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Penn Relays, (circa 2005), photo by PhotoRun.net



If there is track & field in heaven - and I suspect there is - the weather certainly must be just like the divine meteorological conditions that blessed the City of Brotherly Love for Day Two of the 119th Penn Relay Carnival. Spirits were high as crystal blue skies and the hint of a slight zephyr created a festive atmosphere. The brilliant sun made the crowd of 23,000+ feel even warmer than the noontime 57 degree temperature suggested. It was - quite simply - a perfect day for track & field.

After a morning which featured a confederation of relays of all kinds - large school and small school, high school and grade school - the knowledgeable Franklin Field crowd quieted as leadoff racers of nine squads of collegiate women sprinters settled into the blocks for the day's first marquee event: the Women's 4 x 100 Championship. The final had been billed as a showdown between Jamaica's UTech and Texas A&M - the four-time defending champion in this event. Oh, and by the way, the field also included LSU - which has accumulated twelve 4 x 100 relay wins at Penn - and Oregon - which had assembled a speedy quartet which included Duck sprint star English Gardner whose spring 100 mark of 11.00 is the current world leader. The crowd anticipated greatness. Sloppy baton exchanges sealed the Ducks doom. LSU never threatened. And a sparkling baton exchange from Kamaria Brown to anchor Ashley Collier gave the Aggies the momentum they needed to blow by Jamaica's UTech to capture the championship in 43.05 - #6 on Penn's all-time top-ten list. In the process, Texas A&M became the first team at Penn ever to win the women's 4 x 100 5 years in a row. Penn Relays wristwatches must be plentiful in College Station. Afterwards - amidst the Aggie celebration - Brown explained, "We were very confident. We just wanted to make sure that everyone ran through their zones, that the exchanges were good, and that we got to the finish line." Added anchor Collier, "It felt good. I just felt like they all got me through it. And I just had to finish up for them."

A definite buzz ran through the crowd during the noon hour as the athletes came on to the track for the Women's 4 x 1500 Championship race. Yesterday's post-race scuttlebutt focused upon the absence of the Michigan women's distance medley relay squad- the reigning collegiate indoor national champ that thumped the Wildcats in that event. Villanova - still smarting from that indoor disappointment and seeking revenge - sorely wanted a Wolverine rematch in the DMR. Undistracted by Michigan's absence, the Wildcats easily captured the Penn DMR title - a victory rendered somewhat hollow due to Michigan's late scratch earlier this week.

But now the Michigan ladies had shown up to compete in the 4 x 1500. Would this be an opportunity for delayed revenge for 'Nova? As the 4 x 1500 unfolded, three podium aspirants quickly separated themselves from the field. After the opening leg, Villanova's Stephanie Schappert captured a slight lead for the Wildcats with Oregon and Michigan in close pursuit. The trio stayed tightly bunched through the second leg. On leg three, Michigan's Rebecca Addison ran a spritely 4:15.0 - which turned out to be the fastest split of the day - to give the Michigan foursome a slight advantage over Oregon with Villanova now a full 80 meters in arrears as the fourth leg runners launched off. Wildcat anchor Emily Lipari patiently closed the gap as she joined Duck anchor Becca Friday and Wolverine anchor Amanda Ecclestone just before the final lap. Ecclestone stayed strong and never was seriously threatened over the final circuit - stopping the clock for a Wolverine win in 17:15.47. Oregon managed to hold on for second while Lipari's gutty anchor leg [4:17.5] could not improve Nova's final placing. An electrified crowd was not surprised to learn that all three finishing times had earned inclusion onto the Penn list of all-time top-ten 4 x 1500 performances.

During post-race interviews, Addison offered, "When I got the baton in the lead, I was kind of nervous, but I told myself 'don't mess around.' I wanted to take it out honest and finish in the lead for Amanda." Anchor Ecclestone noted, "I had that position [the lead] in the DMR at the NCAA Indoor Championships, so I knew I could do it. I had my teammates every 100 yards around the track screaming at me. With their encouragement and support we were able to get it done today."

Track & field's collegiate distance royalty was all in attendance for the men's distance medley relay championship race - defending champ Princeton, Indiana, Penn State, Oregon, Columbia, Villanova, and on it went. Oregon leadoff runner Mac Fleet ran a heady 2:52 for the opening 1200 to give the Ducks a slight lead over Villanova and Penn State. After a speedy 400 second leg circuit, Penn State's Casimir Loxsom and Oregon's Elijah Greer - a pair of 1:45 800 stars - locked horns up front on leg three. Greer lead his Nittany Lion competitor as the duo went at it hard - passing through the first 400 in 50 seconds. Greer [1:47.6] gave his Duck teammate a 2 yard lead just before Loxsom [1:46.7] handed off to Penn State miler Robby Creese. The Nittany Lion anchor was not to be denied. "I wanted to make sure my pace was solid; I wanted to make sure after that first 800 I could breathe. I had to try and keep rested so I didn't give up that last lap." Splitting 3:58.9, Creese sealed the championship win for Penn State, as Villanova nipped Oregon for the runner-up position. "We've had our eyes set on this all year long and these guys were just tremendous out there," beamed Nittany Lion coach Beth Alford-Sullivan.

LSU - with its sprint star Kimberlyn Duncan running the second leg - captured the women's sprint medley. "It is an honor to know we won. It feels good to bring this back to LSU," said LSU's Natoya Goule, whose 2:03.5 anchor brought it home in 3:44.26 for the lady Tigers. "We wanted to break the record [Tennessee, 2004: 3:41.78], but it didn't happen."

In the men's sprint medley, Jamaica's UWI Mona grabbed the title in 3:17.81 - just nipping Mississippi State [3:18.32] for the crown. "I just kept my composure until the final 100 meters," explained an exuberant Jowayne Hibbert. "So I just let it loose. This is history for us; this is the first time we won a plaque."

In the qualifying rounds of the men's 4 x 400, Texas A&M shined as Aggie anchor Deon Lendore ran the easiest-looking 43.3 you'll ever see to give the College Station quartet the fastest qualifying time [3:03.60] heading into Saturday's final.


As the day wound down and the crowd thinned, departing fans scrambling for trains had to be reflecting on the sensory kaleidoscope that is Penn: track & field performers and fans mingling in the great stadium hallways; the wafting aroma of grilled bratwurst; a large woman - sporting dreadlocks, funky sunglasses, and adorned in yellow and green - shrieking in support of her beloved Jamaican athletes; inexperienced grade school relayers running so hard they actually catch runners they had no business chasing; disconsolate finishers quietly addressing their own personal disappointment; and giddy, victorious relay teams celebrating in their post-race bouncing huddles. It is all part of the 119 year old tradition here at Penn. And it is the reason that Franklin Field will be packed once again on Saturday for USA vs. The World.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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