A year ago, at the 122nd Penn Relays at Franklin Field, college teams from Pennsylvania won all three of the coveted men’s distance relay races. Penn State continued its excellent recent form, winning the 4x8 and the DMR, while the host school, Penn, won for the first time at the Relays in 42 years, taking home the precious watches for the four-by-mile.
Both teams have lost some important members from their 2016 lineups, but they return with contending groups.
Some traditional contenders in these three classic races return as well – Villanova and Georgetown from the Big East, Columbia and Princeton from the Ivy League, Michigan from the Big 10 and Oregon from the West Coast – while a surprising set of newcomers also looms in the wings, hoping to pick off glory in Philadelphia for the first time. These include Buffalo, Miami of Ohio, Boston University, Iona and Virginia Tech, plus Middle Tennessee, whose only Penn wins have come in the 4x2.
Penn State ran away with last year’s race in 7:17.37, defeating Columbia by three seconds, giving the Nittany Lions their third win in the event in the past five years. Isaiah Harris, a 1:45 halfmiler from Lewiston, Maine, will be tough to handle on the anchor should he get the baton in the lead from the expected lead State College threesome of Billy McDevitt (1:50 halfmiler from Malvern Prep, Pa.), Domenic Perretta (1:48 freshman from Beaver Falls, Pa.) and Jordan Makins (1:48 Australian). Harris was Big 10 champ indoors this winter in the 800 and made the Olympic Trials final last summer in Eugene. They ran an impressive 7:18.70 for 2nd at this year’s Florida Relays.
There are plenty of challengers, particularly Virginia Tech. The ACC school has never won a championship at the Relays. They expect to use a lineup of Neil Gourley (Glasgow, Scotland), who ran an excellent 2:20.54 for 1,000 meters indoors; Vincent Ciattei, a junior from Baltimore who has run 1:47; Drew Piazza, a senior from Danvers, Mass., the NCAA runnerup last month in the indoor 800, with a best of 1:46.42, and Patrick Joseph, a senior from Leesburg, Va., the ACC indoor champ in the 8 at 1:46.23. They cruised to victory this spring at the Tennessee Relays in Knoxville in 7:22.31.
Villanova and Georgetown were 1-2 in this year’s Big East indoor championships, 7:32 to 7:35. Local favorite ‘Nova, which has won this event 20 times at Penn, has a lineup of Ville Lampinen, a sophomore from Finland; Ishmael Muhammad, who ran 1:48 in high school (Oakcrest, NJ); Elliot Slade, of Great Britain, who ran 1:47 last summer, and Harry Purcell, of Ireland, a 1:49 best. The Wildcats’ last win at Penn in the 4x8 came in 2014.
Georgetown, whose last win in the 4x8 was 13 years ago, is anchored by Joseph White (DePaul Catholic, Clifton, N.J.), 3rd in the NCAA indoor with a best of 1:46.07.
Newcomers Middle Tennessee and Buffalo are both dangerous.
Middle Tennessee plans an all-African lineup of Hillary Rono, Geoffrey Cheruiyot and Eliud Rutto of Kenya and Sampson Laari of Ghana. Rutto was runnerup in the NCAA indoor 800 a year ago and ran 1:45.70 at the Mt. SAC Invitational earlier this month, while Laari was 3rd in the NCAA mile last month and has an 800 best of 1:46.44, a 1-2 punch no one else in the field can match.
The University at Buffalo has an all-Empire State lineup of Craig Kaiser (Lancaster), 1:49 best; Thomas Meehan (Mastic), 1:52; Tyler Scheving (Middleport), 1:48, and Brian Crimmins (Horseheads), 1:48.
Columbia and Princeton went 1-2 in this winter’s Heps indoor, the Lions winning 7:32 to 7:33. Columbia has two Philadelphia locals, in Sam Ritz (Germantown Academy), 1:50, and Alek Sauer (Pennsbury) joining Josiah Langstaff, the Ivy runnerup indoors (1:50), and Rob Napolitano (Red Bank Catholic, N.J.), 1:49. The Lions won the Penn 4x8 in 2007, a dramatic victory that ended a 69-year drought for them at the Relays. Tell that to Princeton. They haven’t won the 4x8 at Penn since 1915. This year’s group is expected to be Joshua Ingalls (1:49), William Paulson (1:50), Noah Kauppila (1:49) and Garrett O’Toole (1:49).
Others worth mentioning:
* The home team, Penn, a lineup of Elias Graca, Clark Mangini, Jeff Wiseman and Joseph Novak. The Quakers, 5th a year ago, have won the 4x8 10 times though not since 1933.
* Notre Dame, with Kirk Hansen, Eric Gebeke, Ryan Schweizer and Patrick O’Donnell. The Irish are bringing a full squad to the Relays for the first time since 1954. The last win here by the Irish came in the DMR and 4xmile 74 years ago, in 1943.
* Michigan, nine-time winner of the event but not since 2005, with Anthony Berry (1:51 last year in high school), Brennan Munley (1:48), Jordan Hewitt (1:49) and Matt Plowman (1:51).
* Duke, 6th a year ago, is using Kyle Francis (1:49), Jordan Burton (1:51), Dylan Murphy (1:49) and Matt Wisner (1:50). Duke has not won a men’s championship at Penn since 1972.
Oregon was considered the favorite until they scratched their star miler, Edward Cheserek, leaving a talented, untested lineup of Sam Prakel (Versailles, Ohio), who has run 3:38 for 1,500; Marcus Chambers (Tacoma, Wash.) a 44-second quartermiler; freshman Mick Stanovsek (Concord, Ohio) on the 800 leg, and anchored by Blake Haney, a 3:56 miler. With Cheserek anchoring, the Ducks ran 9:30.86 this winter, and they won the championship here at the Relays in 2010, ’14 and ’15, two of those with Cheserek.
Penn State will try to defend its championship with the aforementioned Perretta, Makins and Harris along with another Aussie, Samuel Reiser. The Lions expect to use Harris, an 800 specialist, on the 1600 anchor. He has a mile best of 4:05.89.
Villanova made the NCAA indoor championships field last month but slipped to 8th place, in 9:39. They are expected to field a lineup of Lampinen; Logan Wetzel, who ran 4:04 in the mile in high school in Saline, Mich., in 2015; Kyle Cartwright (Oyster Bay, N.Y.), and Ben Malone (Pascack Valley, River Vale, N.J.). The Wildcats last won this event in 2011, the last of their 24 victories in the men’s DMR at Penn.
Georgetown was 3rd indoors in 9:33, and 2nd at the Relays a year ago. They expect to use Amos Bartelsmeyer (St. Louis), a 1:51 halfmiler; Quincey Wilson, freshman from Lithonia, Ga., who has run 47.67 in the 400; Joseph White on the 800, and anchored by Scott Carpenter, a 4:03 miler.
Buffalo can contend. Its school record of 9:53.31 (9:47.77 indoors) is sure to fall, with a lineup of Kaiser; quartermiler Joshua Gali (Centereach HS, in Selden, N.Y.), 47.15 best; Scheving in the 8, and Crimmins (4:02) on the anchor.
Middle Tennessee can also be in it, with the Kenyans Rono, Cheruiyot and Kigen Chemadi (4:01 miler) plus the Nigerian sprinter Ifiok Umoh (47.36 400).
The Ivy schools Penn, Princeton and Columbia might contend. Penn was 3rd a year ago but has not won the DMR here since 1950. It has Elias Graca (Cheswick, Pa.), Calvary Rogers (Rochester, N.Y.), Jeff Wiseman (Holland, Pa.), and Chris Hatler (Sparta, N.J.). This winter Hatler became the Quakers’ third sub-4:00 miler ever, running 3:59.21 at the Millrose Games in New York.
Princeton, 6th a year ago won this event in 2012. Columbia has never won the DMR at Penn.
Others deserving mention are Indiana, 5th indoors at the NCAA; LaSalle, 10th a year ago; Oklahoma, and Brown.
4 x Mile
To repeat as champions, Penn will have to succeed without last year’s star anchor, Tom Awad, who graduated. He has been replaced at the finish by Hatler, who will be joined by Ross Wilson (Wycombe, Pa.), 4:09 best; Nick Tuck (Burke, Va.), 4:09, and Colin Daly (Oradell, N.J.), 4:10 as a freshman. The Quakers’ upset victory a year ago, in 16:26.30, was its first win in the event at Penn in 66 years.
Challengers include newcomers such as Miami of Ohio, Iona, BU and Middle Tennessee, along with veteran teams such as Michigan, Princeton and Villanova. Oregon is also in the field, minus Cheserek, who as a freshman was part of the winning team in 2014. The Ducks also won in ’10 and ’13, the 2010 team anchored by last year’s Olympic champion in the 1,500, Matthew Centrowitz.
Miami fields an all-Midwest lineup of Andrew Dusing (Brookfield, Wis.), 4:02 mile best; Stephen Biebelhausen (Rochester, Mich.), 3:48 1500, and the twin brothers Chris and Sean Torpy (Chicago), who ran 4:07 and 4:04 respectively in high school last year.
Iona, 4th a year ago, has finished as high as 2nd in this event at Penn. They have an all-overseas lineup of Johannes Motschmann (4:06), Kieran Clements (4:00), Gilbert Kirui and Chartt Miller (3:43).
Boston U. also has no Relays watches. They plan to use Australian Alex Seal (4:01.16), Arizonans Ethan Homan (4:00.08) and Matti Groll (4:03.13), and Californian Paul Luevano (4:05.63), a freshman whose father, Mark, ran for UCLA.
Middle Tennessee has Kigen Chemadi (4:01.55), Jacob Choge (3:48), Rutto (3:43) and Laari (3:58). The Blue Raiders, from Murfreesboro, won the 4x200 here in 1993 and 1994.
Michigan has not won this event at Penn since setting the meet record of 16:04.54 in 2005, and that was the Wolverines’ first win in the event since 1962. It has a solid lineup this year, of Ben Hill (Royal Oak, Mich.), 4:05 mile best; Connor Mora (Cedar Springs, Mich.), 3:59.36; Aaron Baumgarten (Williamston, Mich.), 4:03, and Ned Willig (Great Valley HS, Pa.), a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources who earned his degree in Geology and Biology from Brown last spring and had a year of track eligibility remaining. Willig won 3 Ivy League titles while at Brown and ran 3:58.09 in the mile. His family has roots in Heps track as well. His father, Hugh, ran on the Penn track team, and his mother, Sarah Anderson, did the same at Princeton.
Georgetown, 3rd a year ago in 16:27, plans a lineup of Scott Carpenter (Lenox, Mass.), Darren Fahy (Carlsbad, Calif.), Michael Clevenger (Decatur, Ill.) and Jack Van Scoter, a freshman from Pasadena, Calif. The Hoyas last won the event in 1991.
Villanova, winners two years ago and 5th last year, plan to use Casey Comber (Hatboro-Horsham, Pa.), 4:07 best; Ben Malone, 3:39 1,500; Logan Wetzel, 4:04 in high school, and Andrew Marston (Conestoga, Pa.), 4:12. The Wildcats have won the event 19 times, one short of the record held by Arkansas.
Princeton, winners in 2012, have Conor Lundy, 4:09 in high school last year for Fordham Prep (NYC); Garrett O’Toole (Weston, Mass.), 3:39 in the 1,500; William Paulson, Great Britain, 3:43, and Noah Kauppila, 3:43.
Oregon has the aforementioned Blake Haney, Sam Prakel and Mick Stanovsek along with Tim Gorman, 3:58 indoors in the mile.
Others of note include Penn State, Indiana, Columbia and U Conn. Indiana was 2nd last year, Connecticut 6th. Indiana’s last win at the Relays was in this event, in 1954. Penn State won in ’51.