The college women's distance medley relay shone a brighter spotlight than usual yesterday as the featured event of the Penn Relays on a sun-splashed day at Franklin Field.
There were two winners.
At the front of the pack, Nicole Edwards outdueled Sarah Bowman in the final 150 meters to give Michigan a narrow victory over Tennessee in the time of 10 minutes, 49.58 seconds, the second-fastest ever run at Penn.
But a bit farther back in the pack, Villanova anchor Frances Koons also captured an important victory, returning to the carnival for the first time since surviving kidney cancer and running a personal best time for 1,600 meters.
"There's no words in the dictionary that can describe what I feel to be in this atmosphere," said Koons, a redshirt junior from Allentown, after the Wildcats finished seventh. "To be here and to be healthy, it puts it all behind me now. It's really nice to be back."
The depth and talent of Michigan and Tennessee turned the 4,000-meter race into a two-team event rather quickly. The first three legs for each team did not decide much, and by the time it came down to the anchors, Bowman took the baton a stride ahead of Edwards.
The two women are very familiar with each other. They met twice at last month's NCAA indoor championships, with Bowman outkicking Edwards to win the distance medley relay for the Vols, and Edwards taking second and Bowman third in the mile in an exciting three-runner finish behind Florida State's Hannah England.
Bowman, who anchored Tennessee to victory at the carnival last year, set the pace yesterday, with Edwards always within her shadow. The formation continued for one, two, three laps as the tension grew.
"Sarah Bowman is an extremely talented runner, and I thought I'd do my very best to hang on and keep up with her," Edwards said. "She set a really tough pace and she did all the week, and I just tried to hang on."
Finally, with 150 meters to go, Edwards made her move on the outside. She passed Bowman with 80 meters remaining and reached the finish line about five in front.
Edwards, who has run the fastest mile by any woman in NCAA competition this year, 4:33.23, was timed in 4:31.9 for 1,600 meters.
A senior from Winnipeg, Edwards is no stranger to Penn Relays success. She and junior Geena Gall, who ran the 800-meter leg yesterday, participated on two winning relay teams at last year's carnival
"After a great meet last year, it's exciting to come back," Edwards said. "The energy and the spirit of the Penn Relays . . . really gets you fired up. . . . For us to come here and win is really exciting for us."
The other members of the team were Danielle Tauro, a freshman who won the 2006 high school mile here while at Southern Regional High in Ocean County, N.J., and senior Serita Williams, who will graduate tomorrow.
Tennessee clocked 10:50.51, the fourth-fastest DMR ever at Penn. Villanova finished in 11:09.48, one place behind Penn (11:08.83).
The day provided many emotions for Koons, who ran her 1,600-meter anchor leg in 4:34.9.
She said her most recent lap around Franklin Field before yesterday came "in flip-flops and a skirt" after her cancer was diagnosed last summer in a nearby medical office. She imagined the Penn Relays crowd, particularly the Villanova cheering section, as she walked, and used the scenario as motivation as she recovered from her Aug. 7 surgery and got back into shape.
Once she got the baton yesterday, the competitor in her kicked in. Even though the Wildcats were out of it, she dug deep.
"I'm really happy to come out on the track and give my best whether I'm in the back of the pack or in front," she said. "Eventually, you're going to be tested from there and you have to keep pushing and be ready for that.
"I love being out here. Just to be out here and running again, I'm so thankful because just months ago I wasn't sure where I would be. This is a pretty cool place to be right now."
Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or email@example.com.