Penn State 4X400 runs blazing national number one to win East Region

Tallahassee, Fla. — Nittany Lions Dominique Blake (Bronx, N.Y.), Aleesha Barber (Decatur, Ga.), Gayle Hunter (Riverside, Calif.), and Shana Cox (Westbury, N.Y.) proved to be more than serious contender for a national championship on Saturday, running a sizzling school-record 3:28.92 to win the women's 4x400-meter relay at the NCAA East Regional Championships on the campus of Florida State University. The blistering performance, which is Penn State record by nearly three seconds, is the fastest time in the NCAA this season, as well as the ninth fastest time in the world this year. The Lions had a record haul of event championships on the weekend, including dual wins from Cox in the 200- and 400-meters, a steeplechase victory from Bridget Franek (Hiram, Ohio), to go along with Karlee McQuillen's (Johnstown, Pa.) javelin win on Friday (May 30).

The Lions sensational weekend wasn't without a little bit of heartbreak, however, as the team scoring came down to a one point difference, with Virginia Tech coming out on top with 92 points, and Penn State following in second with 91. Florida wound up third with 82.

"I am so impressed with program this weekend," said Director of Track and Field Beth Alford-Sullivan. "I would have never guessed we'd come down here and score over 90 points, and overachieving to this level really proves what a high caliber program we are. We brought our attitude from our Big Ten Championship finish and proved that we are a force to be reckoned with regionally and nationally."

Blake gave the Lions a solid lead-off leg with a 52.5 split, handing off the Barber near the front of the pack. Despite an early charge by Virginia Tech's Asia Washington, Barber kept her cool, accelerating past the Hokie on the 200-meter turn to lay down a blazing 51.2 leg, and hand off to Hunter with a considerable lead. Hunter held strong in the front, running 52.6 to hand off to Cox, who coolly finished off the effort in 52.4 unofficially. The effort, which is the Lions' first-ever regional victory in the event, is also an NCAA East Region record, surpassing South Carolina's 3:29.19 from 2005.

"It is an honor for this competition to come down to the wire with a quality program like Virginia Tech," continued Sullivan. "Both Johnson brothers (Penn State sprints/hurdles coach Chris Johnson, and Virginia Tech's sprints/hurdles coach Lawrence Johnson) are incredible coaches, and they are a first class and first rate team. Being beat by one point isn't hard when it's to a team as classy as Virginia Tech."

Cox certainly made her final appearance at the NCAA East Regional Championships one to remember, sprinting to a sizzling school- and facility-record 50.84 to take gold medal honors in the 400-meters. Cox's mark, which betters her own Nittany Lion of 51.15 set in 2006, is the best in the NCAA this season, as well as the 11th-fastest in the world this year. Blake will also make the trip the NCAAs, thanks to a third-place finish in the event, posting a PR 52.15 - well over half a second better than her previous career record.

"I'm very excited," Cox said of her stellar effort. "I can use this as a confidence booster for the NCAA Championships. It was hot out there and it was a tough run, but I did it."

Cox wasn't finished, however, completing an impressive double with a sensational win in the 200-meters, clocking a windy 22.92, and speeding away from top seed Natalie Knight of Florida in the final meters to earn her second gold medal of the day, and add another 10 points to the Nittany Lion haul. The Nittany Lions have now won half of the 200 races in the six-year history of the regional format, as Connie Moore won half lap titles in 2003 and 2004. Cox's 400 win is the second of her career, after winning top honors in 2006. She also becomes the first woman to win multiple East Region crowns in the event, and the second to claim the 200-400 double.

Sophomore Bridget Franek (Hiram, Ohio) kept up the Lion winning streak in the 3000-meter steeplechase, running away from the field to win in 10:01.56. Franek, who also won the Big Ten title in the event going away, Franek is the first Nittany Lion to win the event, as well as the first non-senior competitor to nab gold medal honors.

"I try and make the heat as little a factor as possible," said Franek of the sultry Florida weather. "It feels great to win this, but I know our team has a chance to take home the title, and I am hoping my finish will help them out."

Barber easily secured her fifth-career trip to the national championships, notching runner-up honors in the 100-meter hurdles. Barber also reset the school record in the event for the second time in as many days, going 12.90 to take second behind Virginia Tech's Queen Harrison, who finished in 12.70. Barber earned bid number-two in the 400-meter hurdles, engineering a hard charge down the home stretch to grasp the fifth and final qualifying spot. Barber clocked a season-low 57.45, while teammate Fawn Dorr (Akron, N.Y.) recorded a career-best 57.88 to finish seventh. Although Dorr failed to finish in one of the automatic-qualifying slots, she will remain alive and have a good shot at an at-large bid, as her mark is among the top 15 in the country this season.

The Lions continue their postseason drive at the NCAA Championships, set for June 11-14, at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Penn State has qualified a total of eight athletes and one relay, with several athletes waiting in the wings for an at-large spot.

Contacts: 
Last Updated November 18, 2010