Navy's Jess Palacio
By Aliya Faust
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Navy's mid-distance runner, Jess Palacio, closed the final 4x800-meter relay race on Saturday helping put her team in first place at the Naval Academy's Wesley A. Brown Field House during the 2011 Patriot League Men's and Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Palacio's team--Liz Milewski, Rachael Honrath and Erin Neumann--was in third place until the final hand-off, when Palacio made her way past Courtney Burgess of Holy Cross and ended the race at 8:59.78 seconds--less than a second off from the 8:59.55 championship meet record for the same race set by the Lehigh in 2009.
Palacio, who just set a Patriot League record for having four Track Athlete of the Week awards, said practicing for the relays was different from practicing for regular track meets. The team does not usually practice hand-offs, so she said they had to work on that. Palacio said Navy's team strategy was to try to keep the girls paced the first half of the race and push it in the end.
"It worked out nicely," she said.
Before Palacio's turn to grab the baton, she circled the interior of the track and cheered for her teammates, Milewski and Honrath, as they ran their laps. Carla Criste, the Navy women's head coach, said Palacio always tries to get her teammates "on board" and excited.
"Makes the team spirit rise," said Palacio of her cheering. "I find that it helps me a lot. So if it helps me, I know it has to help the rest of my team."
This was Palacio's third Patriot League Indoor Track and Field Championships. Last year she was named the 2010 Patriot League Outdoor Champion for both the 800 and 1,500-meter races. Her career bests are 2:09.85 for an 800-meter run, 3:00.79 in a 1,000- meter run, 4:24.72 in the 1,500-meter run and 4:50.80 for the mile. As the 2010 Patriot League Championship Track-Athlete of the Meet (Outdoor), Palacio will run three more races Sunday--the mile, 800-meter, and distance medley relay.
A junior at the Naval Academy, she plans to graduate next year. After graduation, Palacio plans to go to the U.S. Marine Corps and become an officer. Criste said Palacio, a Sun Valley, Nev. native, was an enlisted Corporal (E-4) in the Marines for a little over two years. She wasn't a track athlete, but her overseers noticed her athleticism and leadership qualities and thought it would be best if she attended the Naval Academy and return as an officer.
"At the prep school is where she discovered track and field. She was average talent at the time," said Criste. "But she's such a diligent, hard worker, that she's worked herself into becoming a national caliber athlete and I think that's why they noticed her in the fleet [which consists of the Navy and Marine Corps' forces] as an enlisted person. Her work ethic is there and she's a complete team player.
Criste said the Naval Academy goes by "ship, shipmate, self" and she epitomizes that because she is a "whatever-it-takes type of person."
Palacio said she is confident that her team will do well on Sunday.
"I just hope everyone does their best and puts forth their best effort for the rest of the meet," said Palacio.
After Saturday, the Navy Midshipmen women stood second in team rankings with 42 points. Lehigh was first with 45 points.