April 25, 2014
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - For the second time in as many days Villanova brought a roar to the crowd of 38,135 at Franklin Field and used a thrilling finish to add to its Penn Relays legacy with another Championship of America relay title. A lineup that included junior Stephanie Schappert (Delray Beach, Fla.), sophomore Angel Piccirillo (Homer City, Pa.) and seniors Nicky Akande (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and Emily Lipari (Greenvale, N.Y.) won the 4x1500 meter relay with a time of 17:16.52 less than 24 hours after winning the distance medley relay title on Thursday evening.
"This one is pretty special because we had not won the 4x1500 meter relay since 2000," Wildcats head coach Gina Procaccio said. "We are known as great middle distance runners in the 800 and the 1500 so for us not to win this event in 14 years bothered me. Our girls know that this is our legacy. They are not scared of it and they all went out and did their job leg for leg."
This is the record ninth time that Villanova has won the Championship of America crown in the 4x1500 meter relay and the first title in the event in 14 years. No other school has won the 4x1500 race more than three times and the Wildcats winning time of 17:16.52 is the eighth-fastest in Relays history.
"It is really special for the four of us to come together to win this relay," Lipari said. "When you are out there running you hear the Villanova chant in every corner of the stadium. Nicky and I have run together for four years and everyone did their jobs perfectly. That is a feeling which is difficult to put into words."
Beyond the thrill of winning their second race in as many days Lipari and Akande also joined a very esteemed group of Villanova athletes. They are just the seventh and eighth women in program history to win at least five Penn Relays titles. This is also the first time since 1997 that the Wildcats have won both the distance medley relay and the 4x1500 meter relay in the same year.
Large parts of the race itself on Friday afternoon looked like a recording of the DMR yesterday. Lipari dueled with Aisling Cuffe of Stanford on the anchor leg and Cuffe held a narrow lead for most of the 1500 meters. Cuffe made a push with 250 meters left to increase her lead and Lipari immediately went into chase mode. Cuffe came down the final straightaway looking just as strong as she had in the DMR and Lipari caught her with 50 meters to go. It wasn't until the final steps at the finish line that Lipari could raise her fist with the win in hand and bring another roar of approval from the typically large throng of Villanova supporters in the crowd.
"I knew that I had to be ready for anything today from Aisling Cuffe so I went into it with an open mind," Lipari said. "I thought she might try to kill me early [in the anchor leg] but I just went into it knowing that it could unfold in any number of different ways."
Schappert ran a strong opening leg of the relay and after 800 meters had settled into second place behind Mississippi State, although the pack of runners had not yet broken up at that point. With 300 meters to go on the opening leg New Mexico was making a surge into third place and Stanford made a push to take the lead.
"It was exciting to be out there and set things up so that everyone could do their job. Winning at the Penn Relays is what we all set out to do, not just since we got to Villanova but even before we got here. We knew this is the legacy of running here and we wanted to continue that."
The leading runners were even at the first exchange and Piccirillo quickly moved into the lead during her first lap. After her first 800 meters she was still in the lead with Stanford and New Mexico battling for second place. Over the next 700 meters Villanova and Stanford gradually pulled away from the pack.
"This was my first race of the week and I knew it was really big for me to go out there and run well," Piccirillo said. "I wanted to do my job and give everything I had. Nicky and Emily are seniors and this is their last chance at Penn so I just wanted to go out there and give everything I had for them."
Piccirillo handed off to Akande, who followed a similar strategy and quickly took the lead at the start of the third leg. She led by as many as two seconds before being caught by Stanford with 800 meters to go. It was the Wildcats and the Cardinal neck and neck with 400 meters to go before the anchor leg, with New Mexico and Dartmouth fighting hard to stay in the race.
"You always have the mindset of wanting to win your leg of the relay and give it to the next girl in the lead," Akande said. "Emily is a sitter though and it is better to give it to her with us right there with the lead in sight. We all know that if we just give her a chance to win a race she is going to get the job done."
Junior sprinter Emerald Walden (Lafayette Hill, Pa.) ran in the heats of the 100 meter hurdles for Villanova later on Friday afternoon. She recorded a time of 13.98 and came in eighth in her heat and 23rd overall in the field.
Earlier in the day sophomore Anne Yahiro (Downers Grove, Ill.) and senior Victoria Profit (Nissequogue, N.Y.) each competed in the Eastern section of the triple jump. Yahiro came in sixth overall in her section with a mark of 11.94 meters, while Profit was 15th and recorded a distance of 11.75 meters.
Junior Jamie Klein (Hawthorne, N.J.) closed out the day for the Wildcats with a 21st place finish in the College section of the javelin. Klein recorded a distance of 38.37 meters on her first throw.
4x1500 Meter Relay (Championship of America)
Villanova 1st of 8 17:16.52 Stephanie Schappert Angel Piccirillo Nicky Akande Emily Lipari
100 Meter Hurdles (Heats)
Emerald Walden 23rd of 29 13.98
Triple Jump (Eastern Section)
Anne Yahiro 6th of 31 11.94m Victoria Profit 15th 11.75m
Javelin (College Section)
Jamie Klein 21st of 28 38.37m