It wasnt hard to figure out Sheila Reids emotions when the Villanova star distance runner raced through the final 100 meters of the College Womens Distance Medley Championship of America on Thursday at the Penn Relays.
After all, she was smiling as she ran.
I couldnt help it, Reid said a few minutes later, still smiling, shortly after Villanova completed its victory lap to celebrate its exciting DMR victory (11:01.03).
Ive been here for so many years," she continued. "It means a lot to all of the girls. This is what Villanovas about. When I knew I had it, I couldnt help myself.
For Reid, the Franklin Field triumph was certainly a long time coming. The fifth-year senior had already stamped herself as one of the best runners in Villanova history, having set school records and winning national individual championships in both cross country and track.
Before Thursday, though, she had never captured a Penn Relays watch.
Thats why she beamed all the way across the finish line and then jumped into the arms of her screaming teammates for a group hug that was later described as aggressive and slightly violent.
I like to treat Penn Relays like its all business but it never is, Reid said. There are a lot of emotions. Our school puts a lot of emphasis on this and it means a lot to the alumni who come back to watch. Once I had the baton in my hand, you want it to be strictly business but you cant help let the emotions get the best of you when youre going down the stretch and people are chanting for Nova.
As a local school that traditionally boasts some of the best distance runners in the country, Villanova always has the spotlight cast on it at the Penn Relays. Perhaps because of that, the Wildcats have enjoyed a lot of success at Franklin Field over the years, winning the womens DMR a record nine times and the womens 4x1500 a meet-best eight times.
But coming into Thursdays race, the Nova women had only won the DMR once in 2006 in the past 15 years. Last year, many people expected the Wildcats to set a Penn Relays record for the womens DMR. Instead, with almost entirely the same team that won this years title, they stumbled to a disappointing 13th-place finish.
That was another reason why Thursdays triumph felt so good.
The past two years didnt quite come together for us and I got the baton pretty far behind, Reid said. We had some misfortune last year on one of the legs. But you cant really predict that kind of stuff. I thought we had a great team last year and two years ago. It takes some degree of luck. But we had no luck today. These girls are in the best shapes of their lives and everyone just brought it on their leg.
They certainly did.
In the races opening 1200-meter leg, sophomore Emily Lipari ran a strong 3:22.9, finishing behind only Tennessees Chanelle Price. Senior Christie Verdier kept the Cats in second with a personal-best 52.8-second 400, before sophomore Nicky Akande ran a brilliant 2:04.5 in the 800 to give Reid the baton virtually dead even with Tennessee for the final mile-leg.
At that point, with a star runner like Reid in such good position, everyone in Franklin Field pretty much knew the race was over. And Reid didnt disappoint, running the mile in 4:40.8 as the Wildcats held off Tennessee by two-and-half seconds and third-place Penn State by more than seven seconds.
It was a big relief, especially for Sheila, Villanova womens track coach Gina Procaccio said. It was her last shot and she was definitely feeling the pressure to not leave Villanova without having a Penn Relays victory. But in order for her to get that done, you need to have three studs in front of her putting her in the race. Im just blown away by these guys.
For Lipari and Verdier, the strong performance felt like redemption. In last years DMR race, Lipari put the Wildcats way behind when she ran seven seconds off her personal best and then the Cats fell even further back when Verdier dropped the baton on the next leg.
This year, they had no such problems.
You go to practice every day with the girls and you look at every one of them and you see how much everyone wants it, Lipari said. When you step on the line, its everything for the girls. I know last year I put a lot of the blame for the loss on myself. For Sheila and Christie, this is their last year and I wanted them to go out with a bang.
Smiling throughout the entire post-race press conference, Lipari said the victory lap was the most wonderful feeling Ive had in a long time. And even though Villanova will go for other wins over the next two days namely, in the 4x1500 Championship of America on Friday and the 4x800 Championship of America on Saturday a weight was definitely lifted off the Wildcats shoulders now that Reid has her first Penn Relays title.
Sheilas a great leader and Im so honored to have her on this team and so happy she came back for her fifth year, Lipari said. All the hype she gets is totally well-deserved because she has a great attitude, is a great person and a great friend.
Going down in history with Sheila Reid is pretty special.
Email Dave Zeitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.