In an attempt to end eight years of frustration in the Penn Relays, Villanova turned to a young sophomore who had been on campus only since January participating in the first race of his career at the carnival before an energized crowd of nearly 40,000.

No pressure. None.

But Matthew Gibney ran as if he was just going through a relaxing workout in his native Australia, chasing down Arkansas' Dorian Ulrey in the final 150 meters and giving the Wildcats an exhilarating victory in the distance medley relay at Franklin Field.

The Wildcats highlighted an outstanding day of racing in sunny and warm conditions that featured the Tennessee women winning for the second time in two days and breaking a world record in the 4x1,500-meter relay.

The Vols, with Sarah Bowman running a sizzling anchor leg, crossed the line in 17 minutes, 8.34 seconds, better than the mark of 17:09.75 set by an Australian team in 2000.

Villanova won a Championship of America relay for the first time since capturing the DMR in 2001. The last four years, the Cats had finished fifth, eighth, second and third, knocking on the door but failing to break through.

This year, however, they had the answer in the tall, long-striding Gibney, 20, who was a medical school student in Australia when he was recommended to Villanova coach Marcus O'Sullivan by a friend with whom he used to run professionally.

Oh, by the way, Gibney never had heard of the Penn Relays before coming to the Main Line.

"When I was getting recruited, it came up again and again," Gibney said. "The last couple of months, I got a sense of how important it is. The first time I spoke to Marcus at the start of the season, he said, 'If you run a good mile at Penn Relays and do nothing else the rest of the season, I'll be happy.'

"Just the last week, people who lived in Philadelphia all their lives said, 'I can't explain to you how big it is. You have to be there to see what a big thing it is to Villanova.' In terms of the atmosphere, I haven't been in anything near this before."

Gibney's teammates - seniors Sean Tully (1,200-meter leg) and Elvis Lewis (400) and sophomore Jason Apwah (800) - combined to get Gibney the baton in second place, three meters behind Ulrey, who had anchored Arkansas in its narrow second-place finish at last month's NCAA indoor championships.

Gibney drafted off Ulrey for much of the four-lap leg before starting his move entering the final turn. By the time they reached the straightaway, it was Gibney's race, and he crossed the line for a 10-meter win in 9:30.81.

"I had a feeling Matt was in good shape," O'Sullivan said. "He's almost falling on the guy in front of him at the top of the turn. You're just ready to go, and it's like you're just looking for a gear. I had a good sense it was there."

Gibney clocked 3:58.4 for his run, which had Tully so nervous he didn't look at it until near the end.

"I've never been disappointed with all the close finishes, but every year we think we can win," Tully said. "I can't even count the number of top three finishes I've had here in my four years. It's about time we got one, and we're just elated."

The day also belonged to Tennessee's 4x1,500 team, particularly Bowman, who got the baton more than 20 meters behind pacesetter Georgetown. She gradually closed in on the Hoyas' Maggie Infeld and took control entering the final straightaway.

Bowman praised Chanelle Price, a freshman from Easton High who runs mostly at 800 meters, as well as teammates Phoebe Wright and Rolanda Bell for running personal-best 1,500 times.

"That's just amazing to have a team that come out there and do that all at the same time," Bowman said. "You know that they put a lot of heart into it, and that's motivation for all of us."

Bowman, a senior and the 2009 NCAA indoor champion in the mile, showed heart as well, running her leg in a blistering 4:09.6.

LaTavia Thomas, a graduate of West Catholic High, anchored LSU for the second straight year to a victory in the women's sprint medley relay in 3:47.26. Other Championship of America winners were Texas A&M in the women's 4x100 in 43.10, and Tennessee in the men's sprint medley in 3:17.77.

The shuttle hurdle relay championships were won by Florida on the men's side (4x110) in 54.30 seconds and by the Central Florida women (4x100) in 54.07.

Follow the Penn Relays today on the live blog at http://go.philly.com/pretzel

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Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494

or jjuliano@phillynews.com.