Oregon men, Tennessee women big Penn Relay winners

Take your marks . . . go! Runners take off in the third heat of the college men's 100-yard dash at the Penn Relays at Franklin Field.
Take your marks . . . go! Runners take off in the third heat of the college men's 100-yard dash at the Penn Relays at Franklin Field.
Posted: April 24, 2010

Andrew Wheating remembers the excitement of coming to the Penn Relays as an Oregon freshman and leaving for home a few days later without a large championship plaque to take along.

Now a senior, Wheating, a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, anchored behind Matthew Centrowitz, Chad Barlow and Mac Fleet in leading the Ducks to their first-ever Championship of America victory, an impressive win in the men's distance medley relay.

The Ducks, who have taken aim on three victories at Franklin Field, picked up No. 1 in a time of 9 minutes, 30.69 seconds. Fleet, a freshman, broke the race open with an 800-meter leg of 1:48.04 and handed the baton to Wheating with a 30-meter lead, and Wheating brought it home.

"It's just really nice to come back after freshman year," Wheating said. "Freshman year was wide-eyed, everything was tough. It was a pretty poor showing. So to come back now and do this with a great group of guys, it's a great feeling."

Oregon shared the spotlight on a sunny, pleasant day with the Tennessee women, who captured their second win of the weekend. The Vols, with NCAA champion Phoebe Wright outlasting Villanova's Sheila Reid in a gutty anchor leg, captured the 4x1,500.

Then there were the outstanding sprint relay teams of Texas A&M, which established a meet and collegiate record in the 4x100-yard shuttle hurdle relay in 52.50 seconds and also won the 4x100-meter relay in 43.09. Gabby Mayo ran second leg on the hurdles team and anchor on the 4x100.

LaTavia Thomas, a graduate of West Catholic High, became the first athlete in Penn Relays history to anchor the same winning team for four straight years, leading Louisiana State to victory in the sprint medley relay in 3:48.36. The Tigers also won the men's sprint medley.

It was an exciting day for the Ducks, who run in front of knowledgeable crowds at Eugene's famed Hayward Field in Oregon, but really appreciated the crowds that cheered them on at Penn.

"This is my first time here; I'm pretty wide-eyed," Fleet said. "The crowd is awesome. . . . It's something completely different [from Eugene]. Everyone is pretty crazy. They don't necessarily care who you run for or anything. They just cheer. They like good races. It was loud, and it was fun."

Barlow, who ran the 400 leg, also was a freshman on Oregon's last trip to the carnival.

"I was barely a track fan in high school," he said. "I just did it for fun. But coming here before, Mac [Fleet] was telling me what a big meet this was. I was doing some research, and that really got me pumped for this meet."

The Villanova partisans in the crowd were hoping the Wildcats, running without the injured Matthew Gibney, the anchor of last year's victorious team, could spring the upset. But Fleet's 800-meter leg dashed those hopes. Still, Wildcats anchor Carl Mackenzie had enough to beat out a multi-team dash for second in 9:33.93.

"All in all, I'm not displeased by any stretch of the imagination," Villanova coach Marcus O'Sullivan said. "I'm pretty happy with how they did."

Tennessee, which was led off by Chanelle Price, who trained during high school in Philadelphia, dueled Villanova for most of the 4x1500, and Wright took the baton for the anchor leg with a five-meter lead over Reid.

Reid ran off Wright's shoulder for most of the leg and made her move with 200 meters to go. But Wright went with her, keeping Reid outside of her, and just had enough at the finish to win by two strides in 17:14.91. The Wildcats finished in 17:15.41.

"I felt Sheila come up on me, and I had to do a little gut check and respond to it," said Wright, who can go 6 for 6 in the Penn Relays over the last two years with a win Saturday in the 4x800. "I just ran the last 200 hard."

"When Phoebe moved with me, I don't think I lost any ground," Reid said, "but I didn't pick up any, and that's what gets you the win. I really did put it all out there. It breaks my heart that I couldn't bring it home for 'Nova in front of that crowd."

Clemson won the men's shuttle hurdle relay in 56.45.

Texas A&M's men's team was on pace toward repeating their 2009 championships in the 4x100 and 4x200, clocking the fastest times in the heats in each relay - 39.37 in the 4x100 and 1:21.22 in the 4x200. The Aggies also led all qualifiers in the 4x400, in 3:04.84.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.