Gopher women set world season best in 3,200m relay

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Minnesota ran the fastest women's 3,200-meter relay in the world this year, highlighting Friday's session of the 98th Drake Relays.

The Gophers finished in 8 minutes, 27.42 seconds, setting a meet record on the strength of Heather Dorniden's anchor leg of 2:04.7. Minnesota beat this year's previous best, set by Tennessee, by nearly eight seconds. Baylor was second in 8:28.48.

"We wanted to go out there and show everybody how strong Minnesota really is," Minnesota's Julie Schwenger said. "We are a force that is going to be here for a while, and we are just getting started."

The Gophers also won the distance medley in one of the day's most dramatic finishes. Anchor Emily Brown was the star of that race, coming from behind to catch Baylor's Nichole Jones with 50 meters left to give Minnesota the title in 11:08.16.

Minnesota and Baylor, which finished in 11:08.88, posted the second- and third-fastest times in the nation this year in the outdoor distance medley -- and both beat Tennessee's winning time at the Penn Relays.

Ironically, Volunteers coach J.J. Clark said after his team's distance medley win over Villanova that he considered that race to be for the outdoor national championship. Looks like he forgot about two teams running in Des Moines.

"If I have to give the baton to anybody, it would be Emily Brown," Minnesota's Ayla Mitchell said. "She has more guts than anybody I know."

On the men's side, Northern Iowa won the 3,200 relay in 7:19.74 -- the second-fastest time in the United States this year. Southern California ran a 7:18.43 at the Texas Relays three weeks ago.

Notre Dame won the men's 6,400 relay for the fourth time in six years. The Fighting Irish blew away the field, winning by almost 17 seconds over Missouri.

Notre Dame came into the race hoping that third leg Jake Watson, one of the strongest runners the Irish have, would provide enough breathing room for anchor Kurt Benninger to cruise to the win.

That's exactly what happened, as Watson ran a blistering 4:01.85.

"We didn't want to leave too much to chance," said Benninger. "With Jake running third, there's no one on that leg that was going to be able to stay with him."

Emporia State's Andy Vogelsberg won the university/college javelin for the third straight year, tossing 229 feet, 8 inches. Alex van der Merwe finished second in 224-8, losing the top spot on Vogelsberg's final throw.

"I knew I had a chance, but there were some really good throwers," said Vogelsberg. "It usually doesn't take me five throws to figure it out, but it did. I just needed one."

Louisville's Tone Belt, this year's NCAA indoor champion in the long jump, won his event with a leap of 25 feet, 3¼ inches.

He acknowledged that, initially, he would have rather competed at the Penn Relays. But Belt said he was won over by Drake's enthusiastic crowd.

"We were going to Drake because the 2008 nationals will be here. But with the crowd and stuff, I like Drake a little bit better that Penn," Belt said.

The Arkansas women won the 800 relay in 1:33.23, and Baylor won the men's in 1:21.65.

Friday also brought something the meet hasn't seen in a while: sunshine. The final two days of the 2006 meet and the opening two days of this year's Relays were held under rainy skies, biting wind and chilly temperatures.

Though the sun disappeared behind the clouds early in the afternoon, it was in the 60s for most of Friday's session, with hardly any wind in sight.

The Relays conclude Saturday with Jeremy Wariner, Alan Webb, Amy Acuff, Lolo Jones and 2006 most outstanding performer Christian Cantwell among those scheduled to compete.

Wariner, who won a pair of golds in Athens in 2004, will run the 200. Webb will run the mile, where many think he'll challenge the meet record of 3:55.26 set in 1979. Acuff will shoot for her fourth straight win in the high jump, while Jones will try to defend her title in the 100-meter hurdles. Cantwell set the meet record in the shot put last year, with a winning mark of 72-6¼.

Officials expect Saturday's session to be sold out for the 42nd year in a row.