PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - Tennessee women's track and field coach J.J. Clark told his quartet before it ran the distance medley relay at the 110th Penn Relays Thursday evening that the group was the best DMR unit in the country.
The Lady Vol foursome believed their coach's words and went out and proved him correct, steaming impressively to the Championship of America in that event in front of a day one meet-record crowd of 24,613 at Franklin Field.
Sporting the same lineup that won the NCAA Indoor championship in March at 11:06.07 and set the UT record in January at 11:03.42, Tennessee captured the school's first "relay wheel" at the prestigious meet since the 4x100m unit took top honors in 1994. The lineup of sophomore Brooke Novak, junior Dee Dee Trotter, junior Nicole Cook and senior Lindsay Hyatt collaborated for a season-best clocking of 10:59.35 to win convincingly over second-place Georgetown and third-place North Carolina. The mark by the Lady Vols outfit was the third-best clocking in school history.
"Tennessee came to the track, executed the race plan and won the Championship of America in the DMR," Clark said. "We had the top DMR indoors, and today we showed that we also have the best DMR outdoors.
We've come a long way in one year and really displayed a big heart today. 10:59 is not too shabby.
"Person for person, I thought we had the best relay coming in. I am not bragging when I say this, but I was looking for us to be pushed more. Stanford dropped the baton at the start of the race, so you don't know what might have happened. The bottom line is that we proved we have the best team in the country by running that way today."
The UT triumph at Penn, the school's first in the DMR since J.J. Clark's sister, Joetta, ran the opening leg in the program's initial victory back in 1983, effectively ended a three-year spree of domination in the event by North Carolina. Running without the services of anchor Shalane Flanagan, who is training for the Olympics as an unattached competitor this season, the Tar Heels were in the hunt early but didn't have a closer who could catch UT's Hyatt.
Novak led off for Tennessee and headed the field for the first two laps before briefly giving way to Erica Sigmont of Arkansas on trip three around the oval. With about 180 meters to go, Novak switched into a gear that Sigmont nor North Carolina's Erin Donohue or Stanford's Ari Lambie could match, making the hand-off to Trotter in first place with a 1200-meter split of 3:21.4. That effort represents the sixth-fastest opening hitch in Penn Relays history.
Just as she did in the DMR at the NCAA Indoor meet, Trotter uncorked a 400-meter performance that separated Tennessee from the rest of the field. The 2003 NCAA runner-up in that event, Trotter rocketed to a 50.7 split, a reading that was nearly two seconds faster than anyone else on the track and rated a tie for seventh best in meet history.
With the first two legs providing Tennessee an advantage, Cook and Hyatt were afforded the opportunity to run relaxed races in the 800 (2:05.2) and 1600 meters (4:42.1), respectively. Both looked very comfortable in their turns with the baton, and Hyatt was again able to bring home the stick victoriously, just as she had done in Fayetteville, Ark., at the NCAA meet a little over a month ago.
"People were starting to wonder whether Tennessee could enjoy the same success my sister and some of her teammates did back in the 1980s," Clark said. "The young ladies on this team have demonstrated that the answer is yes. Joetta and her peers are excited about it, the team is excited about it, and the coaches, administrators and fans are excited about it. We just want to keep working hard and making forward progress."
Forward progress indeed. Entering the meet, Tennessee was considered a contender for the title in the DMR, but many were favoring UNC to continue its streak. The Lady Vols took fourth at the meet a season ago with Novak, Trotter, Cook and Sharon Dickie toting the baton to an 11:13.38 count that rated fifth in school annals at the time. This season, UT had an 11:14.09 result to its credit, which was achieved on April 10 by Cook, Gorham, redshirt freshman Mindy Sullivan (Lubbock, Texas) and Hyatt in a second-place run at the Sea Ray Relays. That mark rated sixth all-time for the Lady Vols and was the fastest outdoor DMR clocking by a UT quartet that early in the season.
While the DMR contributors are done for the night, Tennessee will have five more athletes in action late on Thursday evening in the distance carnival. Senior Jessica Southers, junior Elizabeth McCalley, sophomore Felicia Guliford and redshirt freshman Carly Matthews compete in the 5000 meters, while sophomore Katie Flaute participates in the 10,000 meters.