In any sport, at any level of competition, there is always that one moment when everything goes according to plan.
First-year coach Elvis Forde is the man behind that plan, the plan to showcase Temple in the spotlight at the final day of the 121st annual Penn Relays.
Saturday typically draws the largest crowd of the competition, due largely in part to the “USA vs. The World” events that feature Olympic athletes from around the globe.
“I wanted to address the kids before they went out there and said, ‘Look at the stadium. Let’s do something special and create a memory that you will remember,’” Forde said.
The day began with Blanca Fernandez having her own moment in the spotlight when she placed fourth overall in the women’s Olympic development mile with her time of 4 minutes, 39.88 seconds. Fernandez was the top collegiate finisher in the race.
Fernandez’s mark broke the previous Temple record of 5:05 set in 1982 by Nancy Deneka. Fernandez was also part of Friday’s record-breaking sprint-medley team along with sophomores Bionca St. Fleur, Jimmia McCluskey and Kenya Gaston.
This weekend’s Penn Relays marked Fernandez’ first as a runner, and she said Saturday’s turnout marked the largest crowd she has ever experienced.
“I am happy to be here, but at the same time I think this is so big for me, [so] I was confused,” Fernandez said. “During the race, I thought the pace was faster than it really was. Everybody was shouting so much that I thought I was flying.”
The final event of the evening for the Owls was the women’s ECAC 4×400-meter championship, which featured the team of seniors Hollis Coleman and Kiersten LaRoche, junior Demeshia Davis and sophomore Kenya Gaston.
Davis was part of the 4×200-meter team that was disqualified from the event on Friday, and she said she was ready to seek redemption prior to Saturday’s race.
After the first two legs, Temple crept closer to the front of the pack. It was then up to the Owls’ anchor in Gaston to bring the Owls out in front.
“Demeshia got me in third, [and] when I started running I realized I wasn’t as far away as I thought I was,” Gaston said. “I passed one girl and [I knew] I had to keep going.”
A member of Friday’s record-breaking SMR team, Gaston sealed the deal for the Owls with a 54.14 individual split, bringing the Owls to gold with a time of 3 minutes, 42.75 seconds.
LaRoche, one of two departing seniors on the relay, praised Gaston on her abilities to pull her weight despite being the youngest of the foursome.
“We had to run for each other, so we just went out there and did it,” LaRoche said. “[Kenya] has been working hard. She split 55 yesterday and we knew she would come out today and do the same thing. She runs with her heart, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Having secured her victory, Davis got a moment she won’t soon forget after she stood atop the winner’s podium.
As the rest of her supporting teammates stormed the field to celebrate, someone handed Davis a cell phone with Temple alumnus and former Temple Board of Trustee member Bill Cosby on the other end, waiting to congratulate her and her teammates on their win.
This was when the tears began to flow.
“I was just crying the whole time,” Davis said. “My senior year of high school we actually won Penn Relays with our 4×100, and he was here so we got to see him and it was amazing. He’s a Temple alum and everything so that was pretty cool.”
With multiple records broken in the three days of competition, Forde reflected on his first Penn Relays since competing back in 1982.
“I don’t know when is the last time that Temple had anybody compete on Saturday of this meet,” Forde said. “My expectation is that our kids who competed today realize what a special place it is.”
The Owls will travel to Ithaca, New York on May 2 to compete in the Cornell Invitational, Temple’s last competition before the American Athletic Conference Championships, which will start on May 14.
Tyler DeVice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_device.