Villanova Wildcats

With another Penn Relays win, Villanova's Siofra Cleirigh Buttner aims to keep pace with greats

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With another Penn Relays win, Villanova's Siofra Cleirigh Buttner aims to keep pace with greats

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 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.

Villanova picked to win Big East in preseason coaches' poll

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Villanova picked to win Big East in preseason coaches' poll

For the fourth year in a row, Villanova was picked to win the Big East in the league's preseason coaches' poll.

The Wildcats received eight of the 10 possible first-place votes in the poll, which was released on Wednesday and doesn't allow coaches to vote for their own teams. Seton Hall and Xavier received the other two first-place votes.

Villanova finished the 2016-2017 season with a 15-3 record in the Big East, good for first place in the conference, and capped it off with the Big East tournament crown.

The Wildcats finished last season with a 32-4 record overall and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The team returns two starters from last season, including forward Mikal Bridges, who was picked for the All-Big East second team, and point guard Jalen Brunson, who was selected as the 2017-2018 Big East Preseason Player of the Year. Brunson's averages of 14.7 points and 4.1 assists led him to an All-Big East first team selection in 2016-2017.

Sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo, who averaged 8.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game on his way to making the Big East all-freshman team, is another returning player that will play a big factor for 'Nova. The Wildcats also add freshman forward Omari Spellman to the mix after he redshirted last season. Spellman was picked in the coaches' poll as the preseason Freshman of the Year.

Jay Wright's squad tips off the 2017-18 season on Nov. 10 against Columbia.

James Madison shows why it's No. 1 in FCS with win over No. 11 Villanova

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James Madison shows why it's No. 1 in FCS with win over No. 11 Villanova

BOX SCORE

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Bryan Schor threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns, and defending FCS champion James Madison beat Villanova 30-8 on Saturday to set a conference record with 18 straight victories.

The Dukes broke Richmond's Colonial Athletic Association mark, set from 2008-09. James Madison hasn't lost to another FCS member since the second round of the 2015 playoffs against Colgate.

James Madison built a 13-0 lead at halftime after holding Villanova to just 58 yards with three sacks and an interception. The Wildcats pulled to 16-8 early in the fourth but Schor connected with David Eldridge for a 29-yard score. Brandon Hereford capped it with his first career pick and touchdown with 1:57 left.

Terrence Alls made seven catches for 83 yards for James Madison (6-0, 3-0), which hosted ESPN's College Gameday for the second time.

The popular pre-game program aired for the eighth time from a FCS location. It helped draw the second-largest crowd in school history with 25,993.

Jimmy Moreland made an interception on Villanova's third play of the game and James Madison got to the Wildcats' 5 before settling for a 3-0 lead. Clayton Cheatham extended it 13-0 by catching an open pass over the middle and breaking tackles near the end zone for a 23-yard score.

Schor went over 5,000 career passing yards in the first half.

Freshman Kyle McCloskey started the second half at quarterback for Villanova (4-3, 2-2). He threw for 15 yards and added 43 yards on the ground. The Wildcats, who entered allowing just 13.2 points per game, were held to 174 total yards.

College Gameday
The ESPN crew was also live from James Madison in 2015 in front of more than 12,000 fans. The game against Richmond drew a Bridgeforth Stadium-record crowd of 26,069.

Up Next
Villanova has a bye week before hosting Elon on Oct. 28.

James Madison plays at William & Mary next Saturday.