UA Signee Anchors Team's First Penn Win

PHILADELPHIA -- Chris Barnicle got some practice for his next four years at Arkansas on Friday at the 111th Penn Relays.

Barnicle and his Newton North High School teammates from Boston won their first-ever Penn Relays title in the distance medley relay to hoist one of the massive Wagon Wheel trophies.

Barnicle, the national leader in the 3,200 meters and the two-mile run, signed with Arkansas on April 13 and anchored the win with a 4-minute, 10-second split on the 1,600-meter anchor leg to beat the nearest team by more than eight seconds.

"He's a fantastic person and an unbelievable motivation," said Blackburn, who ran for Philadelphia-based Villanova and earned a few Wagon Wheels of his own as a collegiate. "I've been coaching 40-plus years and I've never had someone so motivated, so focused on running and being successful. He's a tremendous worker and he loves going to Arkansas. He'll do a great job there. He's a fantastic runner."

The Razorbacks already own 41 of the Wagon Wheels won since 1983 under coach John McDonnell and Newton North coach Jim Blackburn said the Razorbacks better get ready for Barnicle to help them acquire a few more.

"I don't know if I'll be able to get one of those spots on the 4x mile," Barnicle said. "Maybe in a few years. It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm happy I could come here and get used to it."

Blackburn wanted to bring his Newton High School team to Penn for the first time in spite of the conflict with the Massachusetts Relays, which continue today and will have Newton in the DMR and the 4x mile.

"I had to go for it with Barnicle because I'll never have another one like this," Blackburn said.

Barnicle, the Foot Locker Northeast Champion and fifth at the Foot Locker nationals last fall, was set up beautifully by his teammates David Polger, Dave Silfer and Jed Carpenter.

Polger gave Newton North the lead with a burst in the final 100 meters of the 1,200 leg, Silfer blew through the 400 and Carpenter faltered a bit in the final 150 meters of the 800 leg but recovered to pull away enough for Barnicle's final four laps to be more of an exhibition.

"I went out a little too fast," Barnicle said of his 59-second opening lap. "But that's what it's all about. These guys are so happy. I'm sure we'll run the DMR at nationals now."

Barnicle, who won the Millrose mile in Boston in February with McDonnell in attendance, was happy to put on another show. Their time of 10:04.15 was also a New England record.

"My teammates are so psyched, I'm so psyched," Barnicle said. "My coach may be retiring soon, so if he can say he had a New England DMR record, that will show how great he is. That's what I really wanted to accomplish this year -- show everyone how great my coach is."

He'll get that chance at Arkansas, too.



FREQUENT FLYERS

The Lady'Backs relay foursome of Dacia Barr, Aneita Denton, Springdale native Paige Farrell and Erica Sigmont is logging some serious airtime this weekend.

After taking fourth in the distance medley relay Thursday, the group left Philadelphia at 8 a.m. Friday and arrived in Des Moines at around 11 after a connection in Chicago.

Denton and Farrell teamed with Sydney Scarbrough and Tomanique Boatright to run the 4x400-meter prelims at 5:30 p.m. Friday, qualifying for the finals today when they will also run the 4x800-meter relay in a showdown with Michigan.

For freshmen like Farrell and Barr, the heavy duty workload is a good preparation for the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Regional Championships when they'll have to run multiple events and rounds of competition.

"I think the travel will take its toll by Saturday night," Farrell said. "But I think it will be good. SECs, Regionals and NCAAs all have a lot of rounds, so it will get my body used to going more than just once. I may not perform as well, but it will be good."

Lady'Backs coach Lance Harter, who was looking forward to the showdown with Michigan, said this will be a valuable weekend for his youngsters.

"Getting that experience that this is what it's all about is very positive," he said. "These freshmen are just learning on the job training. They are just soaking up everything."

Harter is just hoping they'll soak up some victories as well as frequent flyer miles this weekend.



LATE THURSDAY ACTION

Arkansas seven-time All-American Jason Sandfort improved his Mideast Regional qualifier while taking third in the 5,000 meters late Thursday night.

Sandfort posted a 14:04.07, less than a second improvement from his 14:04.9 at Mt. SAC two weeks ago.

The Razorbacks added a regional qualifier in Seth Summerside, who clocked a career-best 14:11.39 and is the fifth Razorback to make regions in the event joining Josphat Boit, Peter Kosgei, Sandfort and Shawn Forrest.

The Lady'Backs also added a qualifier in Jessie Gordon, who ran a career-best 16:44.23 to take eighth.



KEEP IT MOVING

It's no easy task to keep the action moving on time at Penn with more than 16,000 athletes from fifth grade to 65 and up competing.

The paddock where athletes are herded before races often features a hard-nosed official barking orders to keep everyone moving.

The man with the mic at Penn injected some humor into his constant urgings with utterances like, "North Penn is still dressing? Oh, my God," or some friendly encouragement such as "Your hair looks fine, hon."


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