EUGENE, Ore. - Senior middle distance runner Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (Dublin, Ireland) closed her collegiate career in historic fashion with a fourth place finish in the 800 meters at the NCAA Track & Field Championships on Saturday afternoon. She tallied the highest finish outdoors in the 800 meters by a Villanova runner in 23 years, while junior Nicole Hutchinson (West Vancouver, B.C.) came in 14th in the 5000 meters at Hayward Field to cap the Wildcats outstanding year of competition spanning the cross country, indoor and outdoor seasons.
Cleirigh Buttner led the field of eight runners in the final of the 800 meters during the final lap and registered a time of 2:05.73 in a race that was run in torrential rain. The day closed with Hutchinson making a strong push late in the 5000 meters to cross the finish line in 15:57.00 and break 16 minutes for the second time this season. Villanova scored five team points on Cleirigh Buttner’s fourth place finish in the 800 meters to mark the first time since 2015 it scored at the national championship meets in cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field.
The race by Cleirigh Buttner was a gutsy one in her collegiate finale, as the pace went out fast in just under 61 seconds on the first lap before the battle for positions heated up over the final 250 meters. She made a move for the lead on the back of the track and looked strong with the lead with 150 meters to go. Cleirigh Buttner and Jazmine Fray of Texas A&M were at the front of a tight pack with several challengers closing ground entering the final turn. There was plenty of movement within the ranks in the final 100 meters and Cleirigh Buttner’s fourth place standing at the line gave the Wildcats their best outdoor finish since 1995 in the 800 meters.
Cleirigh Buttner was the runner-up in the 800 meters indoors earlier this year and joins a group of only four Villanova women who tallied top-four finishes in the 800 meters both indoors and outdoors in the same year. She is the Wildcats first athlete to accomplish the feat since Tosha Woodward did so in 1994 and 1995, with the others in the group including Celeste Halliday (1988) and Patty Bradley (1984).
This was the third straight year that Cleirigh Buttner qualified for the outdoor NCAA Championships in the 800 meters, and the first time that she advanced to the final. In all, she was a national qualifier in the 800 meters five times spanning the indoor and outdoor seasons and a four-time BIG EAST champion in her signature event. The final collegiate totals for Cleirigh Buttner will include being a seven-time All-American, a 10-time BIG EAST champion and a 19-time All-BIG EAST performer. She also was a part of eight Championship of America titles at the Penn Relays and cemented her place as one of the top middle distance runners in program history.
Hutchinson ran in the national championship race of the 5000 meters in her second consecutive appearance at the outdoor NCAA meet. She was a qualifier in the 1500 meters as a sophomore last year, and this season returned as part of a stacked 5K field that was loaded with many of the top Division I distance runners. Hutchinson stayed within striking distance of the lead for the first 1000 meters of Saturday evening’s race and later found herself near the front of a chase pack with three laps left. She was officially in 17th place in the field of 24 runners with 1200 meters left, then moved up one spot over the next two laps and surged two more spots up to 14th place with a strong kick over the last 400 meters.
The past five months of competition have been remarkable for Hutchinson, a stretch that began with her winning the indoor BIG EAST title in the Mile in dominant fashion. She also ran a leg of the team’s conference champion 4x800 meter relay. Hutchinson did not qualify for the indoor NCAA Championships, but came off the indoor BIG EAST meet and opened the outdoor track & field campaign with a flourish. She ran the 1500 meters in 4:18.69 at the Penn Challenge on the opening weekend of the outdoor season, a time which she eventually lowered to 4:17.05 in a meet at Princeton a month later. In between, Hutchinson debuted in the 5000 meters at the Raleigh Relays on March 30 and beat a field of more than 100 runners with a personal best time of 15:46.22 to earn her qualification for the NCAA East Preliminary meet.
Hutchinson ran legs of the Wildcats champion distance medley and 4x1500 meter relay squads at the Penn Relays on the final weekend of April and was named the College Women’s Athlete of the Meet for the relay events. She followed up that performance by earning Outstanding Track Performer honors two weeks later at the BIG EAST Championships, where she was the individual champion in both the 1500 meters and the 5000 meters while leading Villanova to the team title.
This year’s Wildcats roster was a deep one in several different disciplines and Villanova qualified 10 athletes for the NCAA East Preliminary in Tampa two weeks ago. That group included accepted entries at every running distance from 800 meters through 10000 meters as we well as a qualifier in the javelin for the first time in six years. This is the 16th consecutive year that the Wildcats have qualified at least one athlete for the outdoor NCAA Championships, and the ninth time in that stretch that Villanova has scored at the national meet.