Oct. 26, 2012
BRONX, N.Y. - A terrific race from start to finish and a strong kick down the final straightaway made junior Emily Lipari (Greenvale, N.Y.) an individual conference champion in cross country for the first time in her career. Lipari won the individual title at the BIG EAST Championships, which were held at Van Cortlandt Park on Friday morning. Led by Lipari and fellow junior Nicky Akande (Lawrenceville, Ga.), who placed third overall, Villanova came in fourth in the team standings at the conference meet.
"That was a huge race for Emily and I could not be any more proud of her," Villanova head coach Gina Procaccio said. "Our student-athletes come to Villanova expecting to win and become champions. They learn from the great champions in front of them and know when it is their turn to step up."
Lipari crossed the finish line in 20:45.33 on the 6,000 meter course, which ends with a very long straightaway to the finish line. The championship was up for grabs between Lipari and Sarah Collins of Georgetown until the final 100 meters and Lipari wound up with a winning margin of 0.79 seconds. Collins registered a time of 20:46.12 and Akande came in third in 20:48.84.
"What makes cross country so special is that you are running for your school and your teammates so every point is so important," Lipari said. "I was about three seconds off the pace with 500 meters left but I just thought to myself that I hadn't run so far to finish in second place. I didn't think that I had the championship in hand until the moment I crossed the finish line."
This is the 15th time in the 31-year history of the BIG EAST Women's Cross Country Championship that the Wildcats have produced the individual conference champion. The title for Lipari this year gives Villanova the individual champion in four consecutive seasons and also gives Wildcats head coach Gina Procaccio her sixth individual BIG EAST champion in cross country.
"We always hear about the history of being a champion at Villanova and it is a dream to be a part of that history," Lipari said. "There is no way to realize the full extent of the hard work and sacrifices that it takes to become a champion until you are put in that position. I saw my freshman year what it took for our team to come together and win a national championship and that helps me in every race. When I put on the uniform I just want to bring pride to my team and my school."
Lipari provided a thrilling personal highlight with her first place finish in the race but having both her and Akande finish in the top three was a good omen for Villanova as a team. Both athletes are now upperclassmen and de facto leaders of the team, and Procaccio reflected on the improvement that each has shown during the course of their careers.
"Emily and Nicky have done everything right and I am so proud of the strides that they have made," Procaccio said. "They have stepped up to do their job and that is all that I can ask of them. Our tradition is to win championships and to have my sixth individual champion and two runners in the top three is terrific."
The top three finishers for the Wildcats earned All-BIG EAST honors for finishing in the top 15 overall. Lipari and Akande were joined by senior Summer Cook (Thornton, Colo.), who finished in 14th place with a time of 21:24.65. Lipari and Akande are both two-time All-BIG EAST performers while Cook earns her first individual all-conference honor.
Sophomores Megan Venables (Laurel Springs, N.J.) and Stephanie Schappert (Delray Beach, Fla.) were the fourth and fifth Villanova runners, respectively. Venables placed 28th in 22:01.11 and Schappert registered a 37th place finish with a time of 22:31.97.
Rounding out the Wildcats lineup were sophomore Courtney Chapman (Fayetteville, N.Y.), senior Meghan Smith (Newark, Del.), freshman Kelsey Margey (Huntington, N.Y.) and junior Ariann Neutts (Succasunna, N.J.). Chapman and Smith were in the Villanova top seven with finishes of 42nd (22:46.85) and 43rd (22:49.69), respectively, while Margey came in 66th (23:25.82) and Neutts was 67th (23:25.92).
Georgetown won the team title with 58 points and narrowly finished in front of Connecticut (68) and Providence (80), while the Wildcats finished fourth with 83 points. The rest of the team scores included Notre Dame (90), Syracuse (117), Marquette (222), Cincinnati (296), Pittsburgh (297), Rutgers (302), USF (330), St. John's (391), Louisville (398), Seton Hall (407) and DePaul (418).