Tennessee women win DMR at Penn Relays

Tennessee women gather at the finish after winning the distance medley relay in 10 minutes, 54.65 seconds.
Tennessee women gather at the finish after winning the distance medley relay in 10 minutes, 54.65 seconds.
Posted: April 23, 2010

Having options is never a bad thing. Especially when you're swapping oranges for oranges.

Last April, Tennessee's women swept the three distance relay races at the Penn Relays. This time, the Volunteers have almost everything back except Sarah Bowman, who was the 2009 Outstanding Female College Athlete.

Still, coach J.J. Clark's team came here loaded once again. Which might help explain why he could afford to take Chanelle Price, who ran in all of those races a year ago, off the 1,600-meter anchor leg of yesterday's distance medley relay. And replace her with Jackie Areson, a senior who was third in the 5 kilometers at last month's NCAA Indoor Championships. Didn't matter.

The Vols won the marquee event of the Carnival's first full day, in 10 minutes, 54.65 seconds. That was a little more than 8 seconds faster than Oregon, which was competing here for the first time, and nearly 13 seconds better than third-place Villanova, which last won the DMR in 2006.

The Vols, who ran 11:02.11 last year, have won this race 3 of the last 4 years, and four times since 2004.

"We have a lot of anchor legs here," said Clark, who ran for Villanova in the 1980s. "We discussed [the move] a week or so ago . . . Put the names in a hat.

"Chanelle has been unbelievable. Whatever is best for the team, simply. She took it like a champion. She's a class act. She was clapping and cheering for her team. When you have Jackie, why try to beat everyone down?

"We don't have to. So we decided to go this way."

Now Price will be fresh for today's 4 x 1,500 meters and tomorrow's 4 x 800.

"First of all, last year was super, super special," said Phoebe Wright, who really opened things up with a 2:02.12 in the 800-meter third leg. "To walk in and win three relays, with these really great teams out there . . . With that being said, every time Tennessee steps on the line, regardless of who's on the line with us, or what's expected of us, we're going to run to win. We're going to give ourselves a fighting chance every time."

Brittany Sheffey, who anchored a victorious DMR effort at Indoors, opened with a 3:21.63 in the 1,200, at which point the Vols were basically even with Indiana. Ellen Wortham followed with a 52.64 in the 400, which gave them about a 15-meter advantage over Oregon. By the time Areson got the baton, the lead was more like 30. Nicole Blood did manage to cut that in half about midway through, but there was never really any doubt about the outcome.

"The entire race, I was just thinking about Jackie," Wright said. "I was trying to give her as big a cushion as I possibly could. It's a team effort, not a solo run."

Added Areson: "It's the first time I've been part of this relay with these girls. It's nice for me. I felt like a freshman, as far as the Penn Relays experience."

Villanova just couldn't keep it close enough for Sheila Reid to have a realistic chance.

"If they line up fresh and even, I think she's the best [anchor]," Villanova coach Gina Procaccio said. "But we can't give her the baton 10 seconds behind.

"My girls ran well. But we're disappointed. We expected to be in the race. There's another race [today, the 4 x 1,500], and we hope to be in it."

If they are, chances are they'll have to deal with the Vols. Might have to get used to it.

"How many teams have won three races here?" Clark asked. "I can remember only two that have done that. So it's quite special. But it's not realistic, coming here.

"I do know we have [another] very special team. We want to win as many championships as we can. We're starting to realize that they're a special group, very talented. There's been times when we've run well here, but didn't get credit, because we didn't win. Now it's starting to go in the direction we'd like."

Good for him, not as welcome news for the competition. Which, once again, could be running out of options.

"On any given day," Clark noted, "we're just trying to figure it out, how to win, what's best for the team. There's some very, very tough choices."

Maybe only if he tosses an apple into the mix. *

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