THREE OF THE FOUR women who ran for Villanova's victorious Distance Medley Relay team on Thursday were back in the lineup for Friday afternoon's 4x1,500 meters at the Penn Relays.
Stanford, which figured to be the most worthy competition for the defending champions, had skipped the DMR. So, if nothing else, the Cardinal, who won the 4x1,500 two years ago, figured to have freshness going for them.
"I was a little disappointed that they didn't show up for that," Wildcats coach Gina Procaccio said of the DMR. "I think that made us more determined to try and beat them."
And so they did, as junior anchor Siofra Cleirigh Buttner outkicked Elise Cranny in the closing 350 meters at sunny Franklin Field to give the Wildcats their third win in four years following a 13-year drought. They've now won this event a record 11 times, seven more than runner-up Stanford.
Buttner's time was 4 minutes, 11.6 seconds, nearly 2 seconds better than Cranny, who had recorded the fastest time in the nation this year in the 1,500. And Villanova's 17:25.85 was likewise almost 2 seconds faster than Stanford's, in what turned into a two-team contest.
Sophomore Bella Burta opened with a 4:33.8. Next was senior Angel Piccirillo, in 4:17.9, followed by soph Nicole Hutchinson's 4:23.6. This was the eighth time Piccirillo has been part of a winning Championship of America race, a women's carnival record.
"In each relay, we're just trying to win that relay," she said. "We're just trying to win as many as we can for Villanova. If that means breaking a record, that's what happens."
Procaccio wasn't sure whether she would enter a team in Saturday's 4x800, which would mean running Piccirillo and Buttner a third time. The last time the Wildcats got a trifecta at Penn was 2014.
"Every time, I have full confidence in myself," said Buttner, who ran the 800 leg in the DMR. "I remember what I'm doing it for, and who I'm doing it for. You just have so many people behind you. If each girl does her job before you, there's only one choice. That's to win it again. I'm not surprised. I'm just so proud, of everyone . . .
"I just listen to my legs. With 350, I could feel I was opening it up. Just don't get too crazy. It's still early. But my stride started to go. I was hurting that last 800, but I knew (Cranny) was hurting, too. I have so much confidence in my speed that, once I make my move, I keep rolling true until I reach the line."
Procaccio said it was a really emotional race for her. And she can only watch. And yell instructions from Villanova's familiar/traditional spot in the southwest stands.
"I wasn't sure what we were going to do," she conceded. "We're really deep. Then one girl came down with an injury and another had low iron. When it was a slow leadoff leg, I was concerned. (But) you just can't beat toughness. Bella stuck her nose in there, found a way to keep it close. Angel's so dependable, I knew she was going to get it done. Nicole ran like a pro, for such a young athlete, against a girl (Christina Aragon) who was, like, a world junior bronze medalist. She would not let her get by. After Siofra saw that, there was no way . . . She beat her. It was just impressive, all along. It was a great day for us, all around.
"All of these girls had the privilege of winning here as freshmen. You throw them out there as freshmen and they win, that's what they expect every year. That's all they know, from day one."