STAFFORD'S LAMBERT SURPRISES 5A BOYS' 3200 FIELD FOR FIRST STATE TITLE
Stafford's Philip Lambert couldn't contain his excitement.
There was really no reason to ask him to do so.
Lambert, a junior, took control of the 5A boys 3200 early, zipping through splits of 2:18 (800), 4:37 (1600) and 6:57 (2400) while building up a six-second lead over the pack, which included a pair of Tuscaroran juniors, Derek Johnson and state leader Benjamin Nibbelink, who entered Saturday's race with a best of 9:10. Also in the lineup were Saurav Velleleth of Thomas Jefferson S&T and Bashir Mosavel-Lo of Deep Run, a pair of seniors with sub-9:15 capability.
Lambert was not considered a favorite. The Indian may have had a chance to score a few points, but with his best times of 9:19 (indoor) for the 3200, and 4:27 in the mile, there was little reason to expect the Stafford jersey to be in front of the pack. However, an enlightened track fan needed to only notice Lambert's 8:34.13 for the Penn Relays HS 3000 meters in late April, a race in which Lambert placed ninth. While conversion methods are not perfect, it would be safe to add 40 seconds to the time and come up with a potential 9:14 for the 3200.
As Lambert zipped through his first seven laps, seeking to end the race early, only one question remained. Could he hold on to the pace? His answer was surprising.
"I was five seconds slower through the mile than I wanted to be," said Lambert, still overjoyed with his win. "I was thinking to myself that I gotta get going, I have to break (the competition)."
As the lead stretched to four, five, six, and then seven seconds on the next to last lap, it looked like mission accomplished. However, the rest of the field was not ready to quit. Velleleth, in particular, made a solid effort on the last lap. While Lambert pushed to a new state meet record time of 9:11.50, the Colonial put on a late surge with a 60-second last lap to close the margin of victory to just a sliver over three seconds with his 9:14.52.
So how did a distance runner who wasn't even ranked in the top 15 returning cross-country runners of 2016 end up with a state title at the longest track distance?
"It was a lot of hard work," said Lambert, who, as a top-flight honor student at Stafford (4.76 GPA, and ranked first in class) understands the value. That was so important. I was running 60-65 miles a week during the summer." While some runners opt for two-a-day workouts, Lambert chose to go for one long run each day. "I wanted to get it out of the way. It was good training."
The results followed quickly. In his junior yea of cross, Lambert dropped over a minute from his best 5,000-meter time, dipping from 16:57 all the way to 15:48. Both times came in the 5A state championship at Great Meadow, and for Lambert, the lower time resulted in an improvement of 18 places, from 25th to seventh, meaning All-State honors. "It was my first time making All-State. I put everything into it."
The improvement continued through indoor and early outdoor season.
Enter the Penn Relays, arguably Lambert's watershed moment.
"I visualized that whole race. I could see the stadium (Franklin Field) in my mind. I pictured myself with 300 meters to go, starting to give everything I had left. After having a best of 9:59 in the 3200 last year, I was so happy to make it happen."
And, of course, the new state champion was happy to think about his latest accomplishment, especially as he aims to be recruited by one of his target schools - Duke, Princeton, Penn and Stanford.
"This is the best feeling ever."
With his work ethic intact, Lambert may need to get used to the feeling.