Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is the Women's DMR World Record in Jeopardy at Penn Relays?

Villanova women have shot at DMR record at Penn Relays
April 26, 2011

In 1988, Villanova women's track coach "Uncle" Marty Stern, as only he could, stood up at a pre-Penn Relays press conference and matter-of-factly proclaimed that his distance medley team was going to break the world record. The forks you could hear dropping on the floor were from his four runners, who all had that "Are you kidding us?" gaze in their eyes. But break the record they did. And 23 years later, it still stands.

At last month's NCAA indoor championships the Wildcats won the DMR with a time of 10 minutes, 52.52 seconds, which broke the program mark that also had been established in '88. So it appears the outdoor standard of 10:48.38 could be in jeopardy when Thursday afternoon's marquee event gets under way at Franklin Field at 5:20 p.m.

Even if that's not the stated objective.

"We're just focused on winning," coach Gina Procaccio stressed following yesterday's final workout in West Philly. "That's enough. I mean, Villanova already holds the record."

The Wildcats have won this race nine times, or four more than any other program. But they haven't won it since 2006. And that's the only time they've won it since 1997.

The last 2 years, Villanova has won the national cross-country title. Canada's Sheila Reid, who won the individual title last November, will run the 1,600-meter anchor leg, following Emily Lipari (800), Christie Verdier (400) and Ariann Neutts (1,200).

"I'm at the point where I think I know what it takes to win at Penn," said Reid, who received the Outstanding Amateur Athlete award at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Assocation dinner in January. "The last 2 years I thought we had great teams, with a lot of potential. And we couldn't get it done. But when this group comes together, good stuff happens. Hopefully, we can repeat some of the magic that happened at indoors."

All she wants is a victory lap. The record would be sheer icing.

"It takes something special to win at Penn," she said. "It would just be a vindication of all the hard work we've done, to put us in this position. But you just can't go in there with certain expectations, because anything can happen.

"It's a lot easier to be the underdog. But it doesn't matter. People don't remember who finishes second. It doesn't matter how much you win by. So [the record's] not something we're necessarily shooting for. But it is in the back of our heads, because we know it's possible. Still, you can't go out there after times. That'll drive you crazy. There's a lot of teams that are going to come after us . . .

"In my mind, the Penn Relays is the de facto national championship, since there's no DMR at outdoors. So this is the time to prove what we have. We see all the great names on the wall [at school], every day. They've got Penn Relay champions, and national champions. It's kind of funny to have one without the other. It's something that's very elusive. It would be great to put our names right up there in Villanova history, because it's very hard to do. Penn means the world to us."

The Wildcats will also line up in the 4 x 1,500, a race they haven't won since 2000. That was their eighth victory, or five more than anyone else. But the DMR has usually been the one that stands out from the rest.

Villanova's men have won it 23 times, most recently 2 years ago. Arkansas is next, with 15.

Procaccio duly noted that Georgetown, despite the fact that two of its better runners were redshirting during the indoor season, still managed to stay with her team for the first couple of legs. And the Hoyas hardly figure to be the only ones coming here looking to pull an upset.

"Because we won nationals, the expectations are even higher," Procaccio said. "But Penn is always big for us. I don't see it being any different.

"It's something we really want. But we want it every year. The next thing you know, 5 years have gone by [without a win]. I even started questioning whether I would rather win Penn Relays or a national championship. I'm sure for every other school it's the national championship. For me, I don't know. That's how important the Penn Relays are for Villanova . . .

"For the first time in a long time, we just have four really mentally tough competitors. They don't get rattled. None of them. They don't care who's out there [with them]. They don't care what they've done, or what anyone else has done recently. They just go out and do their jobs. But those days of being way out there by ourselves are over. It's just evolved. It used to be if one team broke 11 minutes, they were the greatest in the world. Now you might have four or five."

But will one go where no quartet has ventured before? Wonder what Uncle Marty would say.

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