Men defend National DMR crown take fifth overall in NCAA’s indoors

Leslie Combs

Villanova climbed back onto the winner’s pedestal, winning the distance medley relay at the 2003 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships this past weekend. Going into the race, the Wildcats were not favored to defend their crown, but left no room for critics to doubt Villanova’s return to the elite running circle. ‘Nova’s time of 9:29.12 minutes, not only gave the quartet the victory for a second straight year, but also broke an NCAA record.

“The distance medley was terrific,” head coach Marcus O’Sullivan said who was on the ‘Cats national championship DMR squad in 1981. “It was probably one of the most courageous runs I have ever seen … collectively and individually. Everyone was fighting back to hold position.”

Junior Ryan Hayden had the baton when the gun went off, running a 2:44 1,200 meter lead-off leg, before passing the stick to senior Nic O’Brien who ran a strong 400m in 47 seconds. Senior Paul Moser took the third leg, running a 1:49 800m and gave the baton to senior anchor Adrian Blincoe for the final 1,600m stretch. Behind Michigan’s freshman anchor Nick Willis in the final lap, Blincoe took the Wolverine on the inside coming off the last turn. Blincoe held onto the lead down the final stretch, crossing the line victoriously in 9:29.10, while Stanford’s fourth man, junior Grant Robison, edged Willis right at the line. Stanford then took runner-up in 9:29.69, while Michigan claimed third in 9:29.76. The win marked the sixth time the ‘Cats have won the DMR indoor national championship, most recently last season when they overpowered Wisconsin by over a minute to win in 9:31.

Given the competition entering last Friday’s race, the outcome of the race was far less predictable than last season and many wondered if the ‘Cats had the speed and the stamina to pull it off again. However, with Moser the only newcomer to the squad from last year’s championship run, the tight foursome was ready to run head to head with what O’Sullivan termed the “toughest compilation of schools around.”

“All in all, it was a super race,” said.

Despite the medal draped around their necks, the weekend was not yet over for Blincoe and Hayden, both of whom were set to run in individual races.

Blincoe traveled to Fayetteville to defend two titles, and after succeeding in the DMR, he set his sights on the 3,000m run. Last March the New Zealand native won the event indoors in 8:01.76, but came up short this year, finishing second in 7:56.66, wedged between Arkansas’s runners who took first and third. Alistair Cragg won the event in 7:55.68, while his teammate, Daniel Lincoln, came in right behind Blincoe in 7:57.43.

Although Blincoe was unable to defend his title, O’Sullivan was pleased with his performance, especially given the fact that he only returned to racing this past month.

The senior battled knee injuries all winter from the cold training conditions earlier in the indoor season.

“I thought he ran a great race in the 3,000, considering all the injuries we had,” O’Sullivan. “He was one of the ones we had a fall out.”

Teammate Hayden was unable to produce another victory for the ‘Cats as well.

A strong favorite in the one-mile, the junior qualified on Friday for the finals Saturday, but had a disappointing performance that left him fourth in 4:06.95.

“With Ryan, he just tactically ran a poor race, and I think he would admit it,” O’Sullivan explained.

Coming around the oval for the last time, Hayden was in second, but had a bad stumble off the turn that left him in fourth behind eventual winner Chris Mulvaney of Arkansas in 4:05.70.

John Jefferson of Indiana was runner-up with a time of 4:06.46 and Notre Dame’s Luke Watson finishing in third just ahead of Hayden with a time of 4:06.48.

With just one more race to go in the competition, the ‘Cats found themselves in fourth place with 23 points, nine points ahead of LSU.

Closing the meet with the 4x400m relay, LSU captured the event, catapulting the Tigers ahead of the ‘Cats by one point. Arkansas claimed the team crown with 52, while Auburn took runner-up with 28, followed by Nebraska’s 26 and LSU’s 24.

‘Nova tied for fifth with Tennessee and South Carolina with 23.

Following the conclusion to the successful indoor campaign, the men return to the outdoor track this weekend for the University of Pennsylvania’s Invitational track and field meet.