There have been times for Villanova track coach Marcus O'Sullivan when losing one or two key runners meant he had to try furiously to piece together his men's teams in time for the Penn Relays.

O'Sullivan's story is different this year. It sounds strange to him.

"We lost a couple of kids already this year," he said yesterday at a luncheon advancing the carnival. "I can't believe I'm actually saying we're still going to be competitive.

"Usually, if I lose one kid, I'm usually out of the race. But we have a decent amount of depth this year for the first time in a while."

The Wildcats' men, who last won a Championship of America relay at the carnival in 2001, could compete in as many as three events this week. They'll lead off Friday with the distance medley relay, in which they finished third last season.

Senior Sean Tully is the only holdover from that unit, but O'Sullivan has talented sophomores in Jason Apwah, Matthew Gibney and Ben Guest to fill the gaps.

O'Sullivan also plans to have the Wildcats run Saturday in the four-mile relay and will carry a wait-and-see attitude in the 4x800 meters later in the day.

O'Sullivan said that he lost sophomore Chris Williams during the indoor season with a torn ligament and stress fracture of the ankle and that freshman Matthew Mildenhall was coming off a bout with mononucleosis.

But the Wildcats' depth is "probably the most I've ever had" in 11 years with the team, he said.

"I think we're in good shape for the weekend," O'Sullivan said.

O'Sullivan, speaking for women's coach Gina Procaccio, said the Wildcats' women planned to compete in the distance medley and the 4x1,500 relays.

A key performer in both races will be senior Frances Koons, who ran at last year's carnival after recovering from kidney cancer. Koons advanced to the semifinals of the 2008 Olympic trials in the 1,500 meters and placed second in the 5,000 at last month's NCAA indoor championships.

"The indoor nationals was huge for her," O'Sullivan said. "It's like watching somebody grow and mature. . . . Plus the experience she has, that helps an awful lot."

The Villanova women's teams also feature a familiar name: Nicole Schappert, a transfer from Wake Forest and the daughter of former Villanova standout Ken Schappert, who won eight watches at the Penn Relays from 1971 through 1975.

Today's schedule. The two-day decathlon and heptathlon begin at 11 a.m.

Taking on the world. USA Track & Field said that 2008 Olympic gold medalists LaShawn Merritt, Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards were among the athletes scheduled to compete Saturday in the annual "USA vs. The World" races at the Penn Relays.

Others expected to appear at Franklin Field include Olympic silver medalists Lauryn Williams and Terrence Trammell and 2008 U.S. Olympian Leonel Manzano, the two-time outstanding men's relay athlete at the carnival while running for Texas.

Saturday's races include 4x100 and 4x400 relays for men and women, a men's distance medley, and a women's sprint medley.

Penn Relays

What: The 115th Penn Relays Carnival

Where: Franklin Field, 33d and Spruce Streets

When: Thursday through Saturday, starting at 10 a.m.


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or