BRONX, N.Y. - Led by the dominant one-two punch of senior Angel Piccirillo (Homer City, Pa.) and junior Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (Dublin, Ireland), the Villanova women's cross country team continued its upstart season in thrilling fashion at the BIG EAST Championships on Friday morning. Piccirillo won her first career conference cross country title, Cleirigh Buttner was the runner-up and the Wildcats had all five of their scoring runners earn All-BIG EAST accolades for finishing in the top 20 overall in a field of 80 runners. All of those strong performances led to a second place finish in the team standings for Villanova, which scored 49 team points and finished second only to a Providence team which is ranked fourth in the nation this season.
It was the gutsy performances of Piccirillo and Cleirigh Buttner that made the biggest impression of the day. Piccirillo crossed the finish line in 20:49.6 on a Van Cortlandt Park course which measured just slightly longer than 6,000 meters. Cleirigh Buttner was second in 20:58.7 and beat two Providence runners by just over two seconds.
"This has been a long time coming I think" Piccirillo said of winning the individual BIG EAST title. "I felt that I underperformed the last few years in cross country so I was excited to come here and get something done that I wanted to do."
Sophomore Bella Burda (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.) stepped up with her best race of the 2016 season and finished in ninth place with a time of 21:29.0. Junior Katie Fisher (Uxbridge, Ont.) and sophomore Sammy Bockoven (Hudson, Ohio) came in 18th (21:58.5) and 19th (21:59.7), respectively.
All runners have their individual strengths, and the distances at which they are the most successful at. Piccirillo and Cleirigh Buttner each talked about the mentality that allows the Wildcats to look past individual strengths in order to perform their best from a team perspective.
"It is a pretty simple mentality," Cleirigh Buttner said. "A lot of people forget about that and they overthink things. For us it is more about well done is better than well said. We don't really say much. [Head coach] Gina [Procaccio] doesn't say much; she just tells us the main objectives and we get it done."
"I think that is what gets us through," Piccirillo said. "I am more of a miler than a cross country girl and Siofra is an 800 runner and she got second. When we come out here with a Villanova jersey on, we have to compete. Gina prepares us to do well at whatever we are doing. In this race we were prepared to get into the hills and get it done with a strong finish. We had to come out and execute, and one of our biggest strengths is having Gina get us ready to go. Then we just have to do it."
Villanova has gotten stronger as a team with each meet this season, and Friday's conference race featured familiar competition. Two weeks ago at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, the Wildcats had finished behind Providence and ahead of Georgetown in a meet that featured 24 teams who were either nationally-ranked or receiving votes in the national top 30 poll. Wildcats head coach Gina Procaccio was excited about what Piccirillo and Cleirigh Buttner could accomplish coming out of the Wisconsin meet.
"The whole point of Angel coming back for a fifth year was because she never felt like she had gotten what she was capable of in cross country," Procaccio said. "We talked in the spring about really getting after it in cross country because it was only going to make Angel's 1500 meters better when we get to the outdoor season. Everything is coming together with the plan that we made back in the spring.
"I thought going in that they could at least be in the top three," Procaccio said of Piccirillo and Cleirigh Buttner's dominant finish. "Providence has a pretty good girl who had beaten Angel in Wisconsin, but I thought [Angel] and [Siofra] were good enough to beat the rest of the girls. We are looking to be a team that can get into the top half of the NCAAs. That is where we are looking to be and we have gotten better as we have gone through each meet."
This is the 16th time in the 34-year history of the BIG EAST Championships that the Wildcats have produced the individual conference champion. For the third time, Villanova won both the men's and women's individual titles in the same year. Senior Patrick Tiernan (Toowoomba, Australia) from the men's team made history by winning his fourth straight BIG EAST crown. The other times the Wildcats had the men's and women's champion in the same year were in 1986 (Vicki Huber, Gerry O'Reilly) and 1991 (Sonia O'Sullivan, Terrence Mahon).
Next up for Villanova is the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional, which takes place on November 11 at Penn State.
COMPLETE VILLANOVA RESULTS
BIG EAST Championships (2nd of 10)
Van Cortlandt Park / Bronx, N.Y.
Angel Piccirillo 1st of 80 20:49.6 Siofra Cleirigh Buttner 2nd 20:58.7 Bella Burda 9th 21:29.0 Katie Fisher 18th 21:58.5 Sammy Bockoven 19th 21:59.7 Alexandra Russo 33rd 22:46.3 Nicole Armstrong 41st 23:14.3