Wildcats Capture Third Straight Championship of America Title in Distance Medley Relay
April 24, 2014
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - There were less than 200 meters left on the anchor leg of the Championship of America distance medley relay and senior Emily Lipari (Greenvale, N.Y.) was right where she needed to be. Lipari delivered Villanova to its third consecutive victory in the DMR at the Penn Relays on Thursday evening with her typically strong closing kick. She took the lead from Stanford anchor Aisling Cuffe on the final straightaway and the Wildcats registered a winning time of 10:57.35 to hold off the Cardinal and the rest of the field.
The race leading up to Lipari was perfectly executed by Villanova. Junior Stephanie Schappert (Delray Beach, Fla.) led off with the 1200 meters opening leg, sophomore Michaela Wilkins (Ellicott City, Md.) followed with a strong finish on the 400 meters leg and senior Nicky Akande (Lawrenceville, Ga.) ran an excellent 800 meters. Wilkins was a part of the winning relay for the second straight year, while Akande and Lipari have each been a part of three straight victories.
"It was a nice déjà vu," Villanova head coach Gina Procaccio said. "This is the relay that I was the most worried about because it is the most prestigious. If you had to pick one of the three distance relays the DMR is the one I would want to win."
By the time the relay reached the 1600 meters anchor leg the quartet of Stanford, Villanova, Oregon and Georgetown had noticeably separated from the rest of the pack. Cuffe had the lead with Lipari in second for the majority of their leg, with Oregon and Georgetown nipping at their heels. Cuffe and Lipari pulled away early in the bell lap and turned the final 400 meters into a two-team race.
"The field was really loaded this year," Procaccio said. "I just tell [the Villanova runners] that this is our turf. It doesn't matter what anybody else does, this is our turf and they all know how to win at Penn and have done it before."
It appeared that Lipari was starting to lose ground with 300 meters to go and at the 200 meters mark it looked like Cuffe would have a chance to pull away. Lipari was just kicking into gear however, and she ran down her former high school rival at the beginning of the last straightaway. Lipari had a split of 4:33.45 over the final 1600 meters and finished 0.29 seconds ahead of Cuffe at the finish line.
"I was pretty relaxed with 400 meters to go but it wasn't until the final straight that I felt confident that I had it. The girls in front of me were so tough and it would have been a shame if I didn't come with that same toughness. Aisling has incredible range and she got me at cross country in the fall so I was hungry for it this time around."
Schappert ran the opening leg of the relay in 3:25.00 and was in second place when she handed off the baton.
"For the leadoff leg I was just thinking that my job was to hand it off with us as close to the lead as I could to set up for the other legs of the race," Schappert said.
Wilkins had a 400 meters split of 54.40 and made up ground during the second half of her lap around the track. She was in fourth place when she handed off to Akande, who quickly continued the Wildcats surge in the first 100 meters that she ran. Akande had a split of 2:04.51 on the 800 meters leg and felt good when Lipari took over.
"My job is to be as close to the lead as possible when I give Emily the baton," Akande said. "When I handed off I could see the leader and we were right there. I was confident because I know that Emily has such a great kick. At the end of the anchor leg I knew that she had it with 200 meters to go. I know Emily and the way that she runs so well. Once her arms get going I know she is making her kick."
Villanova extended its all-time record by winning the Championship of America title in the DMR for the 13th time. No other school has won more than five titles in the race and this is the second time that the Wildcats have had a streak of at least three straight victories. Villanova won the DMR title five straight years from 1987-91, with Procaccio running the leadoff leg of the 1987 team which started that streak.
"We aren't phased by the prestige of the DMR because that is what the Villanova legacy is all about," Procaccio said. "Our legacy is about the Penn Relays and it is about the DMR. That is what our athletes sign up for and for the past three years we have had the right combination to be able to get it done."
The day started off successfully for Villanova with a runner-up finish for senior Samantha Yeats (Califon, N.J.) in the College section of the high jump. Yeats, Emma Siuciak of Buffalo and Kaitlin Whitehorn of Dartmouth all cleared the bar at 1.72 meters and Siuciak won the section based on clearing her initial height of 1.68 meters on the first try. Yeats opened up at 1.64 meters and cleared the bar on her first try, then was successful at 1.68 meters on her third attempt.
Also on Thursday morning was the College section of the pole vault, in which junior Kathleen McPhillips (Carlisle, Pa.), sophomore Abigail Nolte (Branchburg, N.J.) and graduate student Bianca Reo (Parsippany, N.J.) all recorded heights of 3.50 meters. Strong winds at Franklin Field wreaked havoc on the field events early in the day. McPhillips tied for a 13th place finish, while Nolte was 16th and Reo 17th in the field.
Junior Alexandra Wasik (Medina, Ohio) competed in the Championship section of the pole vault and finished eighth with a height of 3.90 meters.
The first race of the day for the Wildcats was the 4x100 meter relay, in which Villanova registered a time of 47.66 and placed sixth in its heat. The time was a season-best for the Wildcats, who had a lineup that included freshman Ekiah Lewis (San Bernardino, Calif.), freshman Kalissa Caesar (Port Jervis, N.Y.), freshman Emma Biggs (Amherst, Mass.) and junior Emerald Walden (Lafayette Hill, Pa.).
Freshman Julie Williams (Newark, Del.) closed out the night for the Wildcats by running in the Championship section of the 3000 meters. She finished 23rd overall with a time of 9:57.94.
Villanova 45th of 100 47.66 (6th of 8, Heat 2) Ekiah Lewis Kalissa Caesar Emma Biggs Emerald Walden
Distance Medley Relay (Championship of America)
Villanova 1st of 14 10:57.34 Stephanie Schappert 1200 Meters 3:25.00 Michaela Wilkins 400 Meters 54.40 Nicky Akande 800 Meters 2:04.51 Emily Lipari 1600 Meters 4:33.45
3000 Meters (Championship Section)
Julie Williams 23rd of 25 9:57.94