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Penn Relays begins track season's home stretch

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Allison Peare (Photo by Shawn Price) Allison Peare (Photo by Shawn Price)
Even with the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Championships still to come, the Kentucky track and field teams can expect to compete in front of the biggest crowds they will see this season at this weekend's University of Pennsylvania Relay Carnival.

With over 100,000 fans annually in attendance over the duration of the week-long Penn Relays -- including an expected crowd more than 40,000 on Saturday -- the Penn Relays is arguably the most visible meet in collegiate track and field, although the championship meets are plenty prestigious.

So even with four weeks remaining till the start of the track and field postseason, the Penn Relays will mark the start of the home stretch for Kentucky's 2014 season.

As such, the meet will serve as a major benchmark for the Wildcats.

"The Penn Relays is a big-time event with big-time crowds," head coach Edrick Floreal said. "It truly is a track and field carnival unlike anything else. It's organized chaos. We go into this meet hoping its very competitive field as well as huge crowds and fast pace help prepare our team for what's to come in future weeks."

The organized chaos Floreal refers to is mostly a result of just how many athletes compete at the Penn Relays. There are entries from 1,020 high schools and 252 colleges, meaning not a minute is wasted in the meet schedule and as a result the positioning of runners to be in place for the start of races is intense.

But the UK coaching staff is hopeful the hectic atmosphere can help prepare the Wildcats to handle plenty of distractions when the time comes to race.

Six of the top 10 teams in the nation will compete at the Penn Relays, providing a similar level of competition to the 10 top-25 men's teams and eight top-25 women's teams in the SEC that will compete at the Conference Championships, hosted by UK in mid-May.

Relay Contenders

The main draw among collegiate races at the Penn Relays are the "Championship of America" relay races, from which the winners receive the famed Penn Relays wagon wheels.

Kentucky has won two Collegiate Championship of American wagon wheels all-time, but not since the 1996 men's sprint medley relay. The Wildcats won the woman's DMR in 1986.

This year the Wildcats boast their best chance in years to claim a Wagon Wheel from multiple relays.

Arguably their best chance will be in the women's sprint medley relay (Friday, 6:05 p.m. ET), where the Wildcats are the top seed after running an NCAA-leading 3:43.20 at the Florida Relays earlier this month.

The sixth-ranked Wildcat women's team also boasts top-10 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams, meaning they can be expected to field solid lineups in each of  those events in addition to the 4x200m relay.

The UK men's team will also field some intriguing distance relay squads with entries in both the DMR, where they finished fifth at the SEC Indoor Championships last month and the 4xmile relay, which will be televised Saturday afternoon on NBCSN.

The Penn Relays will also include some intriguing individual events, including two-time SEC Champion Cally Macumber's 5,000-meter season debut (Thursday, 8:40 p.m. ET) and two national top-25 100m hurdlers in Kayla Parker and Leah Nugent (Friday, 4 p.m. ET).

Kentucky will also have throwers competing at UC San Diego's Triton Invitational and multiple competitors at the Bellarmine Classic this weekend.

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