Assistant Sports Editor
NORTHFIELD -- The shortest race of the day, the 55-meter dash begins with a burst out of the starting blocks that can make or break a performance that ends about 7 seconds later.
Or, if you're Mount Anthony Union High School senior Shelby McLenithan, locked in a shoulder-to-shoulder duel with rival Kayla Gilding for the first 54 meters, it is the last move that can clinch a razor-thin, 0.02-second victory.
"It was really all head-bob," said McLenithan. "I saw her next to me and I [leaned]."
The result turned out to be the tightest victory in any event at the Vermont indoor track state championships on Saturday at Norwich University's Shapiro Field House and one of two crowns for the Patriots -- their first winter track titles since 2010.
The deepest team in the field, Essex swept the team championships. The Hornet boys racked up 114 points to beat St. Johnsbury by 22; the girls (134.5) outdistanced defending champion South Burlington by 6.5 points.
The Mount Anthony girls (61.5) took third for the second straight year and the boys (60) were fourth overall.
McLenithan, who won the 55 in 7.39, was third in the 300 and anchored the Patriots 4x200 relay team, finished the day by being named the Female Athlete of the Year.
"It's a big honor -- I wasn't expecting it at all," she said.
Competing in the state indoor meet for the first time, Mount Anthony senior Jon Polen delivered the Patriots' other championship in the 55-meter hurdles with a time of 7.82 seconds in the finals. Teammate Nathaniel Durfee was third in 8.66.
Also the reigning 110-meter hurdles champion (outdoor), the win cemented his standing as the state's premier high school hurdler.
"I've been working at it since freshman year and it's kind of all fallen into place now," Polen said. "It's neat to see the outcome of things."
Polen, who spent last winter playing high-level junior hockey for the CP Dynamo in New York, entered the meet gunning for the Vermont record. Though he failed to match his previous best of 7.69 seconds -- 0.01 off the state mark -- he gets another shot at the New England championships on March 2 in Boston.
"He looked really smooth. It'll be interesting to see what he can do at Reggie Lewis Center," said MAU coach Bob Kurtzner. "He likes the big meets. He doesn't get scared of competition."
Including McLenithan's championship, the Patriots notched four new school records on Saturday, pushing their total to 10 for the season.
The girls 4x400 relay -- Grace Page, McKenzie Krawczyk, Samantha Mears, Shelby Whitman -- took third in 4:22.18, besting their previous time by six seconds.
The boys 4x400 team -- Ben Seward, Andrew Brandmeyer, Brad Myers, Andy Seward -- was second in 3:36.07, breaking the school record by 2 seconds. The Patriots led until the final meter when St. Johnsbury anchor Dage Minors, who also swept the three mid-distance races to be named Male Athlete of the Year, edged them at the line by 0.08 seconds.
The boys 4x800 team claimed runner-up honors as well, with Andy Seward, Matt Strano, Zach Redden and Marc Brandmeyer smashing the 24-year-old school record by 10 seconds.
"The guys did an amazing job," said MAU head coach Kathleen Newton, voted Coach of the Year for the second season in a row. "They all ran very well."
Marc Brandmeyer was second in the 3,200 and Andy Seward, seeded fourth in the 600 with a qualifying time of 1:30, was runner-up to Minors in 1:28.33.
"I was hoping he could run a 1:29 but he ran a [1:28] and ended up second -- that's incredible," Newton said.
The Mount Anthony girls 4x200 relay team, heavy favorites coming into the meet after flirting with the state record all season, were disqualified for a lane violation, a blow that will keep them from competing at New Englands.
"It's a tough thing when you don't get to go back and do it again," Newton said. "The ups, the downs, it was pretty emotional. But I'm really proud of how they pulled themselves together."
MAU went 3-4-5-6 in the girls 300, with Grace Page, Taylor Hockemeier and Raheemah Madany following McLenithan.
Leniesha Williams (55) and Taylor Haynes (shot put) added thirds. Krawczyk and Andrew Brandmeyer were each fourth in the 1,000 and Ben Seward was fourth in the 300.