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Francis big winner in Grand Prix races

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Benjamin Cardozo’s Claudia Francis slipped into second on the back straight away after the Judges led all through Ahtyana Johnson’s first leg of the 4 x 400 relay. The sophomore wasn’t worried and didn’t panic.

“I was thinking, ‘Just relax, be calm and pick it up on the straight away and pass her,’” Francis said.

It didn’t even take that long.

Francis moved into first around the turn and opened up a lead that Tessa West and Chamique Francis (no relation) kept increasing. The Judges blew away the field and won the race in a meet record and state leading time of 3:39.96. Chamique Francis received quite an ovation from the capacity crowd as she crossed the finish line at the Reebok Grand Prix at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island Saturday.

“It felt great to come out here and do our best in front of a huge crowd,” said Chamique Francis, who has a strained left hamstring.

The previous meet record was 3:44.38, set by Boys & Girls last year. The Judges already held the best time in the state at 3:45.32. The finish easily broke a team goal of running under 3:45 before West graduated and moves on to attend Temple University.

“We thought we would come out here and run 3:43, but 3:39? Oh, man,” Chamique Francis said.

The race put a fitting end to a strong day for Claudia Francis and Cardozo. She also won the 800 meters, which featured a stacked field. Francis had to hold off a late charge to the finish line from Garden City’s Emily Menges.

“Basically down the straight away I was tired, but my mind just kept me going, telling myself, ‘I could do it,’” Claudia Francis said.

She won the race in a personal best time of 2:09.72. Menges, who actually passed Francis around the final turn, was second in 2:09.88. Claudia Francis’ older sister Phyllis, of Catherine McAuley, who tried to make a late push but could not get around the outside, was third in 2:10.33.

“I still had some energy left, but I made my move too late,” Phyllis said. “I’m happy for [Claudia].”

So was her coach.

“She is a trooper,” Cardozo Coach Gail Emmanuel said. “We always tell her this is your race no matter who is in the race. You’re going to win it. She is incredible. I think sometimes she doubts herself. She is the type of girl it sometimes takes someone to say, ‘You can do this,’ and she did.”

The day was also one of redemption of sort for the Judges’ 4 x 100 relay of Lateisha Philson, Johnson, West and Chamique Francis, which won in a personal best time of 46.63.

“We wanted to come back after Penn [Relays] and show them what we have,” West said. “At Penn, we didn’t do well.”

After a strong start by Philson, Francis got Cardozo a slight lead as the second leg and it was West who began to open things up around the final turn as looked to hand off to Johnson.

“When Tessa was coming around and I saw she had a lead,” Johnson said, “I knew I had to take it and have a clean stick pass and go home and just think about the finish [line].”

It was a friendly place for the Judges on this day.

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