by Jack Pfeifer
The 2005 Relays were an auspicious moment for two college women’s teams, Duke and Texas Tech: They won their first Penn Relays championships.
This year two more women’s squads are in the hunt for a similar breakthrough to that elite circle. They are Miami and Simon Fraser.
Coach Amy Deem’s Miami Hurricanes have been a major player in recent years, but even the presence of Olympic sprinter Lauryn Williams has not been enough to produce a win at the Relays.
Miami is in the picture again in 2006. At the Texas Relays earlier this month they won the 4x400 in a school-record 3:28.07, in the process vanquishing most of the other leading teams in the country: LSU (3:28.23), Auburn (3:28.47), Texas A&M (3:29.81) and Texas (3:32.57).
The Hurricanes’ lineup was Krista Simkins, Ginou Etienne, Charlette Greggs and Dominique Darden, two of whom are Relays veterans from high school days.
Simkins, a freshman, was a star (53.23 400) for Wissahickon H.S. in Ambler, while Darden ran for Harrisburg High not Norristown, where her father, Tony, was a star a generation earlier. She was NCAA runnerup indoors in the 400 (52.17) and will be one of the top contenders in the 400 hurdles here.
Greggs (51.65 best) has been both a Big East and ACC champion, because of Miami’s switch of affiliation. Etienne (51.82) is also likely to anchor the Hurricanes’ sprint medley team, as she recently ran 2:06.14 in the 800.
LSU used Meisue Francis, Brooklynn Morris, Cynetheia Rooks and Deonna Lawrence, three of whom ran on the group that won the NCAA indoor for the Tigers last month. LSU has won this event only once at the Relays, in 1993.
Morris is not the only Brooklynn on the LSU team, as Francis was a member of the Boys & Girls High School 4x8 team that won the Relays in 2002 and set the national record in the process.
The indoor runnerup in the 4x4 was Auburn, anchored by Markita James.
What of the two traditional powers in this event, South Carolina and Texas?
Coach Curtis Frye’s juggernaut SC Lady Gamecocks, after all, are defending champions and have won the 4x4 five of the last six years. They staged a furious battle with Bev Kearney’s Longhorns at last year’s outdoor NCAA, Texas barely prevailing, 3:27.13-3:27.22, to wrap up the team championship.
But South Carolina has struggled so far this season, as superstars Natasha Hastings (51.34) and Stephanie Smith (50.93) have been subpar. They were 7th at Fayetteville indoors.
Texas was 3rd in that race, as freshman Alexandria Anderson has joined hurdles veteran Melaine Walker and sprinters LaTashia Kerr and Jerrika Chapple. Texas last won Penn in 2003. They were 4th a year ago, nearly 4 seconds behind South Carolina, but nevertheless came back to win the NCAA six weeks later.
And there are others to watch. The top seven finishers from the NCAA indoor will be on hand.
Pat Henry’s Texas A&M Aggies, led by newcomers Clora Williams and Katie Baker, were 5th indoors and broke 3:30 (3:29.81) at Texas. Tennessee was 6th indoors, 3rd outdoors (3:27.46).
Texas Tech was 3rd at Penn last year, also breaking 3:30 (3:29.70), and Stanford was 6th at NCAA outdoor.
Simon Fraser, an NAIA school in Burnaby, B.C., is competing at the Relays for the first time and is one of the favorites in the 4x8.
SFU was NAIA indoor champion this winter in the 4x8 (8:50.86) and DMR (11:45.71). The Canadians are led by Rebecca Johnstone, a British Columbia native who ran 2:01.80 this month at Mt. SAC, and Julia Howard, from Newfoundland, indoor 1,000-meter champion who has run 2:05.08.
They are coached by Brit Townsend, who as Brit McRoberts was a 1,500-meter finalist for Canada in the 1984 Olympics. She has been the NAIA’s national coach of the year. A Canadian college team has never won a Penn Relays championship.
Their main challengers in the 4x8 should be last year’s top three Relays finishers, Stanford, North Carolina and Cornell.
Stanford, defending champions (8:32.02), return Ari Lambie (4:13.14 1,500 best), Chinny Offor and Ashley Freeman (2:04.82).
Erin Donohue has graduated from North Carolina, but Dennis Craddock’s Tar Heels return Danielle Rodgers (2:05.49) and Georgia Kloss (2:05.78) and have addded freshman Brie Felnagle (2:06.71).
Cornell is led by Morgan Uceny (2:06.55), the Heps champion. An Ivy League women’s team has never won a Penn Relays championship.
Challenges could also come from Tennessee, LSU, Texas and Mississippi State.
Tennessee, the 2004 champions, are led by newcomer Sarah Bowman, who ran 2:05.27 last year in high school and is two-time winner of the girls’ mile at the Relays, and Leslie Treherne. LSU has Tanya Osbourne (2:04.97) and Francis.
Texas (8:45.68) and Mississippi State (8:47.84) were 1-2 at this month’s Texas Relays. Texas has two outstanding freshmen, Katara Rosby (2:08.20) and New Jerseyan Janine Davis (2:06.06).
The other distance relays appear to be wide open.
Stanford defends its championship in the 4x15 and returns twin sisters Katy and Amanda Trotter and last year’s anchor, Lambie. Lambie, a junior, has already won four times at the Relays: last year’s 4x8 and 4x15, as a member of the 2004 4x15 the first victory ever by the Stanford women at the Relays and in the girls’ mile in 2003, when she set the Carnival record.
The Cardinal distance runners, now coached by the former Wisconsin coach, Peter Tegen, also have Lauren Centrowitz, who ran 4:22.89 at Mt. SAC this month. Lauren is the daughter of Matt Centrowitz, the coach at American University, who ran on legendary relay teams at Penn for Power Memorial Academy of New York City in the 1970s.
Villanova returns Akilah Vargas, Ioana Parusheva and Marina Muncan from last year’s runnerup team. Muncan has run 4:11.23 in the 1,500, Parusheva 4:42.00 in the mile. Vargas was a teammate of LSU’s Francis on the record-setting Boys & Girls 4x8 here in 2002.
UNC, with Carol Henry, Megan Kaltenbach and Felnagle, are a threat in both the 4x15 and DMR.
Kaltenbach is yet another former schoolgirl mile winner at the Relays (2002), and she led off the Heels’ winning DMR at this year’s NCAA indoor.
UNC has won six distance relays at Penn since 2001 the 4x8 in 2003, the 4x15 in 2002 and 2003, and the DMR from 2001 to 2003.
A year ago, NC finished 2nd by a second to Duke in the DMR, the first win ever at Penn for Coach Norm Ogilvie’s Blue Devils women and the first by any Duke squad in 33 years. Duke’s anchor on that team, Shannon Rowbury, is redshirting this season.
Others to watch are Villanova, 3rd a year ago; Stanford, runnerup indoors; Tennessee, the winner in 2003, and Arkansas, 4th last year and winner here in 2000.
Texas Tech returns to defend its championship in the sprint medley and will face challenges by LSU (2nd at Texas Relays); South Carolina, anchored by the SEC 800 champion, Shay Shelton; Stanford, Texas, Miami and Cornell.
In addition to halfmiler Uceny, Cornell also has 54-second quartermiler Linda Trotter.
South Carolina is defending champion in the 4x1 and 4x2. A year ago, the Lady Gamecocks won four races at Penn, becoming just the third women’s team to win four races in one Relays, matching the Texas women of 1989 and LSU 2003. It also moved their overall total of Relays championships to 11, meaning they trail only LSU, Texas and Villanova all-time at the Relays.
A year ago they ran 43.40 in the 4x1 and 1:31.57 in the 4x2, both anchored by then-freshman Shalonda Solomon. Solomon has since won the NCAA 200-meter championship. She also ran here in high school, on national high school record-setting teams, for Long Beach Poly.
Three members of those South Carolina sprint relay teams Erica Whipple, Alexis Joyce and Khalilah Carpenter have graduated.
The favorite in the 4x1 is Texas, which ran 42.84 to win the Texas Relays this month. The Longhorns are anchored by the NCAA 100-meter champion, Marshevet Hooker, and this year have added the freshman Anderson, four-event state champion last year in Illinois. A year ago at the Relays, Texas ran an undistinguished 45.83 in the preliminaries and advanced only to the College final, which they won.
Texas did not win at the Relays a year ago and did not participate in 2004. Their only victory at the Relays since 2000 was in the 2003 4x4.
Last year’s 4x1 runnerup, Tennessee, returns Courtney Champion and Cleo Tyson, both then freshmen, but Tianna Madison turned professional. At last year’s NCAA championships, Texas was 1st, South Carolina 2nd and Coach J.J. Clark’s Volunteers 3rd.
LSU was runnerup to Texas at Texas Relays, 42.84-43.48, and was 4th here a year ago. Kelli-ann Baptiste, who ran for Trinidad in the 2004 Olympics, anchored both teams. She was 2nd to Hooker by .01 in the Texas Relays 100 final. Coach Dennis Shaver’s Tigers have won the 4x1 an astonishing 10 times at the Relays.
Other contenders in the 4x1 are Miami, 5th at Texas (44.46) and 5th here last year; Texas A&M, 6th at Texas (44.53); Auburn, anchored by Kerron Stewart, who has run at the Relays for Essex County College of New Jersey and while a high school student in Jamaica, and Coach Edrick Floreal’s Stanford Cardinal, led by Chauntae Bayne and Janice Davis.
LSU was 2nd a year ago in the 4x2, after winning the event from 2001 to 2004. They won at Texas Relays in 1:32.70. Texas last won this race at Penn in 1998. Coach Tom Jones’s Florida Gators were 3rd a year ago.
LSU failed to win a race at last year’s Relays, the first time the Tigers had been shut out here since 1990.
South Carolina’s other victory a year ago was in the shuttle hurdle relay, where they return as favorites despite the loss of Shevon Stoddart and Tiffany Ross-Williams. Chiquita Martin and Ronnetta Alexander return and will be joined by freshmen Trier Young and Kettiany Clarke.
Challengers include Coach Maurice Pierce’s Hampton University, led by Yvette Lewis and Kellie Wells; Georgia Tech, LSU and Texas.