THE MOMENT was mostly about Sheila Reid, for all the obvious story lines. Still, it's called a relay for a reason. You usually need all four legs of the race to make it happen. Heading into Thursday's Distance Medley Championship of America at Franklin Field, everyone knew that Villanova had the best anchor, even if the fifth-year senior star had never won at the Penn Relays. But it turns out the Wildcats also sent out a threesome ahead of her who took care of their business about as well as coach Gina Procaccio could have possibly game-planned.
So by the time Reid got the baton for the finishing 1,600-meter leg, well, this one in reality was pretty much a matter of by how much.
Reid still needed to handle the rest by outlasting Tennessee's Brittany Sheffey over the final four laps to make it official. But her teammates had already made that a much more manageable proposition.
"It was perfect," Procaccio said. "I kept thinking, 'They're doing it, they're doing it.' They're pretty tough kids. In order for [Reid] to get it done, you need to have three studs in front of her. I'm just blown away by those guys. They really stepped it up. I was pretty relaxed when [Reid] got it in that position. Everyone knows it's not about any one runner. But . . . "
There was a singular objective, to put their closer where she needed to be. For the first time here, finally.
"I really didn't have to do anything," Reid noted. "I just did my job. It was about everyone doing their jobs today."
The result was the program's record 11th victory in that event, but first in 6 years.
Last April, then-freshman Emily Lipari, who had been battling strep throat, fell behind in the opening 1,200. Then junior Christie Verdier got hit as she began the 400 and dropped the stick. There was never a chance after that.
This time, Lipari stayed right on the pace by going around in 3 minutes, 22.9 seconds. Verdier kept the Wildcats there with a personal-best 52.8. Sophomore Nicky Akande, the only one who wasn't part of last year's team, did likewise by following with a PR 2:04.5 in the 800. That allowed Reid to come home in a rather comfortable 4:40.8 for a combined 11:01.33 that was a little more than 2 seconds better than the Vols, who won in 2009 and '10.
"All last year, I put a lot of blame on myself," Lipari said. "This is [Reid and Verdier's] last year. I wanted them to go out with a bang, and not let them down this time.
"You go to practice every day with these girls, and see how hungry they are and how much everyone wants it. When I step on the line it's everything for the girls.
"Sheila's a racer. We wanted to set her up to race. That's Sheila's strength. It takes four girls to do it . . . [We knew] she'd bring it home for all of us."
While the focus was on the face of the program, in this group effort there was plenty of redemption to share.
"Before the Penn Relays, I was thinking about [last year] a lot," Verdier said. "But I have to learn from my mistakes. I was pretty excited to run today. I'm happy with what we did.
"I couldn't stop screaming."
Akande's performance was particularly impressive. Especially when you consider that it was her first Carnival experience.
"I wasn't thinking about anything except getting Sheila into position," she said. "So I didn't even realize I'd gone out that fast [on her first lap]. All I knew is I had to stay in it."
And when she passed it off to Reid well within striking distance?
"I felt pretty good," Akande said.
All that was left was a serious hug and of course that elusive victory lap.
Now, Reid will no longer have to answer the question that had shadowed her for 12 months. But she hardly was a solo act.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Lipari said. "To capture that moment with these three girls, we couldn't ask for anything else.
"I mean, Sheila's a great leader. And all of us are so honored to have her as a teammate. And we're so happy she came back for her fifth year. As young people, we have someone to look up to. Without Sheila on the team, it would be a totally different team. All the hype she gets is so well-deserved. She has a great attitude, she's a great person and a great friend. We wouldn't have run as well if not for her, because of her positive attitude and training with her and everything she does for us.
"We did it together, but we couldn't have done it without her. Going down in history with Sheila Reid is kind of special."