Nicolini takes late push to front

Villanova senior runs to 1st Penn Relays title

Track and Field

April 29, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- Picture a Florida State football player going through Tallahassee without a ring from a bowl game, or a women's lacrosse player leaving Maryland without an NCAA title.

That's the kind of void Kristen Nicolini filled yesterday, when she helped the Villanova women end a three-year drought at the Penn Relays. A fifth-year senior out of Annapolis High, Nicolini ran the third leg on the Wildcats' victorious 6,000-meter relay before a record crowd of 36,444 at Franklin Field.

Female middle distance talents are attracted to Villanova and expect to collect enough Penn Relays watches to supply themselves, family and friends. The Wildcats hadn't ruled an event here since 1997, however, and that winless spell coincided with Nicolini's arrival on the Main Line.

"It's nice to win one of these, but I didn't run nearly as fast as I thought I could," said Nicolini, whose career is finally smoothing out after several rocky years.

The state 4A championships in 1995 were the Kristen Nicolini Show, as she took the 3,200 in 10: 29; the 1,600 in 4: 46 and the 800 in 2: 11, all national-caliber performances. Nicolini headed to Auburn, but then her coach moved to Oregon and she caught the injury bug. She underwent surgery on her left foot in 1997.

"I've missed a lot of college seasons," Nicolini said. "That's hindered me because I haven't been consistent, and consistency is a big part of having success in this sport. It wasn't until this past winter that I finally ran a mile better than I did in high school. I've been through some discouraging times, but it's all coming together for me now."

Nicolini had three years of eligibility remaining when she transferred in the spring of 1998 to Villanova, whose honor rolls include the likes of Olympians Vicki Huber and Sonia O'Sullivan. The Wildcats' big legs yesterday were turned in by Carrie Tollefson (4: 16.8) and Carmen Douma (4: 21.2), who have an assortment of NCAA indoor and outdoor titles. Nicolini was timed in 4: 26.1, and said she felt ready to go under 4: 20. She made her first NCAA track championships this past winter, finishing 11th in the 3,000, and the longer race is probably her best shot to qualify outdoors.

An education major, Nicolini said that she plans to teach in the Philadelphia area, but not before the possibility of a memorable sendoff in today's distance medley.

The final day of the 106th running of the Penn Relays will feature appearances by three favorites to win gold at the Sydney Olympics this fall: 100 record-holder Maurice Greene and the MJs, Michael Johnson and Marion Jones. ESPN will air highlights of their races tomorrow, in races that have been tagged "USA vs. The World."

Greene, the two-time world champion who has lowered the 100 mark to 9.79 seconds, will anchor the 400-meter relay. Johnson will go in the 1,600 relay, and Jones in the 400 relay. Jones wants to win five gold medals in Australia, while Johnson reiterated his goal of lowering his 400 record below 43 seconds before he retires.

"I'm pleased to be back at Penn," said Johnson, who began the season in South Africa, with a world record (30.85) in the seldom-run 300. "It's going to be a lot of fun. That's why we're here."

NOTES: The Long Reach foursome of Cynthia Nichols, Rolanda Howard, Dionne Lambert and Teyarnte Carter were third (48.26) in the 400 relay final for smaller schools. ... The boys from Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake advanced to today's 400 relay final for smaller schools. ... Morgan State coach Neville Hodge won the Masters 40-and-older 100, in 10.96.

Yesterday's local results

Boys 400 relay -- Oakland Mills, 42.72; Wilde Lake, 43.43; Woodlawn, 43.77; Annapolis, 43.97; Calvert Hall, 44.12; Mervo, 44.29; Catonsville, 44.52; Owings Mills, 44.63; Long Reach, 45.43.

Men's 400 relay -- Morgan State, 41.54; Frostburg State, 41.97; Navy, 42.09; UMBC, 42.29; Towson, 44.18.

Men's 800 relay -- UMBC, 1: 26.51; Morgan State, 1: 26.80; Frostburg State, 1: 26.85; Towson, 1: 30.57; Western Maryland, 1: 32.74.

Men's 1,600 relay Navy, 3: 12.56; UMES, 3: 14.36; Mt. St. Mary's, 3: 18.07; Towson, 3: 23.01; Western Maryland, 3: 22.22; Johns Hopkins, 3: 29.50. Women's 800 relay -- UMES, 1: 40.65; Western Maryland, 1: 48.50.

Thursday's local results

Girls 400 relay -- Long Reach, 48.60; Western, 48.75; Arundel, 50.28; Wilde Lake, 50.87; Randallstown, 50.95; Mervo, 52.20; Howard, 53.62; Dulaney, 53.82; Perry Hall, 53.86; Hammond, 54.73.

Girls 1,600 relay -- Western, 4: 02.33; McDonogh, 4: 02.82; Dulaney, 4: 07.65; Long Reach, 4: 08.27; Oakland Mills, 4: 10.71; Arundel, 4: 11.44; Wilde Lake, 4: 13.24; Broadneck, 4: 14.03; Perry Hall, 4: 16.58; Atholton, 4: 17.03; Mervo, 4: 17.40; Southern, 4: 18.17; Glenelg, 4: 24.39; Howard, 4: 25.15; Woodlawn, 4: 26.22; Aberdeen, 4: 42.20.

Women's 400 relay -- Morgan State, 48.40; Mt. St. Mary's, 48.98; Western Maryland, 49.53; Towson, 49.63.

Women's 1,600 -- UMES, 3: 50.32; Navy, 3: 53.33; UMBC, 3: 56.38; Morgan State, 3: 56.61; Mt. St. Mary's, 4: 00.24; Towson, 4: 04.21; Western Maryland, 4: 07.43; Johns Hopkins, 4: 15.23.

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