Veteran Penn Relays watchers couldn't remember anything like it. With 150 meters remaining in a distance medley relay that covers 4,000 meters in all, no fewer than eight teams had an opportunity to cross the finish line first.
But it was Princeton's Donn Cabral, the pacesetter for much of the final laps, who held off all the challengers Friday and lifted the Tigers to a dramatic victory, one of the highlights of a busy day at the carnival before a crowd of 39,531 at Franklin Field.
The Tigers went 61 years without a Championship of America win before capturing the 4-x-mile relay last year. Now they have two in two years, with Joe Stilin, Tom Hopkins, Michael Williams and Cabral posting the latest victory Friday in 9 minutes, 42.45 seconds.
The grit of Cabral, a senior who is a U.S. Olympic hopeful in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, was evidenced by the fact that the first six teams finished less than one second apart. Villanova was only .83 seconds behind Princeton but was back in sixth place.
"It's pretty amazing to see him run the whole last leg against that talented field and find a way to get there first," Tigers assistant coach Steve Dolan said of Cabral.
Counting Princeton, the seven Championship of America races, run on a day when a strong breeze and infrequent sunshine kept temperatures in the 50s, were won by seven different schools.
The Oregon women won at Penn for the first time, taking the 4x1,500-meter relay in 17:29.00. Texas A&M took the women's 4x100 for the fourth straight year, crossing the line in 43.87. Former Easton High star Chanelle Price's clutch 800-meter anchor leg lifted Tennessee to the women's sprint medley crown in 3:43.79.
Penn State gained a repeat win in the men's sprint medley in 3:18.47, while the shuttle hurdle relay victors were Clemson on the men's side (54.98) and the LSU women (54.68).
It was safe to say the men's distance medley was the toughest to call. Going into the final leg, Columbia and Oregon were tied for the lead with Indiana a stride behind. But by the time the runners finished their first of four laps, only 10 meters separated 13 teams.
Cabral took a slight lead at that point and managed to hold it the rest of the way while some of the nation's best milers tried to charge past him but fell short.
"I figured that I'd rather be in the lead with a slow pace than sit in the back of the field and have to get around some guys," Cabral said.
"I kept checking over my shoulder the last 600 meters. I could see [Kyle] Merber from Columbia was right there, and [Indiana's] Andy Bayer is a huge racer. So I saw them coming and knew they were going to try and make a move."
Indiana took second, followed by Binghamton, Oregon, Columbia and Villanova. The Wildcats won the event last year.
By contrast, the Oregon women achieved their goal of making the 4x1,500 free of suspense. The Ducks' middle two runners - Alex Kosinski (4:17.1) and Anne Kesselring (4:16.3) - blew the race open, with Kesselring holding a lead of around 100 meters as she handed off to Rebecca Friday for the anchor leg.
Friday brought Oregon, which had Laine Thompson running leadoff, to victory over Georgetown and Villanova.
"It's amazing," Kesselring said. "We came here two years ago, and I think we got second twice and third once. Now to come back with this team and put it all together and have everyone run a good leg and come away with this win, it's so exciting for us."
In the women's sprint medley, LSU looked to make history, trying to become the first women's team to win a Championship of America event for six consecutive years. But Price ran 2:03.6 on her 800-meter anchor leg to give Tennessee the victory, her sixth at Penn, with LSU second by .71 seconds.
Penn State enjoyed more of a cushion in the men's sprint medley thanks to Brady Gehret, who ran his 400-meter split in 45.8 seconds, and Casmir Loxsom, who clocked 1:50 on his 800-meter anchor leg.