One of my favorite Peanut comic strips shows a despondent Charlie Brown on the pitcher’s mound after another defeat. “We’ll never be winners,” he laments to his catcher, Lucy. “We’ll never be memorable. Nobody ever remembers who comes in second.”
Then Linus walks by and starts reciting the names of all the World Series runner-ups. “Pittsburgh Pirates, 1903…Philadelphia Athletics, 1905…”
Sometimes second place isn’t so bad, which was the case last Saturday for the Coginchaug girls 4×800 meter relay team.
Fresh off a mesmerizing performance one week before at the Millrose Games, the record-breaking Blue Devils’ quartet of Allie Alsup, Bailey Thayer, Samantha Drop, and Jessica Drop were the top seeds for the CIAC’s State Open meet at New Haven’s Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“They definitely were the target for everyone else,” Coginchaug coach Kate Germond said.
The State Open can be a daunting place for small schools. Just imagine being a little fish in a big pond. Now imagine being a little fish with a target on your back.
A year ago Alsup, Thayer and the Drop sisters made their debut in this same race. The Sate Open 4×800. They finished eighth and just missed a trip to the New Englands. But they broke a school record that day and a magical partnership was formed.
More championship and record-breaking performances followed for the Blue Devils, including a fourth-place finish in last spring’s outdoor State Open.
They were closing in on a dream: to win an Open title. And Saturday was supposed to be their coronation day.
It didn’t happen.
For the first time this indoor season the Blue Devils lost to a team from Connecticut as Glastonbury won the championship with a time of 9:27.61.
“Glastonbury brought their ‘A’ game,” Coginchaug assistant coach Jack McShane said. “They just ran up against a super team today. I think our girls had an ‘A’ game also.”
The Blue Devils’ second place time of 9:30.64 was their fastest at Floyd Little this season.
Still, there were some tears.
“It stings a little bit,” McShane added. “They set the bar very high and they had their sights set on being No. 1. I think when it settles in they are going to be very pleased and very happy with the results. When they reassess they’re going to be pretty proud of themselves in what they accomplished today. I know I’m tremendously proud of them.”
The Blue Devils quartet was in, what McShane described as, “runner’s heaven” the week before. Alsup, Thayer, and the Drop sisters earned an invitation to the prestigious New York Road Runners 108th Millrose Games with a runner-up finish at the Hispanic Games and they didn’t disappoint in their return to The Armory.
The Blue Devils blazed around the track and eclipsed their own school record by nine seconds while placing fourth in a startling 9:19.61.
The top two finishers – Mamaroneck (N.Y.), 9:09.36 and Bronxville (N.Y.), 9:10.16 – posted the best times in the nation, while the girls from Durham nearly beat out legendary Benjamin Cardozo High (9:17.61) for the third spot.
“Looking at the splits on our watches, I knew early on that we were in for something special,” McShane said. “And I knew that no matter what place they finished in, they were going to shatter their own school record. To bring it under 9:20 was just icing on the cake that day.”
McShane is an avid runner and he got “the thrill of a lifetime” when he was able to warm up and run a couple of laps with his team on The Armory’s fast, banked track.
Afterwards, the Coginchaug group had a front row seat for the college and professional events that were televised on NBCSN. The girls got lots of autographs for their batons and met 8-time Wanamaker Mile champion and master’s record-holder Bernard Lagat.
Thayer’s dad met author Malcolm Gladwell. And the girls may have had their picture taken with rocker Rod Stewart.
“We texted the photo to my aunt and she said, that’s not Rod Stewart,” Thayer said. “He was a little bit bigger than the real Rod Stewart. Maybe it was him, maybe it wasn’t. He tricked all the parents taking pictures of him.”
Their picture, however, with New York Road Runners CEO/President Mary Wittenberg was real.
“The whole day was filled with so many wonderful memories for the girls,” McShane added. “It was a storybook day.”
Despite Saturday’s defeat, it’s also been a storybook season for Allie Alsup, Bailey Thayer, Samantha Drop and Jessica Drop.
“Glastonbury was definitely a formidable opponent,” Thayer said. “I’m happy with the result. All of us had to do another event later so we had that on our minds.”
Jessica Drop, who runs the anchor leg on the 4×8, was also the runner-up in the 1000 meter race, finishing in 2:58.82. Danae Rivers (Wilbur Cross) won the title in 2:56.95.
“We knew we were going to have some competition today,” Drop said. “We were like, ‘let’s go out and do our best and see what we can do. I came in wanting top 3 and I got top 3.”
The Blue Devils whirlwind tour now heads to Boston. The top six Open finishers in each event qualified for the New England championships, which will take place this Friday at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Facility.
“We kept telling them all they needed was top six to get to next weekend,” Germond said. “I was happy to see them come out today and be competitive. The 9:30 was a great time. So we’ll take it. Second is great for them.”
Linus would agree with that.