Anything but another collapse near the finish line.
Lowell’s Patrick Coppinger turned on the jets and sprinted alongside Pembroke’s Christian Stafford in the final stretch of the 4 x 800 relay at the MIAA All-State indoor track championships Saturday afternoon.
Coppinger churned his legs. Stafford pumped his elbows as he tried to keep up. One wrong step, one swing of an arm a little too wide and someone could have went tumbling down.
Just like last year.
That’s when Lowell All-Scholastic Gilberto Brown was inches from the finish line in the 4 x 400 when he just collapsed. Coach Phil Maia still has a photo of Brown, face down on the Reggie Lewis Center track, with the baton lying next to him. Without those first-place points, Lowell finished fourth as a team.
Saturday, Maia clutched his imaginary rabbit’s foot and Coppinger did the rest, motoring by Stafford to give the Red Raiders a win in 7 minutes 57.9 seconds as they took back what they once thought was theirs: The indoor track championship.
Lowell finished with 40 points, in front of Acton-Boxboro (36) and Cambridge (23).
“I could just feel [Stafford] the whole way,” Coppinger said. “It was tight. When you’re running next to each other, I know when you’re watching races it looks like you’re going to trip over each other’s feet, but you’re just in the same motion. It’s like jogging on the highway.”
Led by Coppinger, a senior who finished second in the mile in 4:18.87, Lowell’s 4 x 800 team has yet to lose.
Juniors Andrew Witney and Tyler Richards ran the first two legs in around two minutes each before handing the baton to senior Mike Kalenoski, who can post a sub two-minute split and has mastered a seamless handoff with Coppinger, who finished the final leg in 1:56.97.
“He has that closing speed, that last lap that almost no one has,” Kalenoski said of Coppinger. “He can be in fourth or fifth place and we can’t go wrong with that crazy kick.”
Lowell had six athletes score points, a sign of its demanding practice schedule. Maia credits two of his former runners, Scott Ouellet and David Casey, who are now assistant coaches.
Acton-Boxboro hung close with a commanding performance by senior Brian Sommers, who finished third in the long jump (22 feet, 2 inches) and third in the 300 (35.15) before anchoring the 4 x 400 team in its first-place, 3:25.13 finish with a come-from-behind dash on the final leg.
“I usually like coming out harder,” said Sommers, who will run at Colby College next year. “But when you’re behind, you don’t want to do something too ambitious and then get passed, so I just sat and then finished.”
Chicopee senior Alex Niemiec had the crowd on edge with his meet-record performance in the long jump, where he leaped 23 feet, 5.25 inches, good for sixth in the nation this year. Niemiec, who will attend Springfield College in the fall, also finished second in the high jump, clearing 6 feet, 8 inches.
Somerset-Berkley’s Adam Couitt bested Niemiec in the event, clearing 6-10.
Other winners included North Attleboro’s Eric Beckwith in the shot put (59-5), Newton South’s Jung Park in the hurdles (7.57), Walpole’s PJ Hayes in the 55-meter (6.47), Hingham’s Andrew Bolze in the 300 (34.7), Somerville’s Andre Rolim in the 600 (1:21.1), Lincoln-Sudbury’s Joshua Kerber in the 1,000 (2:30.21), Methuen’s Mike O’Donnell in the mile (4:15.81), and Jonathan Green of St. John’s (S) in the 2-mile (9:21.48).