Thanks to another spell-binding anchor leg from senior Phoebe Wright, the Big Orange ladies pulled off their second consecutive hat trick at this meet, winning the 4x8 in eight minutes, 18.22 seconds. The only other women's team to accomplish back-to-back distance triples in the history of the meet were the 1989 and 1990 Villanova Wildcats.
The mark, just 31/100ths of a second off the American record that Tennessee set a year ago, came via a 2:07.71 opener from senior Kimarra McDonald, a 2:05.33 second leg from sophomore Chanelle Price, a 2:04.29 third hitch from sophomore Brittany Sheffey and a sensational 2:00.90 closer from Wright, who recorded her sixth straight Penn Relays Championship of America in as many races.
It gave the Lady Vols their seventh 4x8 crown and 19th overall Penn Relays Championship of America, with 10 of those coming since Clark took over the program in 2002-03.
After Sheffey pulled ahead of LSU in the last 10 meters of the third leg, it was up to Wright once again, just like it was when she closed out the 4x1500m triumph on Friday.
Yet again, Wright was up to the task, thwarting a stiff challenge by LSU All-American LaTavia Thomas down the home stretch to close out her final collegiate appearance at Penn to the appreciative roar of the knowledgeable Philly fans.
UT Director of Track & Field J.J Clark was impressed with how his squad overcame the graduation of last year's Female Relay Athlete of the Meet, Sarah Bowman, and proved some doubters wrong. ESPN2's cameras were rolling on Saturday for that display.
"I have just enjoyed watching them develop the attitude of how to win and how to pull out close victories," Clark said. "We've had three, if you think about it, very, very close victories with the NCAA Indoor win, the 4x1500 yesterday and then today. Just watching them figure out how to win and pull it out in big meets has been amazing. A lot of people would not have imagined this when Sarah graduated, but their work ethic and will to win is incredible.
"On paper, we weren't predicted to win any of these races, which has been kind of characteristic of when we win the races. For some reason, that's the reason it has worked. People are not really watching us or thinking we are going to win, but we come out there and find a way to get it done. That's why I said they figured out how to win, and that's really important."
As for Wright, who debuted at this meet with a gutsy performance as a walk-on in 2007, the UT skipper was complimentary of her role in UT's success.
"Phoebe has been involved in every major relay win the past three years," Clark said. "She is obviously very tough and a great competitor, and she finds a way to get it done week in and week out."
The UT men, meanwhile, closed out the meet with four events on Saturday. Senior Evander Wells had the highlight of the day, locking down third place in the 100m dash final. He did so matching his season best of 10.40, which he also ran in the prelim.
The Vols also had a pair of relays in Championship of America finals.
The lineup of freshman Terrance Livingston, sophomores Joe Franklin and Emerson Peacock and junior Peter Sigilai snared fifth in the 4x800m relay with a time of 7:20.63. In the 4x200m event, seniors John Hewitt and Kyle Stevenson, sophomore Deaundra Dailey and Wells worked the oval to a 1:24.03 count to wind up sixth.
The Big Orange also had a pair of pole vaulters in action. Senior Brad Holtz and junior Robert Rasnick each managed clearances of 16-6 3/4, but Holtz tied for seventh and Rasnick ninth by virtue of their number of attempts at that height.
"Overall, we accomplished a lot this weekend, and I believe we had a good productive day," Clark said of the Vols' work. "Evander tying a season best running into a headwind is pretty exciting, and the 4x2 getting in a good run for sixth. Competition is very, very steep, and we don't run this event much, so it's good to get an opportunity to put a good 200 group out on the track.
"The 4x8 ran a very competitive race and ended up fifth. I'm sure there's room for improvement, but they definitely competed well for the most part. As far as the pole vault, the wind makes it difficult here sometimes to find consistency in your steps, but I thought they gave good efforts in achieving those performances. This is the kind of work we needed to help us get ready in all events for the SEC meet."
The Big Orange squads are off next weekend, but they will resume action on May 8 as they host the Tennessee Invitational at Tom Black Track at LaPorte Stadium.