WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Junior anchor Nicole Hutchinson (West Vancouver, B.C.) decisively pulled away from the pack in the final 400 meters of the distance medley relay on Friday night and helped lead Villanova to a first place finish with a time of 11:13.65 in the UCS Invitational. That time converts to a mark of 11:06.51 since the race was run on the JDL Fast Track -- a flat surface -- which tentatively moves the Wildcats up to sixth on this year's current NCAA qualifying list pending the results of other meets this weekend. The top 12 declared teams for next month's NCAA Championships earn a berth in the meet based on the descending order qualifying list.
Villanova won with a lineup that included junior Kaley Ciluffo (LeClaire, Iowa), sophomore McKenna Keegan (West Grove, Pa.) and sixth-year senior Kelsey Margey (Huntington, N.Y.) on the first three legs ahead of Hutchinson. The race was back-and-forth throughout before turning into a duel between the Wildcats and North Carolina with 500 meters remaining on the anchor leg. Hutchinson took the lead for good with 400 meters left and started to widen the gap between herself and the Tar Heels anchor approaching the bell. She wound up with a four-second margin of victory at the finish line.
Ciluffo led off with the 1200 meter leg and tucked in behind a runner from Furman after the first lap. She settled in on the rail at the head of the chase pack behind Furman until Penn surged into first place with 200 meters remaining before the first handoff. Georgetown moved into second place on that final lap and Ciluffo gave the baton to Keegan with Villanova in third place.
The second leg started off with Penn, Georgetown and the Wildcats all fighting hard to maintain their positions heading into the back straight. Keegan stood her ground until being passed by North Carolina with less than 50 meters before the handoff for the third leg. The top four teams were separates by just a few strides going into the 800 meter leg.
Margey got the baton in fourth place but quickly made up ground and pulled virtually even with Georgetown for second place on her first lap around the track. She was securely in second place with 250 meters to go, with Penn still in the lead and North Carolina passing Georgetown to move into third place. The runner from North Carolina passed Margey and took the lead from Penn just steps before the final handoff.
By the time the anchors made their way around the track for the first time it was a nearly even race between the top four teams. Hutchinson slid towards the rail after 300 meters, with North Carolina in front as the teams went single-file. With just over three laps to go, Hutchinson and Tar Heels anchor Caroline Alcorta separated from the pack and put a sizable gap between themselves and the anchors from Georgetown and Penn.
The final times in the race included the Wildcats winning in 11:13.65, followed by North Carolina (11:17.78), Penn (11:19.95) and Georgetown (11:25.49). Villanova's official splits were 3:29.35 for Ciluffo, 55.78 for Keegan, 2:08.67 for Margey and 4:39.86 for Hutchinson.
Friday night's race was the lone event on the schedule for the Wildcats this weekend. The team 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 championships will air live on BEDN.