By Joseph Staszewski
Denise Branch is continuing a number of Benjamin Cardozo traditions started by the school’s recent elite distance runners.
The senior, who transferred from Midwood after her sophomore year, became the third-straight Judges runner to compete in the girls’ mile at the Millrose Games after Alexis Panisse and Sabrina Southerland, who won the event last year. Her commitment to run for the University of Illinois means she is also a Division I recruit like Panisse and Southerland.
And Branch hopes she can inspire her teammates to continue the trends and follow in her footsteps.
“I just want to keep the tradition going, set a good example for my teammates and show them what it takes to get there and be that type of athlete,” she said.
Branch is the New York state leader in the 3,000 meters with a time of 9:53.46 and is a member of the Judges’ 4×800 relay team, which has the fastest time in the country this season at 9:08.97. Branch placed seventh in a loaded field of 13 runners in the girls’ Millrose mile with a personal best time of 4:67.62 Saturday at The Armory.
She said she opted for Illinois because she developed a strong relationship and communicated well with track head Coach Ron Garner and distance Coach Scott Jones. Branch said the campus is more suburban than New York City, but she is happy with the atmosphere in and around the city of Champlain.
“I like that there were a lot of different terrains for me to run on,” said Branch, who picked Illinois over Virginia Tech.
She and the Judges hit a rough patch at the Millrose Games when the team was disqualified for a false start by junior leadoff leg Alana Williams, who is in her first season running for Cardozo. The Judges had the fastest time in the trials coming into the race at 3:58.68 and were looking to end rival Medgar Evers’ three-year hold on the Millrose Games crown.
The Cougars ended up making it four straight victories with a mark of 3:53.98. Branch was supposed to be the third leg just two events after she competed in the mile.
“It’s disappointing, but we are not going to be depressed about it,” she said.
Cardozo Assistant Coach Ray James thought Williams shouldn’t have been disqualified. He admitted she flinched early, but felt she gained no advantage from it as other girls were fully out blocks before her.
“They could have called it right back,” James said, explaining that he believed she didn’t leave the block.
Branch expects her team to move on quickly from the disappointment from the Millrose Games and aim for a seventh-straight PSAL Indoor championship Feb. 22 back at the Armory and then continue on.
“We are going to run right through this meet and just get back up,” Branch said.