April 27, 2013
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - It has been a special week for Villanova at the Penn Relays but on Saturday afternoon the Wildcats saved their best performance for last. Villanova won the Championship of America women's 4x800 meter relay at Franklin Field and broke the all-time collegiate record with a winning time of 8:17.45. This is the 10th time that the Wildcats have won the 4x800 relay at the Penn Relays and the program now has 32 total championships at the famed event, including wins in both the 4x800 and the distance medley relays this week.
"I can't believe it," Villanova head coach Gina Procaccio said. "This is the first 4x800 race I have even entered in the Penn Relays as a head coach and I just can't stop smiling. I love this event. We have been dominating it at our conference meet for the last few years and it is one of my favorite relays. I just love it and we haven't had a Penn Relays win in the 4x800 meter relay for about 15 years."
Junior Emily Lipari (Greenvale, N.Y.) anchored Villanova in both of its relay victories this week and it took a heroic effort for her to run down Oregon anchor Laura Roesler at the finish line. Later on Saturday afternoon Lipari was named the College Women's Athlete of the Meet for the Relay Events. She is the fifth Villanova athlete to win this award and the first since Krestena Sullivan in 1997.
"It is just so great to wear that Villanova across your chest and to do something that is so much bigger than yourself," Lipari said. "We are all extremely happy and we are going to enjoy this one for a little bit. I wouldn't trade any of these memories or experiences for anything."
The winning lineup for the Wildcats included freshman Kelsey Margey (Huntington, N.Y.), freshman Angel Piccirillo (Homer City, Pa.), junior Nicky Akande (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and Lipari, with the Wildcats finishing first by less than two-tenths of a second in what will be remembered as a remarkable race.
Lipari ran a split of 2:02.25 over the final 800 meters, a time which would rank as the fourth fastest 800 meters in school history if it came in an individual race. Piccirillo, Akande and Lipari all registered new personal best splits to help Villanova win the 4x800 meter Championship of America title for the first time since 1997. That year was also the last time that the Wildcats had a DMR-4x800 double at the Penn Relays.
Procaccio has now coached four Penn Relays champions, including two titles this week as well as distance medley relay wins both last year and in 2006. During her own collegiate career for the Wildcats she led off a Penn Relays champion DMR back in 1987.
By the time the first leg of Saturday's race was over it was clear that it would be a two-team race between Villanova and Oregon. Margey opened up the relay for the Wildcats with a split of 2:07.04 and at the first handoff Villanova was in first place, with Oregon trailing by 0.68 seconds.
During the second leg of the relay Louisiana State made a big move behind a split of 2:00.39 from Natoya Goule but Piccirillo protected the Villanova lead. She ran a split of 2:04.12 and at the midpoint of the race the standings had the Wildcats in front of LSU by half a second, with third-place Oregon and fourth-place Georgetown more than 1.5 seconds off the pace.
In the final two legs of the relay Oregon turned to Anne Kesselring and Roesler, and they had the two fastest splits of any team in their respective third and fourth legs. Villanova had more than enough star power of its own though, as Akande and Lipari each led the Wildcats with career best efforts.
Akande had a split of 2:04.04 and narrowly beat the split of 2:04.50 which she recorded in the distance medley relay last season. Even with Kesselring gaining ground Akande was up to the challenge and she gave the baton to Lipari with Villanova leading by 0.24 seconds. By that time the rest of the field was far behind, leaving Lipari and Roesler to their own 1-on-1 duel.
The two anchor legs that Lipari ran this week have cemented her place in the Wildcats record book. She is only the third Villanova runner ever to anchor Penn Relays champions in the distance medley relay and the 4x800 meter relay in the same year. Krestena Sullivan most recently accomplished the feat in 1997 and Kathy Franey was the first to do it for the Wildcats in 1990.
Making the victory on Saturday all the more impressive is that the trio of Piccirillo, Akande and Lipari ran in all three relays that Villanova competed in this week. In addition to winning two Championship of America titles they also helped lead the Wildcats to a third place finish in the 4x1500 meter relay on Friday afternoon.
The previous collegiate and Penn Relays record time in the 4x800 meter relay was 8:17.91 and it was set by Tennessee in 2009. Villanova and Oregon each eclipsed that standard on Saturday but the Wildcats are still represented twice on the new list of the top 10 fastest Penn Relays times in the event. Villanova registered a time of 8:20.66 back in 1984 and that is now the eighth-fastest time in Penn Relays history.