"Perseverance and persistence pressed this senior laden team to victory today," said Director of Track and Field Beth Alford-Sullivan. "In our sixth year of finishing in the top three, the Lions were able to pull off a commanding victory."
Cox added Big Ten titles number 13, 14, and 15 to her outstanding resume, earning wins in the 200-meters and 400-meters, and anchoring the 4x400 to its third-straight outdoor conference victory, and sixth-consecutive win at a Big Ten Championship event. The sensational senior started the day by helping her squad to a second-place finish in the 4x100-meters, along with Shavon GReaves (Lakewood, N.J.), Barber, and Dominique Blake (Bronx, N.Y.), who combined to run a season-best 44.97.
"Leadership, not only in points scored, from Shana Cox, Dominique Blake and Gayle Hunter created an atmosphere for this team to become champions," continued Sullivan. "Today, the Lions showed that Penn State track and field is not only a class program but a championship program. The incredible efforts of the coaching staff and the entire support staff must be recognized as a significant factor in the end result. I couldn't be more proud of the Nittany Lions today."
Barber then took center stage in the 100-meter hurdles, engineering arguably the biggest upset of the 2008 season, bettering Michigan's Tiffani Ofili, the defending NCAA champion in the event, for her second-career Big Ten individual title. Barber dipped under the 13-second barrier for the first time in her career, clocking a sizzling 12.83 in a 2.1 m/second win, which ties her for the second-fastest mark in the entire country this season.
The spotlight then shifted back to Cox, who earned her third-career Big Ten outdoor title in the 400 in impressive fashion, posting a season-best 52.00 - a new Illinois facility record as well as the fourth-fastest mark in the country. Blake made it a Lion sweep in the event, taking silver medal honors in 53.04. Blake's effort was the highest individual conference finish in her already decorated career. Barber then rode the momentum from Cox and Blake's efforts, finishing second in the 100-meters with a wind-aided 11.57.
Barber would come back less than 30 minutes later to earn her third silver medal of the afternoon, this time taking runner-up honors in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 59.15. Fawn Dorr (Akron, N.Y.) followed in fourth in 59.49, while Megan Duncan (North Huntingdon, Pa.) took seventh in 1:00.83. The Lions will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come in the quarter hurdles, as Barber and Dorr are sophomores, and Duncan is just a freshman.
Cox was at it again in the 200, running away from the field with a blistering personal-best 23.15. The Lions totaled a total of 20 points in the event, making it one of Penn State's most productive of the day, with a fourth-place showing from Blake at a regional-qualifying 23.96, a sixth-place effort from Gayle Hunter (Riverside, Calif.) in 24.14, and a seventh-place finish from Greaves in 24.32. Hunter undoubtedly earns the title of busiest athlete on the weekend, adding points to the Lion total in the heptathlon, 200, long jump, and triple jump.
Senior Lena Bettis (Riverside, Calif.) popped a podium performance in the triple jump. After fouling her first two attempts and needing a legal jump for a chance to advance to the final, Bettis soared to a mark of 42-09.50 (13.04) on her third attempt, which not only made the final, but held up for bronze-medal honors. The Lions racked up 13 points in the pit, with Hunter in fifth in 42-05.25 (12.93), Christina Sgriccia (Clymer, Pa.) in seventh with a leap of 40-06 (12.34), and Gabriela Baiter (Greenlawn, N.Y.) in eighth with a mark of 40-05 (12.32). Sgriccia and Baiter, a senior and a freshman, respectively, both posted the first Big Ten scoring performances of their careers.
After seventh and eighth-place efforts, and regional-qualifying performances from Bridget Franek (Hiram, Ohio), last night's 3,000-meter steeplechase champion, and Leah Rosenfeld (Ridgefield, Conn.) in the 5,000-meters, the women's 4x400 relay took the Penn State charges out in style with a dominating victory. Senior Briene Simmons (Decatur, Ga.), who also scored a sixth-place finish in the 800-meters, led off the effort with a 54.7 split, followed by Blake, who ran the second leg in 53.7. Dorr picked up on the third leg, handing off to Cox on the anchor in 54.6. Cox sealed the deal, as she had so many times before, closing out with a 53.7 split to finish in 3:36.24.
Junior Emma Schmelzer (Bloomington, Ill.) also made a trip to the medal stand, capturing third-place honors in the discus with a toss of 160-02 (48.81) to improve upon her fifth-place finish from 2007. Also providing a scoring effort was Brittany Maun (Greensburg, Pa.), who cleared a career-best 5-07.25 (1.71) to finish eighth in the high jump.
The Lions continue the championship portion of their season in two weeks with the NCAA East Regional Championships, to be held of May 30-31, 2008, at Florida State University.