June 30, 2014
The curtain officially came down on the 2013-14 Villanova Athletics season far from campus in mid-June at the NCAA Track and Field Championship in Eugene. Ore. As six accomplished Wildcats competed in the Pacific Northwest they put the wraps on a campaign of innumerable highlights.
In fact, it's clear that 2013-14 ranks among the most successful seasons in the long and rich history of Villanova Athletics. No fewer than seven BIG EAST championships were secured - most in VU's athletic annals - and four Wildcats head coaches were recognized by their peers as Coach of the Year.
Along the way there were a long list of noteworthy honors, including three athletes who were recognized as All-Americans and a litany of other team and individual achievement.
All of it would have been impressive in an ordinary campaign. When you factor in the swirling changes that directly impacted the BIG EAST Conference the reality is that the 2013-14 season offered an extraordinary 10-month ride.
"By nearly every measure," states Director of Athletics Vince Nicastro, "2013-14 was a terrific success: academically, athletically, and from a business perspective."
When the BIG EAST announced in March of 2013 that it would re-launch its new incarnation later that fall it presented a series of logistical hurdles for the seven holdover members and three institutions arriving from other conferences (Butler, Creighton, and Xavier). The infrastructure and staff that had served the conference so well for more than three decades was no longer in place. The new conference went to work on hiring a commissioner and staff but, in the meantime, there were essential short-term issues, including scheduling and determination of championship sites, in need of immediate attention.
Athletic directors, coaches and staff from the member schools helped bridge that gap. Schedules were formulated and championships awarded. Villanova brought plenty of hosting experience, having been the home to the BIG EAST Outdoor Track and Field Championships multiple times along with other events like the 2013 BIG EAST Men's Lacrosse Championship (and the 2013 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championship).
When all was said and done, Villanova had hosted BIG EAST Championship events in Men's Soccer, Swimming & Diving, Outdoor Track & Field, Men's Lacrosse and, for good measure, the 2013 NCAA College Cup (Men's Soccer) at PPL Park.
"Hosting these events is prestigious, and adds a great deal of value to our programs," states Nicastro. "Our staff has done a phenomenal job insuring that these events are first class and that the participants have a true championship experience."< p> The overarching goal was simple: create a model championship environment that allowed athletes to excel. As it turned out, Villanova quickly moved to the front of the pack in many of these events and nationally.
The first taste of success in the new framework of the BIG EAST came on terrain where Villanova has often made its mark - in the open spaces of the cross country trails. The Villanova men locked up the BIG EAST Cross Country title in Kenosha, Wisc., on Nov. 2 as freshman Patrick Tiernan claimed the individual championship. The Wildcats' team score was the lowest recorded in its five BIG EAST cross country titles and gave it a nine point victory over runner-up Providence.
The Wildcats then followed up on that with an NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional crown on Nov. 15 in Bethlehem, Pa. Tiernan was named the Mid-Atlantic Athlete of the Year while head coach Marcus O'Sullivan was voted Mid-Atlantic Coach of the Year.
Meanwhile, the Villanova women's cross country squad also made a huge mark at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional, claiming both the team and individual titles. In fact, the race was a classic dominated by the Wildcats - seniors Emily Lipari and Nicky Akande crossed the finish line first and second overall in a dead heat, while redshirt freshman Angel Piccirillo was fourth in the field of 207 runners.
Lipari earned Mid-Atlantic Athlete of the Year honors while head coach Gina Procaccio was tabbed Mid-Atlantic Coach of the Year.
The beat would continue throughout 2013-14 for both the women and men of the Track & Field squads.
The women claimed both the BIG EAST Indoor - the 20th in their history - and Outdoor Track & Field championships and swept the Championship of America distance relay events at April's Penn Relays, giving them six in the last three seasons and 35 overall. Lipari was named a first team All-American and the Mid-Atlantic Region Athlete of the Year in the outdoor season and also earned the national championship in the mile during the indoor season. Procaccio and her staff were named the BIG EAST Coaching Staff of the Year.
The Villanova men also claimed both the BIG EAST indoor and outdoor Track & Field titles while also finishing first in the 4 x 800 Championship of America relay crown at Franklin Fields during the Penn Relays. Jordy Williamsz and Tiernan were both named first team All-Americans while O'Sullivan took home Mid-Atlantic Coach of the Year honors. Tiernan was also a first team All-American during the indoor campaign.
In February, the Villanova women grabbed the BIG EAST Swimming and Diving championship in Sewell, N.J. Eighteen Wildcats were named to the All-BIG EAST squad while Fiona Hardie was named co-winner of the Most Outstanding Swimmer award. Rick Simpson was recognized as BIG EAST Coach of the Year.
This marked the first time the Villanova women's squad had taken the Swimming & Diving title since 1996.
The VU men's basketball team established a new benchmark for regular season victories (28) while securing the program's first outright BIG EAST regular season championship since 1982. The Wildcats rose to No. 3 in the Associated Press and USA Today polls in March and were also Philadelphia Big Five champions on the strength of a 4-0 mark. James Bell was named first team All-BIG EAST and Philadelphia Big Five Player of the Year while Jay Wright was selected as Coach of the Year by both the BIG EAST and Big Five.
The Men's Lacrosse team reached the BIG EAST title game before falling to No. 2 Denver and senior John LoCascio received a host of awards, including recognition as a USILA First Team All-American, USILA Scholar All-American, Capital One Academic All-American, the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year and the Philadelphia Inquirer Men's Lacrosse Player of the Year.
In addition, head football coach Andy Talley became just the 37th coach in all divisions of college football to record 200 victories at one institution when the Wildcats downed Penn 35-6 in September for his 200th triumph at VU. An epic rally in the season finale from 23 points down against archrival Delaware at PPL Park lifted Villanova to its 22nd winning season under Talley's stewardship.
This kind of a banner campaign would be celebrated at any time or in any era. But it was an especially important point as Villanova and its BIG EAST brethren embark on a new path.
"It was crucial for us to get off to a fast start in the new Big East configuration," notes Nicastro. "With seven Big East team championships, we made great progress toward achieving our objective of being the premier overall program in the conference."
In keeping with its long history of academic achievement here, there was ample success to point to in the classroom. The overall grade point average for the entire Villanova student-athlete population over the course of '13-14 was 3.174 and there were two exceptional academic honors. Track & Field standout Samuel Ellison, part of the winning Championship of America Relay unit, received a prestigious Fullbright Scholarship to continue his education at the University of Birmingham in England. Jessica Wamala, who was part of a women's basketball unit that posted a 23-9 mark and advanced to the second round of the WNIT, is also off to England as the recipient of a prized Rhodes Scholarship.
"Of course, the academic achievement of our student-athletes remains a priority for us," states Nicastro. "This year was exceptional in that regard, as our team GPAs, academic progress rates, and graduation success metrics illustrate. We are also very proud of having Fulbright and Rhodes Scholars this past year."
"As always, we are most proud of the ability of our student athletes to achieve at the national level in competition while doing the same in their academic pursuits. Their commitment to our mission is remarkable."
No matter how you dissect it, the campaign just which concluded in Oregon will go down as one of the most accomplished here in Villanova.