Feb. 22, 2014
NEW YORK - On a night that will long be remembered as a special one in Villanova history the women's indoor track & field squad won the team title at the BIG EAST Championships for the 12th time in program history. Head coach Gina Procaccio and her staff were named the conference Coaching Staff of the Year and the Wildcats won six different events during the conference meet. Senior distance runner Emily Lipari (Greenvale, N.Y.) was named the meet's Most Outstanding Track Performer for the second straight year.
The six event titles Villanova won included three individual running events, one relay and two field events. Lipari won the championship in the 1000 meters for the third straight year and also anchored the winning 4x800 meter relay. Sophomore Angel Piccirillo (Homer City, Pa.) captured the Mile title and was also a part of the 4x800 relay squad along with junior Stephanie Schappert (Delray Beach, Fla.) and senior Nicky Akande (Lawrenceville, Ga.).
Junior Emerald Walden (Lafayette Hill, Pa.) was the champion of the 60 meter hurdles, junior Alexandra Wasik (Medina, Ohio) won the pole vault and sophomore Anne Yahiro (Downers Grove, Ill.) captured the title in the triple jump.
"It took a true team effort to win it," Procaccio said. "That is what the whole team had been talking about coming into it and I am really happy for them that they pulled it off."
As the meet unfolded the true team effort that Procaccio spoke of could be seen in each and every performance by the Wildcats athletes. Their individual efforts could not have been more crucial to the team's outcome. Villanova won the championship by a mere 2.5 points over Georgetown, scoring 159.5 total points to the Hoyas runner-up total of 157 points. It is the fifth time in the 32-year history of the BIG EAST meet that the team title has been determined by fewer than three points.
The day began with the Wildcats out in front in the team standings after Wasik won the pole vault on Friday afternoon. Villanova also got big points on the opening day of the meet from runner-up finishes in the distance medley relay and the pentathlon.
For the majority of the evening on Saturday the Wildcats point total was holding up as the score to beat. At the conclusion of the 3000 meters however, Villanova trailed Georgetown by 10 points with only the 4x800 meter relay and 4x400 relay remaining. Simultaneously, the high jump competition had just ended and the Wildcats awaited official word on the scoring in that event.
When the dust settled Villanova had racked up 12.5 points from three scorers in the high jump. Within minutes the Wildcats had added the 4x800 relay title and led by 6.5 points. Villanova needed at least a tie for fifth place in the 4x400 relay to clinch the title. It finished fifth on a night where things had a way of working out.
Akande took the baton for the third leg of the 4x800 relay with Villanova trailing in the race. Due to a mistake in the contesting of the relay the runners from each team in the third leg of the race missed a lap and circled the track only three times instead of four. That was still enough time for Akande to make up ground and put Lipari in a position to deliver the victory.
"If Nicky didn't catch the Georgetown girl as quickly as she did we probably don't win the race," Procaccio said. "That could have been really bad in the final team results. I was yelling `no option' to the 4x800 runners because we absolutely had to win that relay in order to get the team title."
Senior Samantha Yeats (Califon, N.J.) cleared a height of 1.70 meters in the high jump to finish in second place out of 10 entries in the event. Senior Victoria Profit (Nissequogue, N.Y.) placed sixth (1.55m) and sophomore Virginia LaMacchia (Bloomsburg, Pa.) tied for seventh (1.50m). Yeats and Profit are veterans at BIG EAST competitions, while LaMacchia competed in the high jump at the collegiate level for the first time. Her points were of great value towards the team total.
"Virginia went to [jumps coach] Talen Singer and told him that she did the high jump in high school," Procaccio said. "She saw the opportunity to enter and she wanted to do it. That's amazing stuff."
Lipari added to her already impressive list of career superlatives. She is the sixth Villanova runner to win the same event indoors in three different years after successfully defending her 1000 meters title. She now has seven indoor conference titles between individual events and relays. Only eight women in BIG EAST history have reached that total. Five of the eight are Villanovans. Lipari is also the first in 20 years to repeat as the Most Outstanding Track Performer. Her winning time of 2:43.69 in Saturday night's race is a personal best and a new meet record.
The race in the Mile looked to come down to one of three potential winners. Piccirillo crossed the finish line with a winning time of 5:01.87 and narrowly held off Andrea Keklak of Georgetown (5:02.19) and Schappert (5:02.20), with the Wildcats picking up 16 team points from the race. Piccirillo garnered her first individual conference crown and Schappert is now a nine-time All-BIG EAST performer.
Walden is also a first-time individual conference champion. Like the 1000 meters and the Mile, the 60 meter hurdles was a finals-only event. Walden registered a winning time of 8.58 with her fastest race of the season. Freshman Danielle Wheatley (Greenbelt, Md.) came in fifth with a time of 9.13 after finishing as the runner-up in the pentathlon on Friday morning.
Villanova got 19 points out of the triple jump. Yahiro was the only one of the 10 competitors to clear 12 meters and she registered a mark of 12.07 meters to win her first career individual conference crown. Profit (11.82m) and junior Kathleen McPhillips (Carlisle, Pa.), who had a mark of 11.49 meters, each came up with personal best performances to place fourth and fifth, respectively. McPhillips typically competes in the pole vault but quickly made the most of an opportunity to help the team in another event. She previously had triple jump experience from high school but had only competed in the pole vault and long jump as a collegiate athlete.
The 4x400 meter relay team consisted of junior Varonica Johnson (Charlotte, N.C.), sophomore Kelsey Margey (Huntington, N.Y.), Walden and sophomore Michaela Wilkins (Ellicott City, Md.). They posted a time of 3:48.29 to finish fifth overall. Villanova trailed fourth place Marquette by a mere hundredth of a second but was more than 10 seconds ahead of sixth place Butler.
Margey and Akande had huge performances in the finals of the 800 meters. They placed second (2:05.43) and third (2:05.77), respectively, with each of thsoe times now ranking in the top 16 in the nation.
Earlier in the evening Johnson came in fifth in the finals of the 60 meters with a time of 7.64. She and Walden finished third (24.23) and ninth (25.74), respectively, in the 200 meters. Wilkins placed eighth in the 400 meters (57.66) and senior Mary Bohi (Shamong, N.J.) was eighth in the 500 meters (1:17.19).
Villanova will return to action next weekend. With the conference championships completed the team will now have its eye on the NCAA Championships which take place in the middle of March.
COMPLETE VILLANOVA RESULTS
Varonica Johnson 5th of 9 7.64
60 Meter Hurdles
Emerald Walden 1st of 9 8.58 Danielle Wheatley 5th 9.21
Varonica Johnson 3rd of 9 24.23 Emerald Walden 9th 25.74
Michaela Wilkins 8th 57.66
Mary Bohi 8th of 9 1:17.19 Veronica Scott 9th 1:19.63
Kelsey Margey 2nd of 9 2:05.43 Nicky Akande 3rd 2:05.77
Emily Lipari 1st of 10 2:43.69
Angel Piccirillo 1st of 7 5:01.87 Stephanie Schappert 3rd 5:02.20
Caitlin Bungo 10th of 18 9:45.42
4x400 Meter Relay
Villanova 5th of 8 3:48.29 Varonica Johnson Kelsey Margey Emerald Walden Michaela Wilkins
4x800 Meter Relay
Villanova 1st of 8 7:57.01 (1 lap short) Stephanie Schappert Angel Piccirillo Nicky Akande Emily Lipari
Samantha Yeats 2nd of 8 1.70m Victoria Profit 6th 1.55m Virginia LaMacchia tie-7th 1.50m
Anne Yahiro 1st of 10 12.07m Victoria Profit 4th 11.82m Kathleen McPhillips 5th 11.49m
Alita Ostapkovich 9th of 12 11.44m Krisen Erickson 12th 10.54m