TERRE HAUTE, Ind. --When she made the decision last spring to come back to school and use her final seasons of collegiate eligibility, senior Angel Piccirillo (Homer City, Pa.) was expecting big things of herself. She continued to make good on those expectations on Saturday morning when she placed 20th overall at the NCAA Championships. This is the first time in her career that Piccirillo will be an All-American in cross country, and the strong performances of the entire Villanova team helped the Wildcats come in 21st in the team standings. Villanova moved up nine spots from where it finished at the national meet a year ago.
Piccirillo came into the 2016-17 academic year with remaining eligibility in cross country and outdoor track & field. It is a little more than two months into the year, and Piccirillo has won her first career individual BIG EAST cross country title and followed up that effort with her All-American finish in Saturday's national championship race. She registered a time of 20:13.8 on the 6,000 meter LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, and held off four runners who were less than a second behind her at the finish line.
As has been the case so often this season, both the present and future of the Wildcats program was on full display. Piccirillo and junior Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (Dublin, Ireland) were the top two Villanova finishers, but the other three scoring runners and four members of the Wildcats lineup in all were sophomores. Cleirigh Buttner came in 85th overall with a time of 20:46.4 and was followed by the sophomore trio of Bella Burda (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.), Sammy Bockoven (Hudson, Ohio) and Nicole Hutchinson (West Vancouver, B.C.).
Burda, who was recognized after the race as the women's winner of the prestigious Elite 90 academic award, registered a time of 20:58.6 to come in 136th overall in a field of 250 runners. Bockoven and Hutchinson posted times of 21:18.1 (182nd) and 21:25.6 (197th), respectively. Also in action for Villanova were junior Katie Fisher (Uxbridge, Ont.) and sophomore Kaley Ciluffo (LeClaire, Iowa), who crossed the finish line with respective times of 21:38.9 and 22:01.6.
This year's Wildcats team is relatively young but also experienced, and the benefit of having many of the same runners back who competed at last year's NCAA Championships was evident. Piccirillo leaped up 120 spots in the individual standings from last year, while Cleirigh Buttner, Burda and Hutchinson all moved up by more than 25 spots from where they finished in 2015.
Villanova had 505 team points to slot in 21st out of 31 teams in the field, compared with 667 points and 30th place finish last season. The result held true to the Wildcats regional ranking after they finished second at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic race last week. Villanova came in three spots behind Penn State and three spots ahead of Penn in the national championship, with the Wildcats third and fifth scorers (Burda and Hutchinson) crossing the finish line ahead of the third and fifth Penn State runners.
This is the eighth time in the last nine seasons and the 28th time overall that Villanova earned a team berth to the NCAA Championships. Only four teams have made more appearances at the national meet than the Wildcats. Meanwhile, Piccirillo's time of 20:13.8 is the seventh-fastest by a Villanova runner at the NCAA Championships since the national race was extended to 6,00 meters beginning in 2000.