Both the men’s and women’s distance runners from Villanova ran good races Friday at the Penn Relays.
Just not quite good enough to win.
One day after capturing its second straight distance medley relay title, the ’Nova women placed third in the women’s 4x1500 Championship of America relay, just behind first-place Michigan and second-place Oregon.
And the ’Nova men came in second place in Friday’s distance medley relay championship, falling to a Penn State squad that claimed its first DMR title since 1959.
“I’m happy for them,” Villanova men’s track coach Marcus O’Sullivan said of his runners. “And I’m disappointed for them.”
In its first big race of the 119th Penn Relays at Franklin Field, the Villanova men certainly lived up to its billing as one of the nation’s premier track programs.
Sam McEntee ran the 1200 in 2:53.0 to kick things off for the ’Cats. He was followed by Sam Ellison (who ran the 400 in 46.0 seconds), Chris FitzSimons (who ran the 800 in 1:49.4) and Jordan Williamsz (who anchored the mile in 3:58.4).
Meanwhile, La Salle’s team of Nick Crits, Wayne Bartholomew, Paul Reilly and Alfredo Santana placed a very respectable sixth. Interestingly enough, both Ellison and Reilly were teammates at nearby Upper Dublin High School, along with Mike Palmasino, who ran the leadoff leg for defending champion Princeton. Palmasino’s Tigers, however, stumbled to a ninth-place finish.
The biggest local story, though, was Villanova. And after failing to win the first of the three distance relays its entered in this weekend, the Wildcats will now focus on the other two -- Saturday’s 4xmile and 4x800.
“You walk past 20, 30 [Penn Relays] wheels every time you go in the locker room before every run,” McEntee said. “Marcus makes note of it. We have so many guys who have run here and won here. It’s such a rich history. Villanova is the school at Penn Relays.”
The same could be said for the ’Nova women, who already showed how potent they are with Friday’s DMR championship.
In the 4x1500, the Wildcats stayed right with powerhouses Michigan and Oregon for most of the race but found themselves trailing by at least 20 meters when anchor Emily Lipari took the baton.
Lipari ran the best anchor leg at 4:17.5 but it was not enough to close the deficit as Villanova placed third with a time of 17:17.57. Stephanie Schappert ran the leadoff leg in 4:22.9, Nicky Akande the second leg in 4:18, and Angel Piccirillo the third leg in 4:19.1.
“I have faith in my finish,” Lipari said. “My only goal was to catch up to them and worry about the finish later. Unfortunately, they started to bang into second gear and I just couldn’t give any more than I was already giving. It’s frustrating because I keep replaying the race in my head. I know I could do it. But I’m going to take this one and learn from it and apply it to tomorrow.”
On Saturday, the ’Nova women will close out its distance relay events with a spot in the 4x800. Most other teams don’t compete in that many relays, and that was perhaps one reason why Michigan and Oregon -- both of whom didn’t participate in the women’s DMR on Thursday -- edged out the Wildcats on Friday.
But the Wildcats wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’re Villanova,” Schappert said. “We run as many races as we can.”
Praise for the Penn Relays
Just in case you needed any reminders just how respected the Penn Relays are, a couple of the world’s premier runners provided a couple.
In a press conference to preview Saturday’s highly anticipated USA vs. the World relays, England’s Christine Ohuruogo noted that “the atmosphere we have at Penn is like nothing I ever experienced, not even in London.” And American star Allyson Felix added that “there’s really no environment like this.”
Keep in mind, Ohuruogo and Felix are both past Olympic medalists.
Felix, who won three gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, will likely run in both the 4x100 and 4x400 USA vs. the World relays on Saturday.
And another Olympic gold medalist, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, hopes to slow her down.
“USA has been dominating the event for so long,” Fraser-Pryce said. “We just want to come at least one year and do something great. So maybe this year is the time.”
The USA vs. the World races will be televised live on NBC from 1-3 p.m.
Strong showing for Penn freshman
Sam Mattis knows a thing or two about the Penn Relays, having already captured three high school discus titles here.
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, then, that the Penn freshman put in a strong showing in his first collegiate Penn Relays, placing fourth in the discus championship with a throw of 187 feet, 4 inches.
James Plummer of Rutgers won the event at 194-3.
High school fun
One of the loudest cheers of the day came in the high school girls 4x800 Championship of America when Columbia (Maplewood, N.J.) came from way behind in the final lap to overtake Jamaica’s Edwin Allen High and draw “U-S-A” chants from the Franklin Field crowd.
Of local interest in that race, Great Valley, Pennsbury and Garnet Valley placed fifth through seventh.