STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - The race for a BIG EAST title came down to the very last event of the meet and the Villanova women’s track & field team won its record 15th conference championship with the type of gritty performance that so many of its previous titles have come from. Six event titles, including a sweep of the relays for a second straight year, and 1-2-3 dominance in both the 800 meters and the Mile helped the Wildcats score 152 team points and edge Marquette by four points for the BIG EAST crown.
Senior middle distance runner Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (Dublin, Ireland) shared Most Outstanding Performer honors for the track events with Maya Stephens of St. John’s after setting a meet record in the 800 meters and anchoring the 4x400 meter relay which clinched the team title. Head coach Gina Procaccio and the rest of her staff were voted the BIG EAST Coaching Staff of the Year. Procaccio is now an 11-time BIG EAST Coach of the Year, with two of those honors coming already this year after conference championships in women’s cross country and now indoor track & field.
Cleirigh Buttner crossed the finish line in the 800 meters in 2:03.89 and broke the four-year old meet record of 2:04.85 by nearly a full second. It is also a season-best time for Cleirigh Buttner, who began the weekend already ranked eighth on the national performance list in the 800 meters this season. Freshman Rachel McArthur (Bristow, Va.) and sixth-year senior Kelsey Margey (Huntington, N.Y.) finished second and third to complete the podium sweep, while senior Rebecca Del Rossi (Canton, N.Y.) was eighth.
Villanova also swept the top three spots in the Mile, with junior Nicole Hutchinson (West Vancouver, B.C.) leading wire-to-wire to win the BIG EAST title. Junior Kaley Ciluffo (LeClaire, Iowa) was second and freshman Lauren Ryan (South Yarra, Australia) third, while freshman Alex Harris (Stony Point, N.Y.) came in seventh to give the Wildcats four scorers in the race.
The quartet of Hutchinson, Ciluffo, Margey and McArthur turned in a sensational performance in the 4x800 relay. They combined for a time of 8:44.25 and won the race by a gap of more than 13 seconds over runner-up Georgetown and the rest of the eight-team field. Villanova took the lead for good in the 4x400 relay during the third leg of the race and won with a lineup that include the sophomore trio of Danielle Burns (Phoenix, Ariz.), McKenna Keegan (West Grove, Pa.) and Amari Onque-Shabazz (Plainfield, N.J.) running in front of Cleirigh Buttner on the anchor leg.
Sophomore sprinter Trudy-Ann Williamson (Kingston, Jamaica) combined her first career BIG EAST title with breaking her own school record in the 60 meters. She surged across the finish line in 7.37 to eclipse the mark of 7.41 she had set as a freshman last season. Williamson powered down the infield straightaway to win the race by nearly a quarter of a second.
Taking home the BIG EAST trophy was the product of a true team effort, and there were big results for the Wildcats on Saturday in the 400 meters and the 60 meter hurdles among other events. Keegan came in second in the 400 meters with a time of 55.17 to tally her best career individual BIG EAST finish. She ran in the first section of the two-section final and put up the time to beat before dropping to second after the next section. Burns made a big push near the finish line of the hurdles to finish second in a personal best time of 8.63.
Villanova also had two scorers in the 3000 meters, with sophomores Bella Burda (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.) and Ann Campbell (Mission Hills, Kan.) finishing fourth and eighth, respectively. Burda recorded a time of 9:31.92 after coming in third in the 5000 meters a day earlier, while Campbell had a time of 9:48.63.
Rounding out the team’s scorers for the day was the trio of sophomore Katie Ciccarone (Freehold, N.J.), senior Courtney Caldwell (Trenton, N.J.) and sophomore Gloria Donou (East Brunswick, N.J.) in the triple jump. Ciccarone led the group with a sixth place finish and a jump of 11.18 meters, while Caldwell was seventh (11.12m) and Donou third (10.94m).