VILLANOVA, Pa. - A new academic year at Villanova marked the official arrivals to campus of a talented group of newcomers to the women’s track & field and cross country teams. With her latest recruiting class, Wildcats head coach Gina Procaccio has addressed several team needs while once again attracting some of the nation’s top talent to continue the program’s legacy of success both academically and in athletic competition.
Four of the team’s newcomers will join the Villanova distance group and will hit the ground running for the start of the cross country season. Freshmen Rachel McArthur (Bristow, Va.), Alex Harris (Stony Point, N.Y.) and Lauren Ryan (South Yarra, Australia) form the recruiting class for the Wildcats distance unit, while graduate student Maria Seykora (Broomall, Pa.) is a transfer from Princeton who has cross country eligibility.
Freshman Sarah Jones (Sewell, N.J.) will compete for Villanova in the sprints and hurdles, while the quartet of freshmen Samantha Bragen (Toms River, N.J.), Emily Harrison (Haymarket, Va.), Cala Lejman (Ambler, Pa.) and Amanda McNelis (Commack, N.Y.) are each newcomers to the Wildcats pole vault group. Freshman Taryn Ashby (Pittston, Pa.) is a versatile athlete who competes in the throws and specializes in the javelin.
In choosing to come to Villanova, this group of newcomers is joining one of the nation’s top track & field programs. The women’s cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field teams have produced 45 individual NCAA champions and 315 All-Americans over the years, and the women’s cross country team has won an unprecedented nine national titles. Since rising to national prominence in the 1980’s, the Wildcats have won 41 Penn Relays titles, captured 38 BIG EAST team championships and produced 323 individual conference champions.
Below is an in-depth look at each of the Villanova freshmen.
Rachel McArthur (Bristow, Va. / Patriot High School) is a two-time scholastic national champion in the 800 meters and finished her high school career by winning the 800 meters with a time of 2:05.68 at the Brooks PR Invitational in Renton, Wash. She had previously won the New Balance Indoor national title in 2:06.01. McArthur won a state championship in the 1000 meters during her senior indoor season, and her time of 2:47.02 made her the eighth-fastest all-time in the event. She won seven state titles overall at distances ranging from 800 meters through 3200 meters. In 2015, McArthur anchored her team to a Championship of America distance relay title at the Penn Relays. (Personal Bests: 400m – 55.66; 800m – 2:05.42; 1000m – 2:47.02; 1600m – 4:41.67; 3200m – 10:19.91).
Alex Harris (Stony Point, N.Y. / North Rockland High School) is a two-time bronze medalist in the steeplechase at the Pan American Junior Championships. Her personal best time of 10:14.76 in the 3000 meter steeplechase came at the 2017 championships in Peru, and is good for third place on the all-time high school performance list. Harris is also a two-time silver medalist in the steeplechase at the USATF Junior Championships. She is a five-time scholastic national champion, including a pair of titles in the 2000 meter steeplechase and three times as part of her school’s distance medley relay. Her time of 6:38.47 in the 2000 steeplechase ranks among the all-time top-10. During her senior outdoor season, Harris ran the leadoff leg of her school’s Championship of America winning distance medley relay squad at the Penn Relays. (Personal Bests: 800m – 2:12.15; 1000m – 2:51.04; 2000 meter steeplechase – 6:38.47; 3000 meter steeplechase – 10:14.76).
Lauren Ryan (South Yarra, Australia / Geelong Grammar School) is an experienced international competitor who made the Australian Junior team in both cross country and track & field. She was the Australian Junior Cross Country national champion in 2017 with a time of 21:39 over 6000 meters, and went on to represent her country in the U20 race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Uganda. Ryan placed 44th out of more than 100 competitors from around the world in that meet. She also represented Australia at the World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland in 2016, where she competed in both the 1500 meters and the 3000 meters. She placed 13th in the 3000 meters at the meet. (Personal Bests: 1500m – 4:20.99; 3000m – 9:21.21).
Sarah Jones (Sewell, N.J. / Bishop Eustace Prep) was the 2017 state champion indoors in the 55 meter hurdles, and also was the outdoor state runner-up in the 100 meter hurdles. She was a four-time all-conference performer during her scholastic career and is her school’s record holder in the 100 meter hurdles. (Personal Bests: 55m hurdles – 8.44; 100m hurdles – 14.20).
Emily Harrison (Haymarket, Va. / Battlefield High School) won four consecutive Virginia 6A state championships and six straight 6A North Regional titles in the pole vault. Her personal best mark of 12-6 (3.81 meters) is the 6A North Regional outdoor record, and she also holds the Virginia state indoor record with a mark of 12-4 (3.76 meters).
Amanda McNelis (Commack, N.Y. / Commack High School) is a two-time state runner up in the pole vault, including finishing second as a senior at both the indoor and outdoor state championships. She has personal best marks of 12-6 (3.81 meters) outdoors and 12-3 (3.73 meters) indoors. McNelis also competed in the hurdles in high school, and has personal bests of 8.46 in the 55 meter hurdles and 15.09 in the 100 meter hurdles.
Cala Lejman (Ambler, Pa. / Wissahickon High School) is a pole vault specialist and graduated as her high school’s record holder with a personal best mark of 12-0 (3.66 meters). She finished her scholastic career by posting a top-10 finish at the Pennsylvania state meet as a senior.
Samantha Bragen (Toms River, N.J. / Toms River East High School) competes in the hurdles, long jump, triple jump and pole vault. She finished sixth in the pole vault at the New Jersey state group championships during her senior season.
Taryn Ashby (Pittston, Pa. / Pittston Area High School) is a javelin specialist and holds her high school’s all-time record with a throw of 138-10 (42.32 meters). She showed steady improvement during her scholastic career and placed fifth at the Pennsylvania state meet during her senior season.