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Villanova will run a rare sprint medley at Penn Relays

The Villanova men are trying something a little different at the Penn Relays this year, and coach Marcus O'Sullivan appears to be quite excited about it.

The Villanova men are trying something a little different at the Penn Relays this year, and coach Marcus O'Sullivan appears to be quite excited about it.

As always, the Wildcats will run their first race at the 122nd carnival in Friday's distance medley relay, an event that covers 10 laps and 4,000 meters around Franklin Field. But a little more than four hours later, Villanova will take part in the sprint medley relay - a race of four laps and 1,600 meters that the Cats have entered "for the first time in my 18 years" as head coach, O'Sullivan said.

"I'm really looking forward to that one because I usually hang around there on Friday evening and I watch the relay and we're never in it," he said. "That's something special for us."

O'Sullivan said he feels good entering a team in the sprint medley because he has a pair of quality 200-meter runners - freshman Sterling Pierce (Rancocas Valley) and senior Donald Urschel - for the first two legs. Pierce is the son of former Morgan State star Jack Pierce, who won the college 110-meter hurdles at the 1984 carnival.

"He's a great young man, very soft-spoken, and he's come on a lot this year in just how he's carrying himself," the coach said. "So this will be a whole new dimension for him to experience out here. It's great to be able to provide an opportunity for him to run here on a significant relay."

O'Sullivan plans to go with either sophomore Ishmael Muhammad (Oakcrest) or Irish freshman Harry Purcell on the 400-meter leg, and close with freshman Ville Lampinen of Finland on the 800 anchor.

The race is loaded with some of the nation's top 800-meter runners on the anchor leg. Defending champion Penn State, which has won this event three times in the last five years, boasts senior Brannon Kidder, while NCAA indoor champion Eliud Rutto anchors Middle Tennessee State.

Other teams to watch are Florida, anchored by Andres Arroyo, and Brigham Young, with Shaquille Walker.

Villanova will take part in the distance medley on Friday and the 4x800 on Saturday. Its chances of competing in the 4-by-mile Saturday may hinge on senior Jordy Williamsz, who has been rested by O'Sullivan after a grueling stretch that saw him run in the Olympic trials in his native Australia.

On the women's side, the Wildcats will be without Angel Piccirillo, last year's outstanding women's relay athlete, who is redshirting this outdoor season. Coach Gina Procaccio will be entering two freshmen - Sammy Bockoven and Nicole Hutchinson - into the charged atmosphere of the carnival in Thursday's distance medley.

"I'm excited to see how they handle it," she said. "Neither one of them has ever run at the Penn Relays. So this is going to be their first experience and they're going to be put in a pretty competitive situation, but I think they're ready for it."

Procaccio said the Wildcats also will compete in the 4x1500-meter relay on Friday.

Heptathlon leaders

Penn State freshman Madeline Holmberg, competing in her first-ever heptathlon, held a 104-point lead after the first day of the women's multi-event competition. She posted the best times in the 100-meter hurdles (14.32 seconds) and 200-meter dash (24.52) on her way to 3,221 points after four events. Saija Bikanova of Connecticut was second.

Vincent Schneider, a junior from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., led the decathlon with 3,592 points after five events. His best showing came in the 100 meters (11.36) and he bested the field in the shot put (39 feet, 9 3/4 inches) and the long jump (21-6 3/4). Mount St. Mary's Christopher Gabor, a graduate of St. Joseph-Hammonton, was second with 3,478 points.

Jamaica announces team

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the women's 100 meters, leads the Jamaican team that will compete in Saturday's USA vs. the World relays at Penn. The contingent includes Stephanie-Ann McPherson, Christine Day, Elaine Thompson, Kerron Stewart, Javon Francis and Ricardo Chambers.