Last April, Tennessee's women went home from the Penn Relays with the kind of trifecta that no team wants to cash.

They finished runner-up in the distance medley relay, the 4 x 1,500 meters and 4 x 800. Each time it was a close second.

Sarah Bowman, then a junior, ran the anchor leg in all of those events.

At last month's NCAA Indoor Championships, the Lady Vols established a world indoor record in the DMR, with a time of 10 minutes, 50 seconds. The outdoor mark of 10:48.38 was set by Villanova at Penn in 1988.

Not shockingly, they were the prohibitive favorites going into yesterday's DMR, the lone Championship of America race in the Carnival's opening afternoon. The Vols didn't get another record. But they got watches. And they plan to leave with more.

A year ago, Michigan's Nicole Edwards caught Bowman at the end. The Wolverines aren't here this year. Not that it would have mattered. This time, Bowman got the baton with a decent enough lead. And nobody was chasing her down.

Bowman's 4.40.7 in the 1,600 meters got Tennessee home in 11:02.11. While Georgetown's Maggie Infield did manage to make up ground in the final turn/stretch, the best she could do was cross the line a little less than a second later. That was still 11 seconds ahead of third-place Villanova, even though Frances Koons turned in the same 4.39.8 as Infield.

"[What happened] last year, that was tough, especially by such [narrow] margins," Bowman admitted. "They were all right at the line, so it definitely was motivation coming back. So we're starting on the right foot . . .

"It wasn't ideal conditions, but you can't control the weather. It was windy. Again, we're looking for three victories. There are always records, but you have to go out and see how it goes. It just wasn't happening."

Junior Phoebe Wright opened with a 3:22.2 in the 1,200, which left the Vols in a virtual dead heat for second with the Hoyas, just in back of Duke. They were a tight third following senior Kimarra McDonald's (from South Jersey's Rancocas Valley High) 54.7 in the 400, behind G-town and the Blue Devils. Then, freshman Chanelle Price (out of Easton) put them comfortably in front with a 2.04.5 in the 800. Bowman took it from there.

"Last year was a success, in my mind," said coach J.J. Clark, a South Jersey native and Villanova product. "We ran fast. Not many teams come here and triple. We don't duck, we don't dodge. We just ran. To come back and win is exciting, of course. We gave everything we had. The weather wasn't as cooperative.

"It's still a win. I take my hats off to them. It's high expectations. [This] is very impressive. They just stood up to the test. That's a good feeling. We'll take about 15 minutes to enjoy it, take one step at a time. I believe we have four good legs [in the remaining two races]. Other teams have good legs. We'll go match up. On that day, give it our best shot. Same thing we did last year. With this group, you want to take advantage of the opportunity. You wish you could have this all the time. You can't necessarily do it every year. We'll see what happens."

The 4 x 1,500 is today, the 4 x 800 tomorrow. Those are projected to be more competitive. In the 4 x 15, Villanova could provide the biggest challenge.

There's a school of thought that maybe Bowman eased off a bit, to save something for what's left.

"I mean, you never try to say something like that," she countered. "You have to focus on the race you're in at that moment. If you start looking ahead, you'll never get through all three of them. We usually feel good in Day 2 and 3 because we go through that sort of thing at nationals. So I think we're all prepared for [the task]. We're excited to see how it goes.

"Every time you step on the track, you want to win. That's our competitive nature. Our goal is to go home with three victories. You have to take it one race at a time. You wouldn't enter if you're not trying to win."

The Vols have now won the DMR four times. Only 'Nova, (nine) has done it more.

One down, greatness to go.

Relay splits

UCLA senior Nicole Leach (West Catholic) and Bruins freshman Ryann Krais (Methacton) flew in to compete in the college women's 400-meter hurdles. Leach didn't run because, according to her high-school coach Tim Hickey, it was too cold. Krais finished 10th.

Louisiana State freshman Rachel Laurent set a Carnival record in the college women's pole vault by clearing 13 feet, 10 1/2 inches (4.23 meters). The previous best of 13-10 (4.22) had been established in 2005 by Amy Linnen, of Kansas. *