Villanova falls just short on second day of Penn Relays

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Villanova falls just short on second day of Penn Relays

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.

Villanova takes over No. 1 ranking in AP Top 25 poll

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Villanova takes over No. 1 ranking in AP Top 25 poll

For the second time in school history — both in the last 10 months — Villanova is No. 1 in the country.

The 8-0 Wildcats received 57 of 65 first-place votes in the AP poll, moving ahead of previous No. 1 Kentucky, which lost 97-92 to UCLA on Saturday. (UCLA moved up to No. 2; Kentucky dropped to No. 6.)

Villanova had a pair of Big 5 games last week, beating Penn by 25 at the Palestra and St. Joe's by 31 at The Pavilion.

Dating back to last season, Villanova has won 14 straight games and a national championship. Jay Wright's team has won 19 of its last 20.

The Wildcats have been led by seniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Hart opted to forego the NBA draft and return to school after winning the title and, so far, the decision has paid off. His shooting percentages are up significantly and if he keeps it up, his draft stock will reflect that improvement. Hart is shooting a career-best 58 percent from the field and is up to 43 percent from three. As productive as Hart was last season, his long-distance shooting had dropped from 46 percent as a sophomore to 36 percent as a junior.

Hart is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Jenkins is averaging 14.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists. Jenkins has carried the confidence of his championship-winning three over into this season. He's shooting 45 percent from three and 94 percent from the line. 

Villanova plays twice this week, vs. La Salle (4-2) on Tuesday and vs. ACC-leading Notre Dame (8-0) Saturday.

Temple receives votes
Temple (6-2) was unranked but received three votes. Based on the votes received by other teams, it makes Temple the de facto No. 36 team in the country.

The Owls have won five in a row, including victories over then-No. 25 Florida State, then-No. 19 West Virginia, and two Big 5 wins last week over St. Joe's and Penn.

Temple faces George Washington on Wednesday and DePaul Saturday.

Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

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Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State players and coaches rolled hopefully back into Happy Valley on Sunday, greeted as Big Ten champions by cheers and honking car horns.

They got off the team bus, filed into a meeting room and huddled around a giant projector screen as the College Football Playoff selection committee made its picks.

As the contenders were announced, it became clear -- this unexpectedly triumphant season was going to fall frustratingly short of college football's biggest stage.

The fifth-ranked Nittany Lions -- winners of nine straight, including a huge comeback against No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game -- won't be part of the four-team playoff. Despite a head-to-head win against No. 2 Ohio State, the Big Ten title and a run fueled by one of the country's most explosive offenses, Penn State was ranked fifth by the selection committee.

Instead of playing for a national title, Penn State (11-2) will face No. 9 Southern California (9-3) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

"I would say there were a handful of guys that obviously showed a little bit of frustration and body language and things like that," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "But 99 percent of the guys in there are just excited about staying together as a family and being able to play in such a historic bowl game."

News about the bowl destination quelled a bit of that disappointment, and some, including quarterback Trace McSorley , tweeted their excitement with rose emojis Sunday.

Franklin didn't sleep much on the flight back from Indianapolis and is about to start a six-day recruiting trip, but he was still clearly amped for the Rose Bowl during a phone call with reporters -- even though he believed his team had done enough to go to the playoff by winning what he called "the toughest conference in football."

"Obviously, our guys would've loved to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs and compete for a national championship," Franklin said. "But like I said during the week, I thought our guys would be appreciative of the opportunity to be able to stay together as a family for another week and play the great game of football."

They'll do so against a team that's on a similar trajectory.

The Nittany Lions and Trojans have combined to win 17-straight games and are among the hottest teams in college football. Both have mounted striking turnarounds after ho-hum starts, energizing historically strong programs that had struggled with the weight of NCAA penalties in recent years.

Franklin arrived at Penn State in 2014 and took over a program heavily sanctioned by the NCAA for the university's role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Although the Nittany Lions have a full scholarship load this season, they're still feeling the impact from reduced scholarship numbers and start just five seniors, with only 17 on the roster.

USC, meanwhile, incurred NCAA penalties, including the loss of 30 scholarships, in the wake of a scandal involving former football player Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo, who the NCAA determined accepted gifts in the mid-2000s.

This will be the third time the programs match up in the Rose Bowl -- the first was in 1923 and the other in 2009.

"I think it makes for fabulous TV, that's for sure," USC coach Clay Helton said. "And it makes for a great bowl experience and that's what this time is all about."