Villanova isn't dumbfounded by its capabilities

Nor are the Wildcats surprised by the level of competition they will face this weekend in the 114th Penn Relays, which begin today at Franklin Field.

"We just want to go out there and compete," 'Nova coach Marcus O'Sullivan said.

O'Sullivan knows about competing, even as an underdog. He was a four-time Olympian for Ireland, winning three world indoor championships in the 1,500 meters. He held world records for the indoor 1,500 meters and as a member of the 4xmile relay.

But the accolades didn't come overnight.

"I sometimes feel that coaching, being a former athlete is a disadvantage. The advantage in my case is that I was average in high school and worked extremely hard in college. So I know what it takes to get better and surprise people," he said.

O'Sullivan said in high school he was running about 4:25 in the mile. Not too bad, but not what you would have expected from a future Olympian.

He was accepted to Villanova based on his grades with no scholarship and had to work his freshman year.

"I didn't get good until the next year," he said. "I could've quit. I just kept working hard and it paid off. That's what it's about. Talent is a very small part."

And with that deep of a story and background, it shouldn't be hard for his team to think the same way.

The Wildcats' men's and women's teams will compete in more than a dozen individual events and relays.

And even with the team not being the 'Nova of old, O'Sullivan is happy with what he has. He can redshirt athletes, to give them a chance to develop. So he looks at his programas a learning process as well as a change in times.

"It is a rebuilding generation, not of years. We aren't the same as we were in the '70s and '80s because schools are much tougher academically now. So it is not as easy to get those athletes," he said. "I pride myself in taking athletes under 4 minutes [in the mile] from 4:17 and times like that. And I judge that as a team progression, not just one or two exceptional kids.

"You just have to visualize yourself being competitive. Us, not being the anticipated team will help us because there is nothing on our backs to worry about. We can just go out there and run our race."

Baton passes

UCLA coach and women's Olympic coach Jeanette Bolden said West Catholic High graduate Nicole Leach will run in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400, but will not run in the 400 hurdles. Bolden said she doesn't want to overexert Leach at this point in the season.

UCLA coach and women's Olympic coach said West Catholic High graduate will run in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400, but will not run in the 400 hurdles. Bolden said she doesn't want to overexert Leach at this point in the season.

"Normally, that is what we do until about the first week in May," Bolden said. "We did this with [other Bruins runners]. And we usually do well at NCAAs, world and Olympic meets."

LSU coach Dennis Shaver looks to run LaTavia Thomas, also of West Catholic, on the 800 leg of the sprint medley and, assuming the team makes it, on the Championship of America 4x400 anchor leg.

When asked if he thought Thomas had the speed at this point in the year to get under 2 minutes for 800 meters, he said, "I think that would be a bit much to ask of her. She is already well above normal progression for someone in that event ... But she is a person that you never want to say isn't or can't do something on the track."

Penn Relays agenda

What: 114th Penn Relays

What: 114th Penn Relays

When: Today through Saturday.

Where: Franklin Field, 34th and South.

Tickets: General admission $16 tomorrow and Friday, $25 Saturday. Reserved from $22 to $48. Info: Visit ComcastTix.com or call 1-888-PENN-TIX.

Themes: Today: High school girls, college women; tomorrow, high school boys, college men; Saturday: USA vs. the World.