Four in a row for Nova as Gina's girls rule Penn once again, by Cathal Dennehy

Respect for Villanova, photo by Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy is our smiling Irish troubadour of athletics. The man, like our other key writers sees a lot of track and obviously loves the sport. His piece on the Penn Relays is seen through the eyes of someone watching the hallowed event with the eyes of a keen observer. 

Four in a row for Nova as Gina's girls rule Penn once again 

As Villanova's Stephanie Schappert prepared to take the baton and run the anchor leg of the distance medley championship at the Penn Relays last night, one thought was foremost in her mind, as she explained afterwards: "You're going to have to kill me before I give up this win."

On what was a bitterly cold and blustery day at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, over 20,000 fans and athletes were in attendance for the 121st staging of the famed event. As has become the tradition, Thursday's action was highlighted by long-distance action, most notably the women's college distance medley championship, which served up an appropriately thrilling head-to-head finish. 

When it came to the final leg, Villanova's Schappert took the baton from teammate Síofra Cléirigh-Buttner with a 20-meter lead over Stanford's Elise Cranny. Villanova had built their lead from the gun thanks to a swift opening leg from Angel Piccirillo, who ran 3:23.25 for 1200m, a lead that then was consolidated by Michaela Wilkins and Cléirigh-Buttner on their respective 400m and 800m legs. 

On the final mile leg, Cranny set off swiftly in pursuit of Schappert, who ran a cautious opening lap in the strong winds and allowed herself to be reeled in by the Stanford athlete. Schappert then sat in and stalked Cranny through the final lap, before shooting past with 200m remaining. "I'm pretty confident in my kick but it was hard to judge the pace I was going because it was a little windy," said Schappert afterwards. "I was telling myself to stare at her back and with 200 left, [give it] all you have."

That proved more than enough to give Villanova their fourth consecutive DMR title at the Penn Relays, Schappert's 4:39.61 mile leg bringing them home in 11:09.06, two seconds clear of Stanford (11:11.07). Georgetown finished third in 11:16.83. 

"This is our turf," said Villanova coach Gina Procaccio afterwards. "They ran like true Villanovans. Honestly, you never get tired of winning. I'm excited for them and really proud of them." Indeed, the winning team were just as proud of each other as their coach was of them. "We train together every day," said Schappert. "I have so much faith in these girls."

A marathon day of track and field got under way at 10am yesterday morning with Rushell Clayton of UWI Mona, Jamaica taking victory in the college women's 400m hurdles in 57.81 seconds. She said afterwards that the inclement weather didn't faze her.  "It's just part of what it takes to be a champion," she said. "I want to be a world champion. It's one of the biggest dreams I'm working for."


Emily Sisson after her 3000m victory, by Cathal Dennehy

Providence star Emily Sisson destroyed the field to win the women's 3,000m championship, winning in 9:09.12. "I really enjoyed it and there was a great atmosphere," said Sisson, who broke the NCAA indoor 5,000m record last month. "I took a bit of time just to train [since that race] and it was good to get out here. It was a good opener. I want to run a good 10K next week at Stanford, and I'll figure it out from there."

Sisson's teammate at Providence, Lauren Mullins, was best in the women's 10,000m championship race, coming home a comfortable winner in 34:00.56 ahead of Kelsey Hildreth of Northern Illinois (34:21.42). 

On the week of Patriots Day, the high school girls distance medley championship was won, quite appropriately, by Patriot High School of Nokesville, Virginia, who took a convincing win from West Windsor Plainsboro (New Jersey) thanks to a storming final leg by Rachel McArthur. 

McArthur took the baton 20 meters down on Plainsboro's Christina Rancan, but sailed past en route to a 4:50.16 mile leg, which gave Patriot a memorable win in 11:51.85 to Plainsboro's 11:54.49.


A day of relays and relays, photo by Cathal Dennehy

One of the more impressive all-comers to make their mark yesterday was Paul-Ann Gayle of Edwin Allen, Jamaica, who threw 51.96m in the high school girls' discus, the second longest throw in Penn Relays history. 

There was a Penn Relays record in the high school girls' javelin - Sophia Rivera of Brentwood, MO throwing the spear out to 51.68m. Nickolette Dunbar did the same in the high school girls' shot put, establishing a meeting best of 15.44m. 

Fourteen hours after the first event of the day, the 116th and final track race of the day - the Olympic development men's 10,000m - brought a close to proceedings, with Ty McCormack of Auburn coming out an easy winner in 29:21.39 ahead of Providence's Hugh Armstrong in 29:55.00. 

Today, a number of college and high school championship races will continue to take top billing, with the top professional races slated to get underway on Saturday afternoon. The weather, much like the action in Franklin Field, is also thankfully set to heat up considerably.

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