Villanova had pointed for almost seven weeks to this race - the women's distance medley relay at the Penn Relays Carnival. The Wildcats had suffered a disappointing loss to Michigan in the event at the NCAA indoor championships and wanted to make amends.

Great idea, but there was a hitch: Michigan decided not to compete in Thursday's race at Franklin Field.

Villanova's response: no problem.

With Nicky Akande blowing the race open on the third leg, and anchor Emily Lipari running comfortably and confidently, the Wildcats picked up a decisive victory in 10 minutes, 58.84 seconds. It marked their 12th win in the DMR at the carnival, and their first time going back-to-back since 1994 and 1995.

The Wildcats had lost a thrilling race to Michigan by 1.5 seconds at the NCAA meet in Fayetteville, Ark., but the result stuck with them for a long, long time.

"We were so fired up by the second-place finish," said Lipari, a junior who covered her 1,600-meter leg in 4:37.7. "We wanted to get back out there and tell them that Villanova is not done. We have the same team and we're going to go out there and do this on our home turf.

"I think we were more fired up for this than, at least, I think I've ever been. Second place hurts, so we came out here wanting to win for Villanova again."

That happened to be Akande's attitude, too. After taking the baton for her 800-meter leg about seven meters behind, the junior from Lawrenceville, Ga., dazzled the sun-splashed crowd of 23,310 by gaining the upper hand on the field. She went up by seven meters after one lap and gave the baton to Lipari with a 15-meter lead.

"I think it's a different mind-set," said Akande, who clocked 2:04.7 for the split. "Like Emily said, second place is rough. You're so close but not close enough. So in a way, it just humbled us more. We really wanted to get it done outdoors. It doesn't matter who's in the race. We're not looking at any particular team."

It marked Akande's second terrific 800 in the DMR. Last year she rallied the Wildcats with a 2:04.5 split and handed off the baton to all-American Sheila Reid with the race dead even. Reid brought home the win for 'Nova.

"I was more naive last year, but I just wanted to get Sheila in good position," Akande said. "But this year I really wanted to take the old-school Villanova approach and just go out hard and try to give it to Emily in the lead."

It worked. Lipari got the baton and made sure she was never threatened, winning by 30 meters over Kentucky, which took second in 11:04.45. Columbia was third, followed by Princeton and North Carolina.

Villanova opened with a pair of freshmen, Angel Piccirillo on the 1,200-meter leg and Michaela Wilkins over 400 meters.

Michigan and Oregon, a two-time relay winner at last year's carnival, will be back Friday for the 4x1,500 and should have fresher runners than Villanova. But the Wildcats are ready.

"These girls are so fit this year, they're a lot stronger," Villanova coach Gina Procaccio said. "It's OK. I tell them it's not like we go to practice and run one interval and go home. They're totally ready to" run.

The Texas A&M women posted the fastest times in qualifying heats, 44.33 seconds in the 4x100-meter relay and 3:34.72 in the 4x400. On Friday, the Aggies will seek their fifth consecutive championship in the 4x100.


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Warm greetings for Boston runners