Penn Relays Press Conference - April 20

Dave Johnson discusses event changes -

“We’ve shifted some events around. We’ve gotten too tight particularly on the 4x400 in recent years. We’ve moved the Colelge Men’s 400m hurdles back to Friday morning. That was their traditional schedule ever since the event was started in 1915. We moved it over to Satruday about six years ago and we’ve shifted it back. The women’s high jump championship is moved from Thursday to Friday. Olympic Development Relays other than the USA World events have moved from Saturday over to Friday.”

Dave Johnson on the USA Track & Field Athletes -

“USA Track & Field will probably release a list in time for next Monday’s press conference. They’re still under negotiations. I would assume that many of the major figures you’ve seen in recent years, that probably includes Marion Jones, Justin Gaitlin, Sean Crawford. Alan Webb is schedule to run the 5,000m Thursday night and it’s conceivable that they are bringing him in to anchor a sprint medley.”

Dave Johnson on the addition of the USA World events sprint medley relay -

“On the USA World events, we’ve replaced the 4x200 with a sprint medley relay for both men and women. And we will run the medley 200m, 200m, 400m, 800m. They’ve wanted to do a 4x800 but could never round up enough half-milers from enough countries to make it a viable race. This is something that allows them to bring in some half-milers. It televises as a much better race as well.”

Ron Warhurst, Men’s Head Coach, Michigan on plans at the Penn Relays -

“We’re going to run a distance medley, a 4xMile and a 4x800. Our tentative plans are to make a very strong in the distance medley on Friday and come back on Saturday and make an attempt at the 16-minute barrier. And whatever he have left, we’ll stand tall in the 4x800.”

Warhurst on running 16 minutes in the 4xMile –

“The key to the race obviously your lead-off man, he has to be four minutes flat to 4:02. We’ve been thinking about this for the past year and there are many variables that control what’s going to happen. If ideal situations were prevalent—no wind, no rain—and there was pretty strong competition on the first leg...If we are 8:05 or faster [after the second leg] we have a good shot at it...So many great teams have tried to do this, Stanford, Arkansas, Villanova, Georgetown, just to mention a few and there has to be so many perfect things. But that’s why it’s such a unique challenge for us. If things are right, we think we can run close to 16 minutes.”

Warhurst on his 4xMile line up –

“Not in any particular order, but Nate Brannen has run 3:55 indoors this past season. Nick Willis has run 3:57 indoors and is a whole lot fitter than that now. His personal best is 3:32 for 1500 and 3:53 in the mile. Andrew Ellerton last summer ran 3:58 in the mile. Those are the three and I have a decision to make on three other young men. The three people would be freshman Mike Woods, whose personal best is 3:42 for 1500, Rondell Ruff and Victor Gras...I’m hoping some teams will load up the front end versus loading up that back end, so we can stay in the race longer. That would be an ideal situation to be in.”

Warhurst on his DMR line up –

“We’re going to run Willis, Brannen and Ellerton, the same crew from two years ago at the NCAA meet, and our quarter-miler is Stann Waithe, who ran 45.8 in the indoor meet.

I think we are pretty solid there. Our main goal is try to go under 16 minutes. It’s something that has been on the books for years and years and it would be a great credit to our kids if we could surpass that.”

Warhurst on what he’ll tell the team heading into the 4x800 –

“If they have a little pride, they’ll want to step on the line and go as hard as they can.”

Warhurst on additional athletes Michigan is bringing to the Penn Relays –

“We’re bringing a mile relay that we hope makes it to the finals. We’re bringing a 10,000 meter steepler, a 5000 meter kid, two or three intermediate hurdlers, two high jumpers, a hammer thrower and a triple jumper. We’re brining 25 athletes in all.”

Bev Kearney, Women’s Head Coach, University of Texas participating in the 2004 Relays

“That was one of the roughest decisions I ever had to make. What happened a year ago was that the conference moved the conference meet to the week before Penn Relays. And most of us protested because we thought it would impact the two most important meets in the nation for track and field, which are Penn Relays and Drake Relays...And we turned out to be right because they moved the meet back.”

Kearney on Texas’ young talent –

“We had a ‘rebuilding’ to some, but it’s really its just the development of the talent and the maturity of the talent we already have here.”

Kearney on Texas’ relay teams –

“We haven’t decided which order we’re running yet. We run very well in the 4x100 and the 4x400. At the Texas Relays, we won the 4x200, 4x100 and the 4x400.”

Kearney on the competition –

“The two teams that we haven’t faced that we are looking forward to facing are Tennessee and South Carolina. They’re the only two teams we have really had the opportunity to race outdoors so we are excited about that.”

Kearney on winning five relays in a year –

“I think you are going to have to have a lot of depth. I don’t think you can do it by running one athlete repeatedly on all those relays. I don’t know if there is a team in the country right now that has that depth. I think I came closest in 1997 and 1998 and LSU came very close last year.”

Kearney on individual events –

“We’re going to definitely run Marshevet Hooker in the 100 meters, Melanie Walker in the 100 meter hurdles, Ashlee Williams in the 100 meter hurdles as well as Michelle Carter in the shot put.”

Kearney on Marshevet Hooker –

“I think Marshevet Hooker was slightly overlooked a year ago. But she did run 11.14 in the 100 meters at the NCAA Finals. She was only a freshman a year ago so she’s definitely maturing into her own.”

Kearney on quality performances and wins –

“We’re definitely going to go for quality performances. I’d rather win, I’ve always felt that way even at the National Championships, than spread myself too thin. If I have the opportunity to win, I’d rather go for the win. If I feel like fatigue is going to be a factor in the opportunity to win, I’d rather cut down on the events.”

Kearney on the first-timers at the Penn Relays –

“For us, we’re bringing in a team that’s only had one performer [Melanie Walker] at Penn Relays in the past. All those kids, I hope they don’t look up in the stands, and have that affect our performance. But we need to put those kids in a position where they’re running in that type of atmosphere and they type of crowd. Because I think between Texas Relays and Penn Relays you are definitely prepared for your National Championship. That’s one of the things I think we missed last year was that last learning curve. It will be juniors and sophomores, we have no seniors on the team. It’s not necessarily a young team, but it’s an inexperience team by comparison to some of the other teams I’ve put on the track.”

Kearney on her health –

“My health is doing excellent. I’m down to one cane and really working on getting down to zero canes.”

J.J. Clark – University of Tennessee Women’s Track & Field Coach (Third Year)

Prior to the beginning interview, Penn Relays Director Dave Johnson informed Coach Clark that he has been selected as the honorary women’s referee for this year’s Penn Relays.

After being the middle-distance assistant at Florida, was it surprise when the opportunity came up to head the men’s program at Tennessee?

“It was a big surprise to me because the head coach at the time was about the same age as myself and she has a lot of coaching years so I did not expect Tennessee to open up so it was a surprise that I got that call.”

Tennessee won three distance relays at last year’s carnival, including a record-breaking performance in the sprint medley. How did that success eventuate and how does the team build on it?

“I had some success at the elite level and international level. I had some individual titles in Florida. I wanted to see if I could use a team concept and see if I could apply the same training concepts as a team. Things have worked out very well.”

How is the health of his team?

“You are never 100 percent healthy. Even last year we had some problems here and there but nothing that kept any one from competing. Sometimes when you are completely healthy, you wonder if you are training as hard as you should. You might have a hip-flex here, a little strain there, a little back pain here. You just ice down, rest stretch and you recover. These young athletes recover very quickly and for the most part are in good shape.”

What is the status of Nicole Cook?

“Nicole Cook injured herself last week warming up. She’s running now but it is just one of those things that you never know.”

“[Her injury at indoors] was very bad timing. If she would have had three or four more days at NCAAs, she would have been okay, but it was just bad timing. It wasn’t anything serious, just timing.”

Who is back from the three relays championship teams?

“The only three that have left are Kameisha Bennett, Dee Dee Trotter and Lyndsay Hyatt. Everyone else is back.”

How will Tennessee do in the distance-medley?

“We have a good distance-medley team. Indoors, and some people did not even know this, they ran about 11:15 without Nicole Cook. We had a kid run 2:05. I think we are okay. We’ll mix it up and see what happens.”

Who are the individuals of note being brought to Penn Relays?

“We primarily focus on the relays. I have been doing the Penn Relays since I was in sixth grade and we go with the relays mostly. I am bringing some individuals for the distance carnival.”

How many of the kids on your teams ran in the Relays when they were in high school?

“About half, there are some kids from Ohio that never have and some from Canada that have not been there. Most of them have.”

What do you tell a kid that has never competed at the Penn Relays before?

“Buckle down and get ready to go. It is a great event and I tell them that it is probably the biggest meet in the world besides the Olympics. I tell them to give their best and go to the wall. They get the idea very quickly that they are there to compete at a high level and they begin to get more comfortable once they realize that.”

Texas’ Bev Kearney said that Tennessee is a team watch for and what does Clark know about the Texas program?

“Bev Kearney and I are friends. I look at Texas and see that they are performing very well and the kids are very sharp. She is looking at us and I am looking at them. It will come down to execution but she definitely has one of the teams that is up and going and I definitely put her team up there.”

What will be Tennessee’s strongest relays team be this year?

“We have a couple good relays. We have crisp, young sprinters, three in the finals at Indoors. Four-by-one will be good. Our 4 x 8 could be good. The question is do we want to come in and try to win or try to win five. We have our tough conference in the SEC. Do we put it all on the table at Penn or do we leave something for the conference and regional. This regional format is very difficult. You have to be very careful of how much you stretch your athletes.”

Marcus O’Sullivan – Villanova Men’s Track & Field Coach (sixth year)

“I am going to keep my section very brief because we going to have a rough year with our men’s program. We are definitely going to be entered in the distance-medley and we are going to be entered in the 4 x 1500, however I would say that I am leaning towards not running in those two events because of the lack of man power that we have.”

“I have two of my main milers that have had some medical issues and they are not competing this spring. Consequently, we will have a very good and competitive distance-medley with Kippy Keino to lead off to Drew Eckman who ran 46.9 in an open quarter, not a relay, at the Penn meet two weeks ago. Next to Mark Korich, a freshman, who is also a local boy from Springfield who ran 1:50 for the 800, and then Ryan Hayden who is a senior, actually our only senior on the team. I still think they are capable of going 9:33 to 9:34 and that’s going to be very competitive. It is going to be fun and interesting. A distance-medley can go very fast and then it can totally shut down and then everyone is in the race. It is an exciting event to watch and I think we are going to be competitive in that.

“I will make my decision next week on whether I will run a 4x1500. I just don’t want to send a Villanova team out there and not be competitive. I don’t necessarily need them to win but I want them to be in the mix so they can get the best feeling that they can get from Penn Relays.”

Had Korich run at Penn Relays when he was in high school?

“Yes. He has run 1:50 at high school. We red-shirted him during his first year, which actually makes him a freshman this year. We have high hopes for him. He is a local boy, his mom and dad are actually from Kenya, but he grew up in Philadelphia. He is a very talented kid. He is a 3.5, 3.6 engineering student, really good all-around kid and we are just thrilled to be working with him and are looking forward to the next four years.”

How is the 4x400 team?

“We also have a pretty decent 4x400 team. They ran 3:11 last week and it was their full compliment.”

Gina Procaccio - Head Coach Villanova Women’s Track and Field (fourth season)

“I have a tradition (that Marty started) that I don’t name my relay team until Monday, so I could tell you what I am planning on doing, but I want them to hear it from me, not the papers.”

“I’ve been the most excited this year than I have been in the five years since we won, which was the last time we won in 2000, the 4x1500. I think for the first time in five years we are in a position to challenge for one of the championships.

“At the NCAAs we finished second in the Distance Medley by half a second. The interesting thing about relays is there are two legs of that relay who will be running it next week.”

“I think what makes a great team is when you have to make a decision on who is going to run. I think in the last few years it was pretty obvious because we only had four legs to put on those teams. But now we have probably six kids fighting to get on each of the three relays. I think once you have that type of attitude in the group that’s what makes a great relay.”

“I think our best shot would be in the DMR, however we have a shot just about three other teams. It has gotten way more competitive than it was in my day as an athlete. When you might have had one team under 11 minutes, but then you might have one other team under 11:10. Now you are going to have five teams close to the 11/11:05 range.”

We are entered in all three relays this year. WE haven’t run a 4x800m since 1998. I am not 100 percent sure we are going to run it because three of those athletes would be running all three relays. I will have to see how the first two races turn out.”

Who are the leading candidates?

“I want to talk about two freshmen we have one is Akilah Vargas. She is actually a sophomore but she was injured – she hurt her foot – her freshman year in early October and was in a cast for four months. She never got to run last year and she was not on the relay teams indoors. She was running about 2:15 so she wasn’t a factor, but opened the outdoors season running extremely well. She ran a 2:09 and 4:29 in the 1500m and the 1500m was an 11 second PR. And the 800m would have been a six second PR for her. One of the things about her is she ran for Boys and Girls at the Penn Relays and she has won at the Penn Relays in high school. She anchored their DMR. When I watched her win at the Penn Relays that is when I said this is a good I really want. It was a competitive race and she pulled it out the last 100 meters. She has also been on their winning 4x800 team. So she definitely understands how the important the Penn Relays is and she has won here before.

“Colleen Taylor, who is a senior who ran the mile in high school year. She is from Wilmington, Del. She has been on the relays except for her freshman year. She ran a 2:06 last week, which is a big improvement for her. She was a lead-off leg at the National Meet and we finished second there. After the race she said to the team we are going to win Penn Relays. She really wants this.”

“Another freshman from Jamaica, Arusha McKenzie opened up her first race and ran 2:08 this year. She was not on the DMR at Nationals. Those two freshmen are candidates to be on all three relays.”

“Marina Muncan has been the anchor since she has been here. She is the best anchor in the field. She got the baton in 10th place at the National meet and brought us all the way up to first only to get nipped at the line by Michigan b/c they sat on her. She has been out there and finishing in the position we have the last few years and this year they girls are in the position to give her the baton in the race and if they do that we have a shot to pull it off.”

Gwen Harris – Head Coach Penn Women’s Track and Field (third season)

“We have a pretty young team this year. Most of our relays are made up of freshman and sophomores with the exception of a junior and senior. So we are doing pretty well. I am hoping to put together a good 4x400m and DMR. We have already run 3:39 but we hope to do a little better than that. We have been focusing on doing a good job. Just like Gina said you have to down place it so they don’t get to excited. We have Heps the following week so its really important for us to choose the relays we can do well in and get ready to go to Heps. That is out focus right now.

Is Shani Boston running the Heptathlon?

“No. She is focusing on some other events this year. She is trying to become more efficient in those events.

What are other events will you enter in?

“We are going to run the 400m hurdles. I think we can do really well in that.”

How do you think the younger members of the team will handle their first Relays?

“I think they will do all right. One of our freshmen ran 1:11 in the 500, I don’t think she will have a problem with this. They should be fine.

Is their pressure on the team because this is there home field?

“I think more so there is pride for them. Because they know what the Penn Relays are about. They get excited about doing the things they need to do as an athlete, just being here, knowing its there home track and just do their best. They are doing to do a good job and its going to be exciting. We get a lot of attention when we do well and that is pretty exciting.

How many of the girls on the team have never run the Penn Relays and what do you tell them?

“Quite a few of them. A couple of them are on the 4x400 and the DMR that have never run because they are freshman so they don’t really know what its like. But the seniors try to really tell them what it’s going to be like. We tell them this is just like any other meet. I will be honest with you, Relays to me is just like Heps. It’s not going to be an issue for them. Its deafening at Heps. If you can run at Heps, you can run at the Relays. And that is my true belief. Relays are one of the best meets I’ve ever been too.”