April 25, 2013
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - The first day of action at the 119th Penn Relays was a big one for Villanova, which repeated as the champions of the women's distance medley relay at Franklin Field on Thursday evening. The second consecutive win for the Wildcats is the program's 31st championship all-time at the Penn Relays, and the 12th in the distance medley relay. The winning lineup for Villanova featured freshman Angel Piccirillo (Homer City, Pa.), freshman Michaela Wilkins (Ellicott City, Md.), junior Nicky Akande (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and junior Emily Lipari (Greenvale, N.Y.), with the Wildcats registering a winning time of 10:58.84 and a winning margin of more than five seconds.
This victory for Villanova was filled with the kind of storylines that are a part of the program's lore at the world's oldest and largest track relay meet. Wildcats head coach Gina Procaccio won her third title at the Penn Relays as a head coach and the Villanova runners were presented with their championship wheel by legendary Wildcats coach Marty Stern and former Villanova stars Vicki Huber and Michelle Bennett. Each of the four runners for the Wildcats ran with the initials "GF" on their arms as a tribute to Gordon Finch, an associate athletic director at Villanova who passed away last week.
"Gordon was such a big supporter of Villanova track & field and it meant a lot to us to be able to dedicate this win to him," Lipari said. "When we won last year he was the one who presented us with our Penn Relays wheel and he was the one who put medals around our neck at BIG EAST Championships. We decided to have `GF' on our arms and not tell our coaches so that it would be a surprise. We really wanted to win this race for him."
Piccirillo led off the relay with a split of 3:21.8 in the first 1200 meters and handed the baton off to Wilkins with the Wildcats and Kentucky the top two teams. Piccirillo had a slight lead when Wilkins began her 400 meters leg, and she kept the lead with a personal best split of 54.6. Akande ran the 800 meters leg and her split of 2:04.7 enabled her to hand off to Lipari for the anchor leg with Villanova holding a big lead. Lipari's lead got bigger and bigger and she wound up with a split of 4:37.7 to bring home the win.
"Any time you win at Penn it is really prestigious but I knew ahead of time that Marty Stern, Vicki Huber and Michelle Bennett were the presenters and that is just icing on the cake," Procaccio said. "I thought it would really mean a lot for our current athletes to win with them here. We have a great tradition here at Penn and I am just thrilled to keep that tradition going."
Last year Lipari ran the leadoff leg of the DMR in the Wildcats run to the championship and Akande ran the same 800 meters leg. They were joined this time around by two freshmen and together formed a relay lineup made up fully of runners who will return next year as well.
Kentucky finished in second place with a time of 11:04.45, while Columbia (11:07.68) rounded out the top three. Princeton (11:10.13) and North Carolina (11:12.92) came in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Villanova head coach Gina Procaccio...
On the win: Any time you win at Penn it is really prestigious but I knew ahead of time that [legendary Wildcats coach] Marty Stern and [former Villanova standouts] Vicki Huber and Michelle Bennett would be presenting the wheel to the DMR champions. I thought it would really mean a lot for our current athletes to win with them here and now that it has happened it is just icing on the cake. Our program has a great tradition here at Penn and I am just thrilled to keep that tradition going.
Junior Emily Lipari... (1600 meters anchor leg)
On each of the Villanova runners having "GF" written on their arms: We wanted to dedicate this win to Gordon Finch [a Villanova associate athletic director who passed away last week]. Gordon was such a big supporter of Villanova track & field and it meant a lot to us to be able to dedicate this win to him. When we won last year he was the one who presented us with our Penn Relays wheel and he was the one who put medals around our neck at BIG EAST Championships. We decided to have `GF' on our arms and not tell our coaches so that it would be a surprise. We really wanted to win this race for him.
On running the anchor leg this year after running the leadoff leg last year: It is a little different to run the anchor leg but it doesn't matter to me where I am running. All four of us ran with our hearts today and when you are competing for your team it doesn't matter where you are running.
Junior Nicky Akande... (800 meters leg)
On extending Villanova's lead during her leg of the race: It was an old school Villanova approach. I just wanted to go out hard and run as well as I can.
Freshman Angel Piccirillo... (1200 meters leadoff leg)
On winning again at Penn Relays after winning here in high school: It was just an amazing opportunity to run with these girls and for Gina. It's great being back here.
Villanova won the Championship of America distance medley relay on Thursday evening at Franklin Field to capture the 31st Penn Relays title in school history, and the 12th championship in the DMR.
Of the 31 championships that the Wildcats have won at the Penn Relays, all but two have come in the distance medley relay, the 4x800 meter relay or the 4x1500 meter relay. Villanova is running in all three of these signature events this week.
This is the third time that the Wildcats have won back-to-back titles in the distance medley relay. The last time Villanova won consecutive DMR championships was in 1994-95 and prior to that the Wildcats captured five straight championships from 1987-91.
Head coach Gina Procaccio has been a part of four Villanova championships at the Penn Relays, including one as a student-athlete in 1987 when she led off the distance medley relay and helped lead the Wildcats to a win. She has now guided Villanova to three more titles in her tenure as head coach.