April 20, 2010
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The University of Tennessee throwers will head west to the UCSD Invitational, while the rest of the nationally-ranked Vol and Lady Vol track & field teams will travel east and make their annual pilgrimage to Philadelphia for the oldest and largest meet in America, the Penn Relays.
For the 116th time, competitors and fans from across the street and from around the world will make their way to Franklin Field for the greatest spectacle in track & field. The four-day event will feature thousands of entries in high school, college and Olympic-caliber divisions as well as grade school, master's and senior level competition. Most would overwhelmingly agree; it's not your every day, run-of-the-mill track meet.
"This meet has an outstanding history going back more than 115 years," UT Director of Track & Field J.J. Clark said. "My mother used to go, not to watch the meet, but for the social occasion. It's an event; it's the happening place, so much so that a lot of people who don't typically follow track & field know what the Penn Relays are.
"You have that big stadium with 40-50,000 people in it. Where else in America could you go, outside of the Olympic Games, and have that many people at a track meet. It's massive, from the standpoint of competitors, fans and recruiting, the history is extensive, and it's just a great place to be. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd there allows people to compete at their best, and I believe that's what makes it so special."
Tennessee has a long standing tradition of competing with great success at the meet, having won a combined men's and women's total of 49 relay championships through the years.
The Big Orange thinclads return in 2010 as the defenders of four cherished Championship of America relay wheels (also known as pennies), with the Lady Vols claiming glory in the distance medley, 4x1500m and 4x800m relays in 2009 and the men capturing top honors in the sprint medley relay. Having lost graduated Lady Vol stars Sarah Bowman and Rolanda Bell from world and American-record setting units and Vol Nathan Grace to a nagging injury this season, those relays will rely on some different faces to get the job done.
Key returnees Phoebe Wright, Chanelle Price and Kimarra McDonald will join forces with Jackie Areson and Brittany Sheffey in 2010 to try and help the 24th-ranked Tennessee women stay at the top of the heap in Philly in those distance events, including the DMR, in which the Big Orange won its third consecutive NCAA Indoor title this season. Individually, Ellen Wortham, ranked third in the SEC in the 400m hurdles, is slated to run her primary outdoor event as well as assist UT's youthful women's 4x100m and 4x200m relay teams.
On the men's side, Evander Wells and Kyle Stevenson return as the top speed merchants on that `09 champion sprint medley unit, and 800 leg Joe Franklin does as well. Grace's absence, however, will require an understudy to step in or perhaps a coaching decision to be made to focus on the 4x2 and 4x4 for the sprinters and the 4x800m and DMR races for the middle distance runners. That remains to be seen.
Individually for the 23rd-ranked UT men, defending pole vault champ Joe Berry won't be available to defend his title due to injury, but teammates Brad Holtz and Robert Rasnick will try to keep the meet's victor clad in orange. Also slated to tackle individual competition are Wells in the 100 meters, Desmond Brown in the long jump, John Hewitt in the 400m hurdles, Steve Fassino in the steeplechase, and Michael Spooner, Leoule Degfae and Chris Bodary in the 5000m.
"This is always a fun time of the year for us, going to the Penn Relays," Clark said. "We're going there, entering several events and looking forward to doing the best we can and possibly bringing home some more pennies if we can. It's going to be good competition as always. No one is going to let us win.
"Our relay teams are just as good as last year, even with the departure of Sarah and Rolanda on the women's side. On the men's side, we have a very good 4x8, a DMR, possibly a sprint medley unit, which we are not sure about yet, and a solid 4x2. Individually, we have some events like the pole vault, and it's just a good weekend for us to get in there with a big crowd, show some good enthusiasm and then you never know what can happen."
Meanwhile, out in LaJolla, Calif., John Frazier will lead the men's and women's throwers to a meet that has tended to produce big throws marks. Among his leaders in that travel party are javelin throwers Matt Maloney and Holly Kane. Maloney ranks 16th nationally and second in the SEC thus far with a best throw of 226-11. Kane, meanwhile, ranks third among SEC women with a top fling of 142-10 this season.
The winds at the seaside campus also have been known to provide a fertile atmosphere for discus throwing. Lady Vols Aslynn Halvorson and Jessie Harrison, and Vol Minor Bowens hope to take advantage of that environment.
To follow the progress of the teams on both ends of the country, please go to utsports.com or utladyvols.com and click on the live results link in the scrolling event schedule on the front page.