A strong showing by Penn State on Day 1 of Penn Relays

Kelly Curtis of Springfield College, who was leadingthe women's heptathlon competition, clears a hurdle.
Kelly Curtis of Springfield College, who was leadingthe women's heptathlon competition, clears a hurdle. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 27, 2011

Since Penn State had more than a quarter of the contestants on the first day of the Penn Relays heptathlon and decathlon, it wasn't difficult to spot a Nittany Lion, or to hear one or more cheering on the others.

"Usually it's just me and [assistant] coach Drew [Hardyk]," decathlete Anya Uzoh said Tuesday. "So to have other people here is great. I heard them supporting me, and I'm supporting them as well."

Uzoh, a junior who was second to Marcos Sanchez of Turabo (Puerto Rico) after the first five events on a warm and windy day at Franklin Field, was referring to the three women competing in the heptathlon for Penn State - sophomore Kelsey Couts and freshmen Brittney Howell and Kaitchen Dearborn.

Howell, a graduate of Cheltenham High, posted the best time in the 200 meters, a brisk 25.78 seconds, to move up to second place at the end of the opening day. Her score was just 30 points behind the 2,920 compiled by the first-day leader, senior Kelly Curtis of Springfield (Mass.).

"It's awesome," said Couts, who ended the day in fourth place in the 10-woman field. "Having these other girls to cheer you on has been a lot of fun. It's good to have the support. All four of us are here cheering on each other."

Both Curtis, a transfer from Tulane, and Couts established personal bests in three events - the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, and 200. Curtis finished second to Howell in the hurdles, and Couts leaped 5 feet, 81/2 inches in the high jump for 903 points, the top score of the day.

Curtis said she has accompanied her parents from their Princeton home to attend the Thursday events at the carnival "for as long as I can remember."

"I've been asking all year to come to this meet," she said. "I hadn't done a heptathlon all year, and this became available at the very last minute. I had to rearrange all my schedule. I have finals coming up. But I'm excited to be here."

Melinda Wentz of West Chester posted the best mark in the shot put, 35-41/2, and second best in the 200 at 25.95. She completed the day in third place with 2,821 points.

Uzoh established a school record for the high jump in a decathlon, clearing 6-81/4, and netted 840 points. He followed with a winning time of 49.04 seconds in the 400 and goes into Wednesday with 3,845 points, second in the five-man field.

Sanchez was steady throughout, posting the best marks in the shot put (48-03/4) and the long jump (22-31/2). He high-jumped 6-6 and finished second to Uzoh in the 400 in 49.60.

USA vs. the World. Two veterans of the carnival's USA vs. the World competition, Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross, will compete in Saturday's races at Franklin Field, USA Track and Field announced.

Also coming to Penn are sprinters Mike Rodgers and Darvis "Doc" Patton.

Felix, winner of the 2010 Jesse Owens Award as the top female runner in the United States, and Richards-Ross, who missed the carnival last year because of an injury, have combined to win three Olympic gold medals, two silvers, and one bronze.

Rodgers, the 2011 U.S. indoor champion at 60 meters, owns the fastest time (non-wind-aided) in the world this year in the 100, a clocking of 10.07.

USATF said it will announce more contestants as the week goes on.

The Results

Men's Decathlon: Day 1 after 5 events

1. Marcos Sanchez, Turabo, Puerto Rico   3,977

2. Anya Uzoh, Penn State            3,845

3. Timothy Nickas, Mount St. Mary's      3,358

4. Austin Strine, Shippensburg         2,922

5. Fred Boone, St. Paul's College         2,791

Women's Heptathlon: Day 1 after 4 events

1 Kelly Curtis, Springfield            2,920

2 Brittney Howell, Penn State            2,890

3 Melinda Wentz, West Chester         2,821

4 Kelsey Couts, Penn State            2,799

5 Autumn Touchstone, Georgetown       2,655

6 Maura Burke, Ramapo               2,618

7 Kaitchen Dearborn, Penn State          2,498

8 Krystal Ellis, Montclair State          2,482

9 Jessica Yates, Shippensburg          2,442

10 Sara Wagner, Shippensburg          2,419

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

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