Gayle Hunter survived the first day of the ultimate track and field survival event.

But more important, the knee of the Penn State sophomore endured the high jump, giving Hunter the heptathlon lead through four events in the 113th Penn Relays.

Last January, Hunter's season went redshirt when she broke off a piece of her left knee cap (ouch!) during an ill-timed indoor triple-jump attempt.

Three months of inactivity, many more months of rehab, and a few months more of slowly inching her way back via competition, and Hunter is finally starting to feel as if she's close to her old self . . . sort of.

"I'm still definitely trying to play catch-up," Hunter said. "But I expect a lot more of myself."

Two weeks ago at the Auburn Tiger Classic, Hunter won the heptathlon with a career-best score of 5,419, also a provisional-qualifying mark for the NCAA Nationals. Unsatisfied, Hunter came to Franklin Field looking to earn an automatic spot.

With 3,324 points after Day 1, Hunter certainly has the necessary number of 5,500 well within sight with her forte of events - the long jump, javelin and 800 meters - on the docket for today.

Yesterday's second event of the seven-event multisport - the high jump - has been Hunter's heptathlon gauge since returning from her injury.

"Because it's the leg I plant with, I have to get mentally focused during the high jump," said Hunter, who leads by 206 points over teammate Amber Strouse. "It dictates how I feel for the rest of the 'hep.' "

Hunter cleared 5-foot-51/4, a recent best, and posted the top scores in the three other events among the 10-woman field. She ran a 14.07 100 meter high hurdles, tossed 36 feet, 9 inches in the shot put, and burned 200 meters in 24.41 seconds.

In the decathlon, Chris Morrisey bested seven participants through the first five events by notching personal records in three segments.

After a disappointing 100-meter start, the Penn State redshirt sophomore set those bests in the long jump (21-11), the high jump (6-61/4), and the 400 meters (49.60).

After the high jump, he wrestled the lead from teammate James Myles and heads into today's final five events with a 116-point cushion.

Morrisey also wasn't fond of his Auburn performance. The Ligonier, Pa., native finished 69 points shy of an NCAA provisional-qualifying score of 6,900.

After yesterday's strong first day, he likes his odds this time around.

"With what I did today," Morrisey said, "I'm looking to come out tomorrow and get that provisional mark out of the way."

Hunter, meanwhile, is still aiming to place herself among the nation's elite. A decorated high school heptathlete coming out of Riverside, Calif., Hunter was the only freshman to qualify for the national indoor pentathlon and the outdoor pentathlon.

"In high school, I was ranked pretty high," Hunter said. "So I definitely think [her contemporaries] gained on me. But I'm getting there."

The standings


Through five events.

1, Chris Morrisey, Penn State, 3,765. 2, James Myles, Penn State, 3,649. 3, Thomas Dunn, Delaware State, 3,606. 4, Shawn Colligan, Penn State, 3,533. 5, Michael Dell, Messiah, 3,517. 6, Keith Onto, St. Francis, Pa., 3,223. 7, T.J. Toro, Cornell, 2,923.


Through four events.

1, Gayle Hunter, Penn State, 3,324. 2, Amber Strouse, Penn State, 3,118. 3, Natoya Baird, Coppin State, 3,090. 4, Maddy Outman, Williams, 2,905. 5, Amy Reed, Messiah, 2,712. 6, Christiana Taylor, Cabrini, 2,675. 7, Kristen Bates, Messiah, 2,654. 8, Lisa Chatman, Richard Stockton, 2,404. 9, Jenn Bulger, Salisbury, Md., 2,294. 10, Kara Kopp, Penn, 2,213.