April 19, 2010
By Frank Bertucci, for ThePennRelays.com
PHILADELPHIA -- This was Phoebe Wright's indoctrination to the Penn Relays, as a walk-on freshman at Tennessee in 2007:
"I ran out there terrified, but confident," she said. "I ran like an animal. I remember I ran the same 4x8 leg as Anna Willard (of Michigan). I just hung on her as long as I could."
From there we come to 2010, where Wright is the leader of the Lady Vols' distance relay teams, and the NCAA Division I indoor champion at 800 meters (2:02.55). The senior will be a key as UT returns to Philly later this week a year after winning the distance medley, 4x1500m and 4x800m relays, setting a combined 11 records in those events, including the world mark in the 4x15 and the American best in the 4x8.
A native of Signal Mountain, Tenn., and a graduate of Red Bank High School, Wright's college destination was going to be Knoxville, with or without a scholarship offer.
"There's not much interest in a 2:15 (800), 5:15 (mile) runner in high school," Wright admitted. "Honestly, I had no clue, but I had a lot of confidence. I wanted to be a small part of a big program rather than a big part of a small program."
Wright took home three Championship of America watches from last year's Relays, running the opening leg on the distance medley relay, leg two on the 4x1500, and anchoring the 4x800. The latter two set meet and national records of 17:08.34 and 8:17.91, respectively. (And the 4x800 team broke the collegiate record which was set by Michigan and Anna Willard in Wright's debut race in 2007.)
"The 4x15 was a real big shock for us" said Wright, who ran that race with Chanelle Price, Rolanda Bell and Sarah Bowman. "The 4x8 record (with Kimarra McDonald, Price and Bowman) was catchable. We were a little bitter from the year before (when Tennessee's second-place times in those events totaled less than two seconds). But we went in with a goal, and we achieved all three of them."
Tennessee's sports information office can provide you with a full, single-spaced sheet with all of Phoebe Wright's accomplishments on a track. But at the top of the sheet you'll learn that she has a 3.96 grade point average with a double major of Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology, and Ecology and Environmental Biology. She is the 2010 recipient of the Southeastern Conference's H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar Athlete Award.
Her understated explanation: "I really like science. It's easy for me."
When the Lady Vols take the Franklin Field track on Thursday for the first of the Championship of America relay events, the distance medley relay, they'll be big favorites. The team of Wright, Ellen Wortham, Price and Brittany Sheffey won the event at NCAA Indoors last month, in a time of 10:58.37, almost four seconds better than Tennessee's winning time at the Relays last year.
And no longer the walk-on freshman, Phoebe Wright will be their leader.