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Villanova's Lipari anchors distance medley victory at Penn Relays

Emily Lipari makes up ground to lead Wildcats to third straight DMR win at Franklin Field.

Villanova's Emily Lipari (left) edges out Aisling Cuffe of Stanford at the finish in the College Women's Distance Medley Championship of America at the Penn Relays on April 24, 2014. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Villanova's Emily Lipari (left) edges out Aisling Cuffe of Stanford at the finish in the College Women's Distance Medley Championship of America at the Penn Relays on April 24, 2014. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)Read more

DIDN'T WE see this before?

Last April, in Saturday's 4 x 800 meter relay at the Penn Carnival, then-junior Emily Lipari came from behind against Oregon's Laura Roesler and finally caught her on the last step to give Villanova - which set a collegiate record - its first win in that race in 16 years. Lipari, who'd also anchored a victory in last year's Distance Medley, was named the meet's Outstanding Female Performer. It was the first time since 1997 that the Wildcats took two of the three middle-distance events.

So what do you do for an encore? Well, for starters you go out in yesterday afternoon's marquee Championship of America DMR and get things done in much the same way. Only this time, Lipari was forced to chase down Stanford's Aisling Cuffe, whom she'd competed against many times in high school, in the closing 1,600-meter leg at Franklin Field.

With roughly 300 meters to go, it appeared that Cuffe was creating some separation. But once again, Lipari had enough left to outkick the only one she had to beat to the finish line. She began making her closing move as they entered the final turn and eventually went by about two-thirds down the straightaway.

"I was definitely relaxed," said Lipari, who got the baton about 10 meters off the pace after Nicky Akande had cut the margin in half during the 800 meters. "All the girls that were out there before me were being really tough, and for me not to give the same toughness would have been a shame.

"[Cuffe] was looking really strong out there but I knew I had to give everything I had."

It's the first time Villanova has threepeated in the DMR since winning five straight from 1987-92. The Wildcats haven't won three times at Penn in 17 years. Today they'll go after the 4 x 1,500, which they haven't won since 2000. Angel Piccirillo, who led off the DMR a year ago, will take the place of Michaela Wilkins, who ran the 400 leg.

"This is the relay I was the most worried about," coach Gina Procaccio said. "Oregon [which was fifth, with Roesler anchoring] always scares me. I always tell them this is our turf. I don't care what anybody else has done.

"I feel like the DMR is the most prestigious. If you have to pick one, that's the one for Villanova that we really want to win. And this year it was loaded, more so than it's been in the previous two wins. We've done it before. It worked out.

"[Cuffe] opened it up a little bit, but I was still pretty confident Emily could run her down."

Stephanie Schappert led off in the 1,200 and came in a fraction behind Stanford's Amy Weissenbach in 3:25 flat. Wilkins ran a 54.40, but Kristyn Williams gave the Cardinal a 52.37 in that leg that left Villanova in fourth, which is where it remained, despite Akande's 2:04.51. But at that point, the Wildcats were at least a close fourth. And, as Procaccio had said earlier in the week, all you want to do is put Lipari in a position to do something. Turns out she was right.

Lipari brought it home in 4:33.44, nearly 2 1/2 seconds faster than Cuffe. The winning time of 10:57.35 was better than what the Wildcats ran last year (10:58.84) or in 2012 (11:01.03). But at Penn, it's rarely about the clock. What's remembered are those victory laps.

Stanford ran 10.57.64. Georgetown was third (11.06.14) and Dartmouth (11:06.31) fourth.

As a freshman, Lipari ran 7 seconds slower than her best in the 1,200, leaving the team in 10th place. Anchor Sheila Reid never had a chance. Lipari was in tears afterward. That seems like so long ago. She now has four Carnival watches, which already puts her right up there among the best from the Main Line.

"[Cuffe] got me in the NCAA cross [country] last [fall], so I was kind of hungry for this one," Lipari said. "We know each other's strong points. I know she can push the pace. She's very aggressive. She knows I have the kick. She's going to have to run away from me.

"You've always got to believe you're going to come in first. You can't have any doubt in your mind.

"We're excited about today. We know what we've got coming up in the next few [races]."

Her teammates never had any negative vibes, either.

"I just didn't want to put us out of it," Schappert said. "My job was to hand off so we were right there."

When it came down to their rock, the only thing left to do was watch and appreciate.

"We've seen her run so many times," Akande said. "Even though there was a gap, once she gets her arms going . . . "

And so the legacy continues to grow. Yet it's never about one race or one piece. It takes four to make it happen. They have two more races to prove themselves in their own backyard.

"We're always going to try and put our best out there to win," said Procaccio, the former Wildcats champion who's been in charge since the turn of the century. "It doesn't always work out. But we'll try to win another race tomorrow. That's Villanova. It took me a while to get the right group of girls together."

Might as well ride them for all they're worth.