WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - A solid race from start to finish and one final lean at the finish line added up to a third place finish for Villanova in the distance medley relay at the UCS Invitational on Friday night. A lineup that consisted of graduate student Ben Malone (River Vale, N.J.), freshman Brian Faust (Stone Mountain, Ga.), junior Harry Purcell (Dublin, Ireland) and sophomore Logan Wetzel (Saline, Mich.) posted a time of 9:37.30 on the JDL Fast Track.
That mark converts to 9:29.56 due to the flat surface and tentatively put the Wildcats into third place on the NCAA qualifying list pending the results of other meets around the country. The top 12 declared teams for next month’s national championships earn a berth to the meet based on the descending order qualifying list. Villanova finished behind Georgetown and Ole Miss in a close race on Friday night, while Brown came in fourth in a scramble for the finish line.
It was a six-team race with 400 meters left on the anchor leg. Wetzel had been comfortably in second place until then, nipping at the heels of Arkansas, and it stayed that way until the start of the bell lap. The jockeying for position started in earnest at the sound of the bell, with Wetzel passing Arkansas to take the lead early in that final lap. Georgetown moved to the outside just before the bell to try and make a move for the lead, and Hoyas anchor Amos Bartelsmeyer wound up passing Wetzel with 75 meters to go.
There was still plenty of movement in the ranks approaching the finish line. Ole Miss moved into second place ahead of Wetzel on the final straightaway, with the anchor from Brown also appearing to move in front of him nearing the finish line. Wetzel had one last push however, and a lean across the finish line enabled him to hang on for a third place finish. Ole Miss, Villanova and Brown were separated by less than four-tenths of a second at the finish line.
Georgetown won the race in 9:36.54, followed by Ole Miss (9:37.27), the Wildcats (9:37.30) and Brown (9:37.64). The official splits for Villanova were 2:57.22 over 1200 meters for Malone, 47.49 for Faust on the 400 meter leg, 1:49.57 over 800 meters for Purcell, and 4:03.03 for Wetzel on the 1600 meter anchor leg.
On the first leg of the race, Malone was initially towards the back of the pack after the nine competing teams made up the stagger on the first lap. The race was mostly single-file after the first 400 meters, with a team from Virginia in front followed by Arkansas. Malone moved through the pack with less than 400 meters left before the first handoff, with Arkansas in the lead and separating from the pack after one of the two Virginia squads dropped out. One lap before the handoff, Malone moved into third place and was just behind Ole Miss when Faust got the baton.
The first lap of the 400 meter leg started off with Faust and the second runner from Ole Miss sprinting virtually even with each other while in pursuit of front-running Arkansas. Faust solidified his position in second place on his second lap around the track and was still in second at the second exchange.
Purcell used his 400 meter speed to quickly narrow the gap with Arkansas at the start of the 800 meter leg. He was only a couple of strides off the lead after one lap and settled in at a steady but honest pace for the next two laps. He took the lead with 200 meters to go and gradually put some distance between himself and Arkansas approaching the final handoff. By then the entire chase pack was starting to catch up to the leaders, and Purcell had a lead of no more than a few paces going into the anchor leg.
The first 600 meters of the anchor leg saw Wetzel maintain the lead at a steady pace, but Arkansas took the lead with five laps to go. The race was back to single-file with 800 meters remaining, although seven teams were still in contention with four laps left. Six teams were in it with two laps to go, setting up the dash for the finish that was to come.
Friday night’s race was the only event on the Wildcats schedule this weekend. Villanova is preparing for the BIG EAST Championships this coming Friday and Saturday (February 23-24) at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island. The conference meet will air live on BEDN.