After watching her team lose the distance medley relay to a fantastic effort by Penn the day before, Villanova coach Gina Procaccio watched with great satisfaction Friday when her 4x1,500-meter relay team picked up a convincing win at the Penn Relays.
In clocking a time of 17 minutes, 39.26 seconds, the Wildcats improved their record in their last 20 races at the carnival to 16-4 since 2012, with three runners – Rachel McArthur, Caroline Alcorta, and anchor Nicole Hutchinson – who came back from Thursday’s race joining freshman leadoff Lydia Olivere.
The Wildcats’ win highlighted an interesting day that saw two delays because of lightning flashing over Franklin Field, causing a total stoppage of more than two hours.
The day’s program included two victories by Houston, in the women’s 4x100 and the men’s 4x200, and a win in the pouring rain by the Wisconsin men in the distance medley relay, only the Badgers’ second Championship of America title, which came a mere 103 years after the first.
Villanova’s 4x1,500 race under gray skies included three solid legs and one spectacular one – a 4:18.4 split run by McArthur on the second leg, the fastest time among the 16 runners in the four-team field. The sophomore gave Alcorta a 30-meter lead at the second handoff and the Wildcats rolled.
Procaccio had a message for her team before it took the track.
“The advice I gave them was, ‘Don’t try to be a hero, just put Nicole in the race and I believe she’ll be strong enough to handle any challenge,’” she said.
“Rachel’s job, I told her to just clean up, stretch it out. She was phenomenal and she opened it up. Carolyn was supposed to play it safe and keep it solid for Nicole. They all did a great job.”
McArthur said she knew she had to open it up for her teammates, “doing what I could to get us in a good place."
“I think I was a little eager,” she said. “I moved a little sooner than I anticipated moving, but I felt pretty good and I felt pretty controlled. So I just moved when it felt right.”
For Hutchinson, a senior, it was her seventh Penn Relays watch and the fourth consecutive year she had won as part of the 4x1,500 team. Only Michelle Bennett (1988-1991), on the distance medley, was a member of four winning 'Nova women’s relay teams in the same event.
“I think watching them run the way they did gave me a big lead, and that made it so exciting for me,” Hutchinson said. “They did all the work and all I had to do was keep it where it was.”
The Villanova men ran into some bad luck on the opening leg of the distance medley when Nick Steele fell with just over 100 meters to go, dropping the Wildcats back to last place. They stayed last until Casey Comber got the baton for the 1,600-meter anchor leg, and took off.
As the top four runners eased into a rather leisurely pace, Comber got the Cats back into the race 600 meters into his run, and actually took the lead just before the start of the final lap. He ran out of gas, however, with 200 meters to go and finished seventh as Olli Hoare brought Wisconsin home by five meters over Indiana in 9:47.19.
“Casey had so much work to do and I knew it would take the sting out of him,” Wildcats coach Marcus O’Sullivan said. “So I think he went a little early. He kind of got the pace moving himself. I think definitely I could see it in his face. I was there at the 200-meter mark and it definitely looked like, ‘I’m all out. I don’t have any more.’”