Nov. 22, 2010
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Senior Sheila Reid (Newmarket, Ont.) broke away from a three-person pack over the final 200 meters and surged across the finish line to win the individual title at the NCAA Women's Cross Country Championships on the LaVern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center on Monday afternoon. Just a few moments later, her teammates followed and Villanova celebrated the ninth team championship in program history on a day when the Wildcats added to the incredible legacy of the university's cross country tradition.
This year marks the seventh time that Villanova has simultaneously won the individual and national titles in women's cross country, while the team won its second straight championship to put the finishing touches on a season in which the Wildcats went wire-to-wire as the nation's unanimous number one team.
Now Reid and her teammates will be mentioned along with the other world-class caliber athletes that came before them at Villanova. So too, will head coach Gina Procaccio, a track national champion during her own Wildcat career who is now the architect of these back-to-back champion cross country teams.
"The tradition at Villanova can be daunting," Reid said. "You hear names like Sonia O'Sullivan, Vicki Huber and Carrie Tollefson and they seem so distant and beyond us. It is incredible to maybe be amongst those names now. It is hard to believe that we are in the same shoes as these women who have done such amazing things."
On a blustery day a slow pace made it difficult for anyone to break ahead of the pack, or at least to stay ahead of the back. When there was 1000 meters left in the race, Reid was locked into a battle for the lead with Emily Infeld of Georgetown and Jordan Hasay of Oregon. She took the lead for good with 200 meters to go, showing the strong final kick that has been present for her all season long. Reid has now been the individual champion at eight of her last 10 meets.
Not that her team's victory could ever be viewed as a one-person show, however. Far from it, as Reid was joined by three teammates in earning All-America honors. Senior Amanda Marino (Jackson, N.J.) came in eighth place while senior Ali Smith (Columbia, Md.) and junior Bogdana Mimic (Pancevo, Serbia) were 20th and 22nd, respectively. The spread between the Wildcats top four runners was a mere 34 seconds.
"We just have such a solid front four," Procaccio said. We had four in the top 22 in team points. That was the key. I knew Sheila was going for the win and I knew she was going to be in the front pack with so I made sure that she would know what to down the stretch."
Leading up to the race, Procaccio turned aside any attempts at making comparisons between last year's national champions and the current team's bid for a title of their own. This despite four returning runners from the 2009 national meet.
So the team never talked about last year or about repeating as national champions. Procaccio made changes wherever she could. Different training regimens. Different philosophies. Different team, period. She turned out to be right, as another of the differences for Villanova included having a true freshman as its fifth runner. One who helped give this team a fresh look and whose performance all season long and in this afternoon's race helped this new team win a title in its own way.
Emily Lipari (Greenvale, N.Y.) crossed the finish line in 69th place for team points. Although there was a brief wait for official results, once Lipari finished in front of the fifth runners from Florida State and Georgetown the celebration was underway for the Wildcats, who knew they had the team title in their possession.
"I didn't know how Emily was going to react in the race but she has been terrific all season long and I tried to prepare her for this race as best I could," Procaccio said. "She was back there but she kept fighting and she knew her job was to try and pass as many people as she could down the straightaway. Once I saw her get in before Florida State and Georgetown I knew we had it."
Villanova's nine national titles stand out, as no other team has won more than four titles since the NCAA Championship began in 1981. The program now has eight individual champions as well, with no other school claiming more than three winners.