March 8, 2013
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Strong splits by each of the team's four runners enabled Villanova to beat its seed and finish in fifth place in the distance medley relay at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships at Randal Tyson Track on Friday night. Entering the race the Wildcats had the ninth-fastest time in the nation but wound up placing four spots higher with an excellent performance at the national meet.
Villanova fielded a lineup that included freshman Jordy Williamsz (Melbourne, Australia), junior Samuel Ellison (Dresher, Pa.), junior Chris Fitzsimons (Hamden, Conn.) and sophomore Sam McEntee (Perth, Australia) and that quartet finished with a time of 9:35.46 in a very physical race. The sixth and seventh place teams each finished within one-tenth of a second of the Wildcats and McEntee pressed hard in the final 25 meters to give Villanova as high a finish as possible.
By the time the race was in its final paces McEntee had already withstood a potentially scary pile up with less than 600 meters remaining. He was in sixth place at that point in the race and began to make a push for the front-runners when he was caught in a crowd in the middle of the pack. There was a great deal of jostling for position and McEntee twice appeared to stumble but never lost his balance while staying within striking distance of the leaders.
That same battle for positioning with about 500 meters to go led to a dropped baton by Arkansas and was at least partially responsible for a gap in the final team standings between the first seven teams and the final five finishers. McEntee was in seventh place when the bell sounded but closed strong during the final lap around the 200-meter track. He wound up with a split of 4:02.83 for his 1600 meters anchor leg.
When the final leg of the race started the pace was slow and opened up the field of contenders to as many as six teams. During the first three legs of the relay the Wildcats generally stayed somewhere between second and fourth place. McEntee was in fifth or sixth during his first 800 meters but remained within striking distance of the lead that entire time as the chase pack swelled around him.
McEntee took the baton in fourth place after FitzSimons produced an 800 meters split of 1:50.03 in the third leg of the relay. That leg started with Penn State in the lead, while Minnesota and Villanova were nearly even in second and third place, respectively. Princeton moved into third place with 300 meters left in the third leg of the race and FitzSimons did a good job to hold on to no worse than fourth place when he handed the baton off.
The race opened with Williamsz moving up to the front of the pack during the first two laps of his 1200 meters opening leg. He was up front with Penn State until Oklahoma State leadoff man Kirubel Erassa passed him at the 1000 meters mark. Williamsz ran him down and took a brief lead during the final lap before handing the baton off to Ellison with Penn State, Minnesota and the Wildcats still occupying the first three positions.
Ellison had a split of 46.89 for his 400 meters leg and handed off to FitzSimons with Villanova in excellent position. During his first lap around the track Ellison had to hang on to third place with several teams chasing but for his final 200 meters he closed the gap between himself and the runners from Penn State and Minnesota before FitzSimons took over with the Wildcats in second place.
Villanova had the same lineup for tonight's race as it did last week when it punched its ticket to the national championships with a time of 9:30.47 at the Alex Wilson Invitational. Prior to that meet Williamsz had anchored the Wildcats to a BIG EAST title in the DMR last month, while Ellison was part of the Villanova lineup for the DMR at the indoor NCAA meet last season.
Earlier in the evening Ellison ran individually in the semifinal heats of the 800 meters and came in seventh in his heat with a time of 1:49.22. Running in the first of two heats, Ellison opened with a 27.14 split for the first 200 meters and closed the race in 54.53 over the final 400 meters.
In the semifinal heats of the Mile redshirt freshman Rob Denault (Aurora, Ont.) recorded a time of 4:04.29 and finished seventh in his heat. Denault ran in the second of two heats and the pace did not pick up until the second half of the race. Denault ran a 57.5 split over the final 400 meters but was in sixth place midway through the race and never moved up to higher than fifth over the final 800 meters.