April 26, 2012
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - A perfect race from start to finish culminated in celebration at the finish line as Villanova won the Championship of America title in the distance medley relay at Franklin Field on Thursday night. It is the 30th title at the Penn Relays and the 11th in the DMR for the Wildcats, who won tonight's race with a lineup of sophomore Emily Lipari (Greenvale, N.Y.), senior Christie Verdier (Baldwin, N.Y.), sophomore Nicky Akande (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and senior Sheila Reid (Newmarket, Ont.).
In the first three legs of the race the trio of Lipari (1200 meters), Verdier (400 meters) and Akande (800 meters) each produced career best splits and Akande handed off to Reid for the 1600 meters anchor leg with Villanova and Tennessee virtually even with each other at the front of the pack. The winning time for the Wildcats wound up being 11:01.03, a margin of victory of 2.5 seconds over the Volunteers and the rest of the field of 11 teams.
"It is extremely exciting to bring home this win," head coach Gina Procaccio said. "I am blown away by our first three legs of the race. Emily, Christie and Nicky all stepped up and did a great job. I am incredibly proud of them and I was very confident that Sheila could finish off the win because we had run so great through the entire race."
This is the fourth Penn Relays title that Procaccio has won at Villanova, including her first in 1987 as a student-athlete for the Wildcats as well as three during her career as a head coach. Three of those four wins have come in the distance medley relay, the signature event for Villanova in its remarkable history at the Penn Relays.
Reid also joined a select group of women from the Wildcats program with her first career Penn Relays championship. She is now one of five Villanova runners to have won at least one Penn Relays title in addition to at least one national championship in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. Combining all four of those events Reid has a total of six titles in her Wildcats career, including tonight's win at the Penn Relays to go along with five national championships that have all been won in the last 18 months.
After the race Reid alluded to the emotions of winning a Penn Relays title in her final season of collegiate eligibility.
"This is what Villanova is all about," Reid said. "When you hit the backstretch and hear the `Go Nova' chant the emotion of the moment definitely gets the best of you. A lot has to go right to win a race at the Penn Relays but there was no luck involved today. These three girls sitting here with me ran the race of their lives and put me in perfect position to do my job."
The description of the race by Reid was spot on, as then story of this particular win in her career will always be told while invoking the efforts of the three runners that came before her.
Lipari led off the race with a split of 3:22.9 in the first 1200 meters and was never further back than second place while running against Tennessee leadoff runner Chanelle Price (3:21.8). She was under pressure from the runners behind her at the hand-off but secured the Wildcats standing in second place when she gave the baton to Verdier, who ran a 400 meters split of 52.8 before handing off to Akande.
When Akande received the baton Villanova trailed the Volunteers by two seconds. By the time Akande made it halfway through her first lap around the track the gap had disappeared. She split 2:04.5 for her 800 meter leg and gave the baton to Reid with a margin of just two-tenths of a second separating the Wildcats and Tennessee.
Reid comfortably did the rest, running perfectly even with Volunteers anchor Brittany Sheffey for three laps before taking the lead at the start of the bell lap. She started to pull away with 200 meters left and surged across the finish line with a big smile on her face as her teammates waited to greet her.