Her five-year search for her first Penn Relays watch would end in another 50 meters, so Sheila Reid allowed herself a broad smile as she headed for the finish line with most in the crowd of 23,075 standing and cheering her on.
Reid, one of the most accomplished runners in Villanova history, closed out an emotional distance medley relay victory Thursday for the Wildcats at Franklin Field and filled in the only blank of her illustrious career.
With Emily Lipari, Christie Verdier, and Nicky Akande putting her in perfect position, Reid fought off the challenge of Tennessee and Penn State to close in a time of 11 minutes, 1.03 seconds, giving the Wildcats their record 11th victory in the DMR but first since 2006.
"I like to treat Penn Relays like it's all business but it never is," said Reid, a fifth-year senior from Canada who became the fifth Wildcat woman to win NCAA individual indoor, outdoor, and cross-country titles and a Penn Relays event.
"There's a lot of emotion. Our school puts a lot of emphasis on this. It means a lot to the alumni, too, to come back to watch. So once I had the baton in my hands, I wanted it to be strictly business, but you can't help but let the emotions get the best of you when you're going by that backstretch and people are chanting, 'Go 'Nova!' "
And the smile?
"Yeah, I've been here so many years," she said. "It means a lot to all the girls. That's what Villanova is about, so when I knew I had it I couldn't help myself."
The smiling continued through what Lipari called an "aggressive" team hug, and a joyous victory lap.
Perhaps the star of the relay was Akande, a sophomore from Lawrenceville, Ga., who made up nearly all of a 12-meter deficit in her first of two laps after she got the baton. When she handed off for the 1,600-meter final leg, Reid and Tennessee anchor Brittany Sheffey were virtually even.
"All I was thinking was that I've got to stay in it, do my job and bring it home," said Akande, who clocked a personal-best 2:04.5 for 800. "I felt pretty good. I thought [Reid] could get it done. I knew that we all wanted this really bad, so I guess I knew if I gave it to her within reach she'd get it done."
Penn State's Kara Millhouse made it a three-team race with a blazing first 400 meters but faded in the final lap. Sheffey held a slim lead for most of the leg, but Reid passed her with 400 meters to go, and held a tenuous lead before finishing strong in the final 100.
"It's a big relief, especially for Sheila," Villanova coach Gina Procaccio said. "She was definitely feeling the pressure to come out and lead Villanova. But in order for her to get that done, she needed to have three studs in front of her putting them in the race.
"I'm just blown away by these guys. We have two sophomores and two seniors on this team and they just really, really stepped it up and got the job done, so I'm really proud of them. I'm super excited for them."
Tennessee was timed in 11:03.53, with Penn State third in 11:08.41.
"It feels really good because I train with these girls all the time and we wanted it so badly," Reid said. "I didn't really have to do anything. They gave it to me in perfect position. I just did my job."
Even with some pressure off, Reid said the focus is on the next two days, with the Wildcats running in the 4x1,500 and 4x800 relays.
"We have to win tomorrow," she said. "This is definitely a lot of pressure relief but we can't rest on this. We have a big job to do tomorrow, too, all of us. We got to do the victory lap today, but that's about all we get to enjoy."
The women's distance medley relay was the only Championship of America event on Thursday's program. Qualifying heats for women were held in the 4x100 and 4x400.
Central Florida, apparently sending a message to perennial powers Texas A&M and LSU, clocked 43.84 seconds to lead 4x100 qualifying. Oregon, which was entered in the 4x100 and distance medley but did not compete in either, ran 3:33.78 to top all teams in the 4x400.
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