Siofra Cleirigh Buttner was on the shoulder of Stanford's Elise Cranny, and then she wasn't.
Once again Villanova's middle-distance dynamo had found a gear few possess. Once again she powered to the front of the pack and led the Wildcats to a Penn Relays victory — this one, in Friday's 4-by-1,500 relay, was their second in as many days — and once again she was at a loss to explain it all.
"It seems like I get the same question every time," she said. "For me, I just listen to my legs."
And so she did, anchoring the victorious relay with a blistering 4:11.03 leg. The Wildcats, clocked at 17:25.85, won this race for the second straight year and 11th time in all. They also gave fifth-year senior Angel Piccirillo her eighth career victory, a women's record for the Relays.
The performance by Buttner, a junior, was nothing Wildcats coach Gina Procaccio hadn't seen before. After the she ran a strong 800-meter leg to key the 'Cats to a victory in Thursday's distance medley relay (see story), Procaccio talked about her "amazing turnover, to go from zero to 60."
"I've never had an athlete accelerate like she has," she said.
Surely that burst comes in part from her homeland. A native of Dublin, Ireland, she talked about running lush, green hills as a teenager.
"I think that just made me a lot faster," she said.
And it comes in part from the event itself.
"When you come here," Procaccio said, "you just become a different being."
But no small part of it comes because of the push Buttner's teammates give her, and the tireless pursuit — on her part, and everyone else's — of the stars who preceded her at VU.
Be assured she doesn't want to drop that baton, any more than she does a real one.
In Friday's relay, she was preceded by sophomore Bella Burda, Piccirillo and another soph, Nicole Hutchinson, the last of whom saw Stanford's Christina Aragon nudge into the lead shortly before the exchange.
And for over three laps, Buttner was content to ride Cranny's shoulder. Her parents and sister were looking on. So too was Procaccio, who fretted a bit, knowing that Buttner's best event is the 800, while Cranny had run a sub-4:12 mile this year, and a sub-4:10 last spring.
"I was hurting that last 800," Buttner said, "but I knew that she was hurting, too."
She also knew she had enough in reserve — that indeed she always does. And sure enough she blew past Cranny with 200 meters remaining, and that was that. The Wildcats won by nearly two seconds.
"I just have full confidence in myself," she said, "and remember what I'm doing it for and who I'm doing it for."
Folks like Piccirillo, a close friend.
"There's no one more deserving (of the record) than Angel," said Buttner, who has won five wheels herself at the Relays.
She followed what she called "the Irish Pipeline" to Villanova, the one laid by Ronnie Delany, Eamonn Coghlan and Marcus O'Sullivan years ago, and during a campus visit got some idea of the import of the Relays when she saw hundreds of wheels lining the walls of one of the school's sports palaces.
"I'd already known a little bit about the Penn Relays," she said, "but once I saw that, I really understood the big story behind it."
So she came over. And here's another tribute to her speed — she outran homesickness.
"I don't think when you're a student-athlete, you have time to be homesick," she said.
Buttner reiterated something Procaccio said after Friday's race — that she is following in the footsteps of departed star Steph Schappert, just as Piccirillo and Schappert were following Emily Lipari and Nicky Akande, and Lipari and Akande were tracking Sheila Reid.
The chase is ongoing. And Buttner is forever listening to her legs, forever ready to put it into overdrive.