-old school record?
The answer was yes.
Rocha won the mile in 4:49.14, about a half-second ahead of Lisa Welch’s school record 4:49.70 run at the Division 1 state meet in 1981.
The victory made it back-to-back state mile titles for Rocha, and six consecutive Massachusetts championships across all three seasons of track.
The time was a personal best and is the fifth-fastest time ever run by a high school girl from the Bay State. It was also the fastest girls mile ever run at an MIAA championship event.
“When you break a record that’s 32 years old, held by someone like Lisa Welch, you know you’ve done something special,” said Peabody coach Joe Rocha, Catarina’s father. “She was close at the coaches elite meet (4:50.39). Her goal was to win and to be better than last year.”
Rocha’s mental concentraion to stay on pace and hit her quarter and half-mile splits, even though she was well ahead of the field, were impressive. She certainly drew inspiration from the Reggie Lewis Center crowd.
“To run a time like that leading from the first lap is hard. She’s really tough and responded well,” said Joe Rocha. “As a coach I’m just trying to make sure she knows where she is with the splits, but the energy in the building was great. Everyone knew she was on pace and she felt it.”
Danvers senior Drew Piazza finished third in the 600 with a time of 1:23.34. He ran in the unseeded heat, finishing first, with a time good enough to supplant several of the runners in the fast heat.
Piazza, who set the Danvers school record in the 1000 a few weeks ago at the NEC championship meet, set a new Falcons mark in the 600 as well.
In the boys 2-mile, Swampscott senior Peter Hale finished third in 9:26. The NEC champ closed with a final lap of 59 seconds and was just behind champion Jonathon Green of St. John’s Shrewsbury (9:21). Hale qualified for New England’s and also saw Big Blue teammate Matt Mahoney run a personal best 9:44 for 14th place.
Peabody junior Drew Fossa had a strong 2-mile, finishing in 9:37 for seventh place. His time was an indoor personal best and also a New England qualifier.
Fellow Tanner Chris Cennami, the Division 1 dash champion, finished fifth overall with a time of 6.65 to qualify for New Englands. Cennami also ran a leg of the 4x200 relay, which included Steve Villani, Scott Myers and Christian Cedullo and finished 17th in 1:35.47 despite an injury.
“Our second runner hurt a hamstring and was dragging his leg the final 100 meters. It was a courageous effort on his part to finish and allow our team to finish the race and compete,” said Peabody coach Fernando Braz.
Beverly’s 4x800 relay reset their own school record with a time of 9:38.66 that was good for fifth place. Junior Caitlin Harty led off followed by senior Madison Shropshire, sophomore Julianna Wesley and junior Nicole Demars.
“The record was a few years old and they broke it at states and broke it again this weekend,” said Beverly coach Dave Jellerson. “They’re rounding into form at the right time and their time qualifies them for the New England meet next weekend.”
Peabody’s girls 4x800 ran 9:41.72 and finished sixth. Lauren Barrett, Heather MacLean and Sam Allen ran the first three legs with Rocha as the anchor.
St. John’s Prep’s throwers had a strong showing with senior David Roy throwing a personal best 54-feet-11 inches to finish second and junior Evan Dombrowski tossing 53-feet-10 1/2 inches for fifth. Both move on to New Englands and also topped the qualifying standard for nationals, which is 53-5.
“Evan actually broke our school record earlier this season,” said Eagles coach Ray Carey. “This is the first time we’ve ever had two kids top 54 feet in the same season. David and Evan are working very well together.”
Also in the shot put, Swamspcott’s Robert Seymour finished tenth with a throw of 50-feet-7-inches. In the girls event, Peabody’s Pam Zabala threw 33-feet-5-inches and was ninth.
Salem’s Jon Crimble leaped 21-feet-6-inches to place fourth in the long jump. Witches teammate Ben Sattiewhite and Beverly’s Jay Richardson both cleared 6-feet-2 in the high jump, which tied them for sixth, but did not place on the attemps tiebreaker.
Marblehead’s Janaya Randall was 9th in the mile in 5:10.