Sophomore Morgan Uceny was afraid to look back. Despite having a lead as long as a straightaway, the thought of a Tennessee sprinter coming up right behind her was enough motivation to make her run her best. But when she finished the race, Uceny and her three Cornell teammates had just become the fastest women’s 4×800-meter relay squad in the country.
The relay squad, which consisted of three seniors — Carrie Richards, Alison Koplar, and Jessica Brown — and Uceny, earned a time of 8:38.21 at the Sea Ray Relays last weekend. That time was 20 seconds faster than the second place relay squad. It smashed a Cornell record by nearly five seconds, and it broke the Ivy League record of 8:38.9, set by Yale in 1986. And it was the fastest time in the country this year.
Perhaps the most surprising part of this record was that it was the first time the quartet had run together. But to the runners, this may only be the start of something great.
“I’m actually more excited that we broke the record with so little competition,” said Uceny, who was just named the ECAC’s Division I women’s track athlete of the week.
Uceny believes the four can run faster when the competition is greater, because it will force them to focus more. For this reason, next week’s prestigious Penn Relays are the ideal venue to smash the new record.
“I just expect to break our records by even more,” Uceny said. “[At the Penn Relays] everyone will be fresh and the competition will be better.”
However, Cornell women’s head coach Lou Duesing is not willing to take another record-breaking performance for granted. There are weather conditions to deal with, people will be tired, and he warns there are always plenty of things to “mess you up.” But new record or not, there is a chance Duesing will be able to put the group together on the track in another competition this spring.
“We happen to have a very deep group, so any given weekend … you just try to put on the line the people who have done best at that point,” Duesing said. “[But] certainly, that team will run again at the Penn Relays. I was very happy with how they ran. You may have on paper fast people … but you may not have people hitting on all cylinders.”
To avoid this issue, Duesing has his athletes follow a very simple formula.
“If you go out and do the things you normally do, the time and the distance will take care of themselves,” Duesing said. “I felt pretty sure that if people ran their race, the time would happen. All I want is for people to get out, work hard, and do what they have to do.”
But, he admits, he could not have predicted how well the four have responded.
“Who knew you were going to find Morgan Uceny doing the things she has done? Carrie Richards setting a five second [personal record], Alison Koplar runs faster, Jessica Brown runs a lot faster. All these great things happen,” he said. “Carrie Richards might not have been first choice for the 4×800, but she’s had a great senior year, and has certainly earned that spot.”
Richards has steadily improved in each of her four years, achieving new personal bests every season. Duesing feels the difference this season has been her increased self-confidence, allowing her to find her true potential.
“I don’t know that we’ve had many seniors … who’ve set such significant [personal records],” he said.
Koplar has been similar to Richards in that she has improved every year.
This season, she finished second in the ECAC indoor 1000-meter run, and currently has run the second fastest 1500-meter time in the Ivy League.
“She and Carrie have been in the same workout group all four years,” Duesing said. “It’s that workout group that has given them confidence.”
As for Brown, she barely missed the NCAA Regional finals last year, Duesing felt that close call fueled her desire to improve and work this year.
“Jessica Brown has just done phenomenal things at all distances,” Duesing said. “Not a lot of people have shown that kind of range and ability.”
And then there’s Uceny. After a rocky start her freshman year, Uceny went into the fall desperately trying to break into the team.
“I was just hoping to run,” she said. “I was really focused on running the way I did in high school [again].”
By March, Uceny had gone from peripheral member of the team to the 2005 NCAA indoor track and field national championships, where she placed seventh in the nation in the 800-meter run.
“The right approach, the willingness to work hard, and boom! Just a great turnaround from the frustrations she had as a freshman,” Duesing said. “The way she did her freshman year, to have her suddenly come one the way she did is … amazing.”
The success of last weekend qualified Brown and Uceny for the NCAA Regionals in the 800-meter race, and punched a ticket for ECAC championships for Koplar in the same event. Richards also qualified for the postseason, earning a spot at ECACs in the 1500-meter.
Archived article by Josh Perlin
Sun Staff Writer