THE PENN RELAYS men's Distance Medley Relay was a two-team race between Stanford and Oregon. Then, it became a four-team thing, with Kentucky and Villanova joining the fray. But with a little more than half a lap to go on the closing 1,600-meter leg yesterday at Franklin Field, freshman Oregon anchor Edward Cheserek turned it into a one-man sprint to the tape. In one move that took maybe 5 seconds, it was over. And the Ducks had another DMR wheel to go with the one they got at the 2010 Carnival.
"Actually, my coach [Andy Powell] told me to just run smart," said Cheserek, the NCAA indoor champion in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters, who went to high school in Newark, N.J., after coming to this country from Kenya a few years ago. "Don't move until the last 200. I did what he told me. But I did make my move at, like, 300. I was feeling good."
Villanova, which finished second last April, was runner-up again. Aussie sophomore Jordy Williamsz, who actually ran slightly faster than Cheserek, was able to make up a bunch of ground. But he just wasn't close enough when he got the baton to make the ultimate difference.
"[Cheserek] kind of lit it up a little bit," said Wiliamsz, who went around in 3 minutes, 57.26 seconds, close to his personal best. "I was patient. When the Kentucky guy [Matt Hillebrand] took off, I just waited. I knew I could make it home. It was just a little too late. If there had been 100 meters more, I might have been amongst it. It happens. That's the fun of the Penn Relays. You never know. We might come back and win tomorrow [in the 4 x 1,500 or 4 x 800]. When you're chasing, you're just looking at that guy you're trying to catch.
"There's nothing you can do. That's the way the race unfolded. No one to blame, or anything like that. I honestly thought I was too far back. I didn't think I could get back into it . . . We'll try again. We didn't come here not to get first."
Oregon's first three runners were seniors: Mac Fleet (2:53.95) in the 1,200, Mike Berry (44.72) in the 400 and Boru Guyola (1.48.77) in the 800. Cheserek had a 3:57.98.
Villanova got a 2:56.03 out of Sam McEntee, a 46.29 from Sam Ellison and 1:49.36 from Dusty Solis.
"It's a relay for a reason," said Fleet, who's often been OU's closer. "Each leg has their own responsibilities."
Stanford was third, less than a second behind the Main Liners.
"I think Villanova was probably the team we were most aware of," Powell said. "They've won many more titles than us. I think 120 to our six. So you've got to take them seriously. But we have such a good, deep team. They've all been having great practices. I had a lot of confidence that Edward would have a great last 200.
"When you have good leadership, it goes a long ways. They've done a great job of bringing Edward along. He can be a follower. That's nice for him. He can probably come to a meet like this and it's not just about Edward."
Only when it finally had to be.