by Jack Pfeifer
Louisiana State University comes to the 2006 Penn Relays looking for a triple in the men’s sprint relays.
Coach Dennis Shaver’s Bayou Tigers won the Texas Relays 4x100 and 4x400 earlier this month, with the fastest college times in the country for the ’06 season, 38.97 in the 4x1, 3:02.31 in the 4x4.
LSU is defending champion at the Relays in the 4x1, its first time winning the event since 1995. They ran 39.06 a year ago, then finished 4th at the 2005 NCAA championships in 38.86.
Sophomore Xavier Carter and senior Kelly Willie return from last year’s winning 4x1, but LSU won Texas without even using the phenomenal X-Man, Carter: Willie was joined by Paul Thompson, Tyler Sant and Marvin Stevenson.
LSU has won the 4x2 three times at the Relays. They were 2nd a year ago in 1:21.06, behind Florida’s world-leading 1:20.94, and Willie, Carter and Reginald Dardar return from that squad. Florida is not entered this year.
LSU has won the 4x4 at the Relays just once, in 2002. Last June they set the collegiate record with a stunning 2:59.59. Dardar, Carter and Willie ran on that group. The other member, Bennie Brazell, a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team in the 400 hurdles, graduated and has been replaced by Melville Rogers, a junior college transfer and New York City native. Rogers ran in the Relays high school 4x4 while a student at Transit Tech and is national recordholder in the 400 for his native St. Kitts.
Willie, a much-decorated senior from Houston, won an Olympic gold medal in 2004 as a member of the winning 4x400. Carter, from Melbourne, Fla., ran 20.02 in the 200 last year as a freshman and was NCAA indoor champion last month in the 400.
Only four schools have swept the 4x1, 4x2 and 4x4 in a single season at the Relays: TCU in 2000, Arizona State in 1977, Manhattan in 1952 and Pitt in 1939.
One of LSU’s challengers in the 4x1 will be Bubba Thornton’s Texas Longhorns. They are paced by two finalists in this year’s NCAA indoor 60, Jamaal Charles and Trey Griffin, along with Quincy Boles. Charles was starting running back on Texas’s championship football team.
Texas’s last win at the Relays in the 4x1 was 49 years ago, 1957, when the team of Wallace Wilson, Eddie Southern, Hollis Gainey and Bobby Whilden ran 41.1y to equal a meet record that had stood since 1936.
That record-setting 1936 team? The Longhorns, led by the legendary Chink Wallender. Those remain the only two times Texas has won the event at Penn, each producing a meet record.
(In April 1957, Texas arrived in Philadelphia just one week after a historic race at the Kansas Relays, where they had run the first sub-40 440 relay ever run, 39.9. Alas, the race was run around just one turn in those days at the Kansas track, so it wasn’t a world record. The first collegiate sub-40 around the full oval was 39.7 by Stanford at the 1965 West Coast Relays.)
Texas is also entered in the 4x2, an event they also won in 1957, when they equaled the meet record of 1:25.4.
Other contenders in the short relays include Mississippi State, Tennessee, TCU, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and newcomer Oregon.
Bill Webb’s Tennessee Volunteers were 3rd a year ago in the Relays 4x1 and then 3rd at the NCAA, running 38.83. They are anchored by Rubin Williams, who was 6th in this year’s NCAA 60.
Mississippi State was 3rd in both the 4x2 (1:21.77) and 4x4 (3:03.44) a year ago, and 1st in the 2004 4x2.
TCU was the 2004 4x1 champion, and 4th a year ago.
Texas Tech, led by Andrae Williams, was 4x4 runnerup a year ago and 2nd (3:05.04) this month at Texas Relays.
A&M, anchored by freshman Justin Oliver, was 3rd (3:05.14) at Texas in the 4x4 and 3rd (39.84) in the 4x1.
Oregon is entering men’s relay teams for the first time at Penn. The Ducks will have squads in the 4x1, 4x2 and 4x4. They return ¾ of their team that ran a school-record 3:00.81 in last year’s torrid NCAA final.
From the East, watch for small schools New Jersey City College the team of Anthony Campbell, Thomas Hunter, Anthony Miles and Ronald Hussey in the 4x1 and 4x2 and Lincoln/Pa., starring Lance Wigfall and Bobby Young in the 4x4.
This year’s distance relays are wide open.
Arkansas was shut out at Penn in 2005, the second time that has happened in five years (also 2001). Legendary Coach John McDonnell’s Razorbacks won at least one race at Penn every year from 1983 to 2000.
They’re not favored to win a race this year,either.
4x8 Michigan is defending champion, but two members of that team, Nick Willis and Nate Brannen, left school early to turn professional. (This spring they went 1-2 in the Commonwealth Games 1500 for their respective nations, New Zealand and Canada.) Rondell Ruff and Andrew Ellerton return for the Wolverines.
The 2005 team won in 7:22.59, the slowest winning time at the Relays in 30 years. It was the Wolverines’ first win in the event since 1962.
Oral Roberts, Texas Relays winner in 7:17.02, is making a rare appearance at the Relays. That performance made them the first college team under 7:20 in two seasons. ORU is led by 1:46 halfmiler Shaun Smith of Jamaica and 1:47 runner Prince Mumba of Zambia.
Villanova, which has not won this event since 1992, is expected to field a squad of Pennsylvania veterans Mark Korich and Drew Eckman and two freshman twin brothers, Dan and Sean Tully. The Tullys led Syosset (N.Y.) to victory in the high school 4x8 a year ago.
Two NAIA schools, Azusa Pacific and Virginia Intermont, could also be factors. Virginia Intermont was NAIA indoor champions this winter (7:33.22).
DMR With Brannen leading off (2:53.4) and Willis anchoring (3:55.1), Michigan won handily a year ago, defeating Arkansas by 6 seconds in 9:22.57. The Wolverines also won the DMR in 2003, the Razorbacks in 2004.
Arkansas won last month’s NCAA indoor on their home track, but the anchor of that unit, Said Ahmed, is out of eligibility. At the Texas Relays, Arkansas was 3rd, with Josphat Boit anchoring.
The winner of that race was Texas, anchored by the reigning NCAA 1,500-meter champion, Leonel Manzano, although in a slow time, 9:48.56. It was the Longhorns’ first victory in the event in Austin since 1948; they have never won it in Philadelphia.
Villanova ran 9:33 indoors and finished 3rd at the NCAA. Marcus O’Sullivan’s Wildcats, anchored by Bobby Curtis, last won the DMR here in 2001. Arkansas has won it 15 times since 1983.
Cornell was a respectable 3rd in the Relays a year ago, in 9:33. The Big Red are led by sophomore James Hyner. The last Ivy League winner of the event was Yale in 1961.
4xmile Michigan swept the distance relays a year ago, as the team of Ellerton, Mike Woods, Willis and Brannen set collegiate and meet records of 16:04.54, breaking records set by Arkansas in 1999 (16:07.96). That was Michigan’s first win in the event since 1962, when they ran 17:12.5. That team would have been lapped in the 2005 race.
Arkansas was 2nd a year ago, but 15 seconds back, with the team of Adam Perkins, Peter Kosgei, Boit and Ahmed. All are back but Ahmed. The Razorbacks have won this race at Penn 18 times since 1983. They beat Texas in the Texas Relays 4x1500 by one second.
Texas was 4th at Penn a year ago. The Longhorns are contenders here and in a sprint relay, a double achieved only twice at the Relays. Arkansas won the 4x15 and 4x1 in 1985; Indiana won the 4x2 and 4xmile in 1937.
Then there’s Iona. This small Catholic college in New Rochelle, N.Y., just north of the New York City line, has never won a Penn Relays championship. (Actually, they’ve never been close.) This year, Coach Mick Byrne has a contender, led by a grad student from Brighton, England, Tim Bayley (3:41.66 1500 best), and a senior from Marakwet, Kenya, Richand Kiplagat (3:57.40 mile). Kiplagat was runner-up in last fall’s NCAA cross country championships and 2nd in the indoor 5k.
The last New York school to win the event was Fordham in 1963.
Others to watch are Cornell, 5th last year, and Stanford, 6th.
In the sprint medley, Texas Tech returns to defend its championship. The Red Raiders’ victory a year ago was its first ever at the Relays.
Although its fine anchor Jonathan Johnson has graduated, his place has quickly been filled by Illinois transfer Nick Glavash, a 1:47 800-meter runner. Tech was 2nd at Texas Relays (3:17.00), TCU 3rd (3:17.68), Oral Roberts 5th (3:20.12).
TCU is anchored by the NCAA indoor 800 champion, Jackson Langat (1:47.02), ORU by the runnerup, Prince Mumba (1:47.74).
Auburn, the 2003 champion, was 2nd last year.
Penn will be anchored by the Heps champion Courtney Jaworski (1:46.70 800 best). The last win by Penn at the Relays was in 1974.
Tennessee defends its championship in the shuttle hurdle relay, led by the reigning NCAA indoor champion, Aries Merritt. The Vols will have their hands full against Texas Tech, which boasts three sub-14.00 hurdlers in Marlon Odom, Daryl Burgess and Shawon Harris.
Nebraska, led by Courtney Jones, was 2nd a year ago. Anewcomer to the field will be Oregon, led by Eric Mitchum (13.53), A.K. Ikwaukor and freshman Jared Huske. Tennessee has won the race four times since 1999.