PHILADELPHIA — It was her first major race of the spring.
Only fitting it was the Penn Relays.
"This is my favorite place to race," Marissa Sheva said after hammering the final stretch of her impressive one-mile race around the Franklin Field track. "It's like home. Coming back is always fun."
The Pennridge junior turned it on in the second half of the Mile Run Championship, racing to a fifth-place finish to cap off a fast opening day for locals at the 120th running of the Penn Relays.
The Central Bucks West girls advanced in two races, as the Bucks' 4x4 once again qualified for Saturday's Philly Area race while the West 4x8 is headed for Friday's Championship of America at 1 p.m.
After missing much of cross country season due to mono, which also delayed the start of her indoor season, Sheva was back at it on Thursday, displaying the stamina and push that have helped make her one of the best milers around.
The junior outraced eight other top runners from up and down the east coast, crossing in 4 minutes, 51.22 seconds.
"I wanted to set myself up for a good season so I was gonna give it everything I had," Sheva said. "I knew that would help with my training and we'd be able to see where I could go from here."
West Morris Central's (N.J.) Kylene Cochrane (4:55.30), Exeter's (N.H.) Shannon Murdock (4:56.37), Miller Place's (N.Y.) Tiana Guevara (4:57.97), Indian Hills' (N.J.) Julia Guerra (5:00.18) and Holmdel's (N.J.) Marin Warner (5:03.60) rounded out the top 10.
Amelia Paladino of Morgantown (W.V.) was the winner in 4:45.34, followed by Catholic's (Md.) Ellie Gonzalez (4:47.26), Elk County's Kennedy Weisner (4:50.96) and Davidson's (N.C.) Malia Ellington (4:51.16).
Sheva, a regular at the Penn Relays since she was in fourth grade, was seventh after one lap, improved to sixth after two, then surged all the way to fourth with a lap to go.
Ellington was just able to edge her at the finish line by less than a tenth of a second, but it looks to be a promising postseason for Pennridge's ace miler.
"My close — I feel like the last couple races, it hasn't been as strong as it usually is, so I'm hoping to bring that back by states," Sheva said.
Meanwhile, the old adage, 'you're only as good as your weakest link' doesn't really apply to the West girls' 4x4, since the foursome doesn't have a weak link. In fact, every member of the relay ran a sub-60 split, making for an easy run around the track for anchor Jamila Branch, even though she ran a blistering 57.93, the second fastest split in the race.
"I trust my teammates to get me in a good spot so I can get out there," Branch said. "You want to work hard, but for them to not make me work as hard as other anchor legs is amazing. I love them so much."
Maddie Villalba put the Bucks in the lead for good with her 59.65 leadoff, followed by Courtney Taylor (58.28), Kelsey Horst (57.90) and Branch. West was able to overcome a tremendous effort by second-place North Penn (3:57.22).
"It feels amazing," Branch said afterwards. "We're just going for the gold this year."
The Bucks get a shot at their second Philly Area title in three years Saturday at 5:45 p.m.. They finished second last season.
It was a long day for Villalba and Branch, who also helped the 4x8 advance earlier that morning.
"That's really exciting — we weren't expecting it," Branch said of the spot in the COA Race Friday. "(In between races, we had) a lot of cooling down, a lot of warming up, a lot of hydrating, eating, and staying out of the sun. Then once you see all of the other teams, you're like, ' okay, let's get ready to go.'"
Olivia Berry led off the 4x8 for West, followed by Villalba, Branch, and Meghan Iatarola. The Bucks' foursome finished in 9:18.20, ahead of fourth-place North Penn (9:25.99).
Out in the field, Pennridge's Ariana Przybylowski placed 13th in the Long Jump Championship, jumping 17-7.75.
"It's not my best jump ever, but it was definitely where I have been, as far as consistency," Przybylowski said. "With it being such a big event and such a different place, I'm really happy that I stayed at a consistent mark. My steps were on and my jumps were consistent.
"I jumped in this pit before (for CYO) but never with this many people watching. So it's a little intimidating at first but I eventually tune them all out, like I would at any other meet. Today was definitely a start to all of the big meets. From this point on, I'm hoping to excel."
West's Maddie Villalba ran the 10th fastest split in the 4x8, going 2:15 flat. Edwin Allen's Marleena Eubanks was fastest with a 2:09.4...Two of North Penn's 4x4 runners, Leiana Dean (58.32) and Mikaela Vlasic (59.32), ran sub-60 splits...Thursday's attendance at The Penn Relays was 21,422.
Follow Kev Hunter on Twitter @khunter10.