Wednesday, July 31, 2013


This is the second installment of a new series at Villanova Running called These Five Things. The series focuses on Villanova's standout performers over the decades -- great runners on the Main Line who helped create and solidify the glory of the Villanova program.

Sumner's anchor beat Frey and Georgetown in 1991
While at Villanova from 1989-1993, Brad Sumner was an NCAA, Penn Relays, Big East, and IC4A champion.  He won an NCAA title in 1990, running the third leg of Villanova's NCAA indoor national champion 4x800 relay squad.  Outdoors, Brad was a 3-time NCAA finalist and 3-time All-American at 800 meters, finishing 8th (1:50.09), 4th (1:46.77), and 4th (1:47.65) in 1991, 1992, and 1993, respectively. He heroically anchored Villanova's 1991 Penn Relays 4x800 team (7:15.55) to a Championship of America victory by half a stride over Georgetown's (7:15.73) Ethan Frey (see photo, right). He repeated the feat the following year as Villanova again took the 4x800 at the Penn Relays -- this time by a much wider margin (see photo below).  In 1993 Sumner again helped Villanova to a Penn Relays title, but this time not without controversy. Arkansas coach John McDonnell accused Sumner of knocking the baton from the hand of the Arkansas third leg, John Schiefer, as Villanova, in front of 39,592 onlookers, went on to win the 4x1500 wagon wheel at Penn for the first time since 1984.  Sumner was also a six-time Big East champion (1990: 4x800; 1991: 4x800i; 1992: 800m; 1993: 800i, 4x800i, 1500m), and anchored Villanova's 2-mile championship relay at the 1993 IC4A meet.

Brad was recruited to Villanova from Rochester, New York. He still holds the New York State championship meet record at 600 meters (1:19.56), set in 1989 running for McQuaid Jesuit. At that same New York state meet, Brad also anchored McQuaid Jesuit's come-from-behind 4x800 state championship relay effort.  While a prep runner, Sumner set a national high school record for indoor 600-meter run and he anchored 4x800 meter relay teams that won two national indoor championships, three Eastern States titles, and two state outdoor championships.  He was inducted into McQuaid Jesuit's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.

Post-collegiately, Brad was an 800 meter finalist at USA Outdoor Nationals in 1993 (6th in 1:46.33), 1994 (4th in 1:47.79), and 1995 (5th in 1:48.90).  On April 11, 1995 Sumner ran 3:59.11 to place his name on Villanova's illustrious sub-4:00 list.  He competed at both the 1992 (details below) and 1996 US Olympic Trials.  While at Villanova, Brad met his future wife in teammate Tosha Woodward. Together they have 2 children, Brynne (12), and Will (9) and live outside Atlanta, Georgia, where Brad works in the financial services industry.

In this series, each person will be asked to reflect back on their days at Villanova, and to complete the following sentence:

"When I think back on my times at Villanova, both as a student and an athlete, more and more my thoughts revolve around These Five Things: . . . . "

Here are Brad Sumner's responses to the question:

1. Teammates

The transition from high school to college is a big change for any student but being a member of the track team was a great advantage in making that transition as your teammates served as a kind of family, given how much time you spend traveling, training, rooming and going to classes with them. Looking back at my years at Villanova I’m reminded of how much a part of your life your teammates are and how much of a role they play in your success.

It wasn’t always a smooth ride the first two seasons as we went through a coaching transition but having Mike Seeger take me under his wing my first year is something I’ll always appreciate. He was the captain and primary motivator during the transition from a team with a questionable future to a team in the midst of a rebuilding phase. Our 4x800 win at the 1991 Penn Relays is the most memorable and proudest moment I have while running with Mike at Villanova.

Following my freshmen year, Marty Stern was named the head coach of the Villanova men’s program and gradually our recruiting prospects improved and the addition of Louie Quintana to the roster my junior year had a tremendous impact on my development as a runner. 1992 was a breakthrough year for me and I think much of that can be attributed to training and racing with Louie – probably the toughest competitor I’ve ever trained with.

Louie and I both qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1992 and based on our performances at the Trials and the following year at the NCAA Championships and USATF Nationals, we were able to spend the summer of 1992 and 1993 traveling and competing in Europe. Being able to do this with a fellow Villanova teammate made it a tremendous experience and one of my favorite Villanova memories.

2. Coach Pyrah

You can’t talk about the Villanova Track & Field tradition without mentioning Coach Pyrah. He was an old-school coach who always seemed to have his stop watch ready to go and was a welcome presence, even though he wasn’t as involved in the program's day-to-day operation. He was loved and respected by the entire team and it’s hard to imagine Villanova having the success it enjoys to this day without the foundation built by Jumbo and Coach Pyrah.

Sumner anchored the 4x800 again in 1992
I enjoyed Coach Pyrah’s stories and recollections, and even though he often repeated them, he provided a connection to Jumbo and the years of success the program enjoyed. Coach Pyrah also had this way of keeping you from getting over confident or cocky after a race by reminding you of a performance from one of the greats from the past. I can only imagine the number of record breaking races Coach Pyrah witnessed over his career and in the back of my mind I always wanted to run a race that would leave an impression on him.

I’m reminded in Mark Belger’s “These Five Things” of how Coach Pyrah used to recall the same rule from Jumbo regarding having three things you could do while in college (school, running, and socializing/girls) but you could only be successful at two of them. I’m sure the intent was to focus on school and running so maybe that’s where I ran into a little trouble by dating my then future wife, Tosha Woodward. All kidding aside, it’s great to have the shared experience of both running for Villanova.

For more information on the career of Jack Pyrah, go HERE.

3. Marty Stern

Marty Stern was named the head coach of the men’s program following my freshman year at Villanova and I’m sure there was a tremendous amount of pressure on him as he took the reins of a program that was in need of rebuilding. Even though Marty had a great deal of success with the women’s program, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We hoped the success and recruiting of the woman’s program would translate to the men’s team and after my first meeting with him I knew things were going to be different.

Marty was very competitive and he brought an organization to the program that helped create an environment for success. That first season wasn’t without friction but over the next few years our recruiting improved and it started to feel like the program was on the path to success.

Our 4x800 win at the Penn Relays in 1991 was one of the great memories I have with Marty. Every Villanova runner dreams about winning at Penn Relays, but looking back I’m sure it was a tremendous moment for Marty and a bit of a relief given the pressure on the men’s program to produce results at the Penn Relays.

4. Penn Relays

While at McQuaid Jesuit High School I was a member of several competitive relay teams that participated in the High School Championship of America 4x800 so I was already familiar with the significance of the meet though we were never able to win.  Following the high school 4x800m I was able to watch the Villanova men win the college men’s 4x800 Championship of America and hoped someday I’d be able to do the same.

Sumner was a 3x Penn Relays Champion
When back on campus, I still enjoy walking down the Penn Relays Wagon Wheel trophy lined hall between the Jake Nevin Field House and the Pavilion and I recall how it served as a daily reminder of the importance of the Penn Relays to Villanova.

My freshmen year, discussion of Penn Relays began the first day of Cross Country practice and after winning the 4x800 at the indoor NCAA meet it seemed like we would have good chance of winning at Penn that year. At Penn, I ran the third leg and handed off to Mike Seeger with the shortest of leads and stood on the track and watched Mike Seeger battle Mike Jasper (Georgetown) in an incredibly close race where we came up just short, losing by less than a second. This was the toughest loss I experienced at Penn as it was the closest I’d come yet to a win.

The next year our team of Aidan O’Regan, Finn Kelly, Mike Seeger and I would have a chance to redeem ourselves and in a twist of a fate Mike Seeger ran against Mike Jasper on the third leg. This was another battle and Mike had the strongest leg of the day putting on a big move over the last 200 meters that gave us a short lead over Georgetown. I hung on against Ethan Frey, had my first Penn Relays watch, and the experience was made all the better given the results of the previous year.

5. Villanova Tradition

All you have to do is flip through a Villanova Track & Field media guide to see the rich tradition of Villanova track and field. I think the combination of a beautiful campus, excellent academic reputation, and strong athletic program makes it a memorable place to attend school and I think there are only a handful of schools that can compare in terms of having such a rich tradition.

Whether it was the pictures of athletes like Ron Delany hanging on the wall near the stairs in Jake Nevin or the trophy- and NCAA certificate-lined hallway between the Jake Nevin Field House and the Pavilion, there was a daily reminder of the success of the athletes that came before you. I used to love walking down that hall looking for names on the certificates or looking at the years on the Penn Relays Wagon Wheels and trying to determine relay team members for given years. I think any athlete who puts on the Villanova singlet wants to be a part of that success and as an alum it’s nice to know I was able to contribute a little to the wall.

One of my favorite memories that was a nod to the past was our Penn Relays pre-race tradition of visiting Jumbo’s statue by the track and touching Jumbo’s stopwatch for good luck the night before heading down to Penn. I’m not sure where or when it started but Mike Seeger passed this on to me and it’s something I carried on before every Penn Relays while at Villanova.

As an alum I still feel like I’m part of the same program whose success spans decades. I look at the talent on the team now and the continued leadership under Marcus and the future for the Villanova Track and Field program looks bright. It seems like it would be a great time to run at Villanova and Tosha and I enjoy following the team on Facebook and Twitter and of course, the Villanova Running blog.

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