Gina Procaccio wanted her Villanova runners to be relaxed at the NCAA Division I women's cross-country championships, so she reverted to the comedic form she had shown throughout the season.
"I think they feed off me and my assistant acting like total goofballs," the Wildcats coach said yesterday, referring to Meghan Courtney. "We want to keep them laughing because if they're laughing, they have to be relaxed."
From laughter came intense running, and the combination produced hugs and tears of joy at the finish line as the Wildcats captured the national championship at the Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind. It was their eighth title in women's cross-country but their first since 1998.
Villanova, paced by a sixth-place finish from Amanda Marino and a gutty run by Sheila Reid, finished with 86 team points, well ahead of the runner-up, Florida State, and the prerace favorite, Washington.
Marino, a junior from Jackson, N.J., said that she and her teammates all ran with a minimum of stress, and that Procaccio, a former star runner at Villanova who has been the Wildcats' head women's cross-country and track coach since 2000, set the tone.
"We're not very serious," she said. "Oh, we're very serious when it comes to running, but there's no pressure. We all get along really well. We're all pretty much a bunch of goofballs. Coach has authority over us, but it's like she's also a good friend. She's incredible."
Marino, who was 35th at the championships last year, vastly improved her standing, finishing the 6,000-meter course in 20 minutes, 2.4 seconds.
Reid, a sophomore from Haymarket, Ontario, who was named the Mid-Atlantic Region's athlete of the year in cross-country, was 13th overall in 20:16.3, but it was a tough trip after she came down with a cramp in her side with about 2,000 meters to go.
"I was just fighting with my body and my mind," Reid said. "But as I was racing, I could hear [the coaches] yelling, 'We're winning; relax and just get to the finish line.' So I kind of gutted it out."
"She ran with a lot of heart," Procaccio said. "That says a lot about her character."
Other scorers for the Wildcats were sophomore Bogdana Mimic of Croatia, who was 22d in 20:26.6; junior Alison Smith of Columbia, Md., 24th in 20:33.1; and senior Nicole Schappert of Delray Beach, Fla., 30th in 20:38.1.
For the purposes of team scoring, which did not count the at-large contestants competing individually, Marino was credited with sixth place, Reid 12th, Mimic 20th, Smith 22d, and Schappert 26th.
Villanova men 11th. The Wildcats finished 11th in the men's team competition. Freshman Mathew Mildenhall of New Zealand was their top finisher, crossing the line 36th in 30:19.4 for 10,000 meters. Oklahoma State captured the men's title.