Villanova Wildcats

Villanova races to women's DMR championship in first day of Penn Relays

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Courtesy of Penn Relays

Villanova races to women's DMR championship in first day of Penn Relays

Near the midway point of the women's distance medley relay college championship at the 123rd running of the Penn Relays on Thursday, it probably looked to some like it was anybody's race with five schools bunched together.

What a silly thought.

As is its habit, Villanova took control of the DMR and sped to its 15th all-time championship in one of the marquee events of the famed three-day meet at Franklin Field.

The Wildcats clocked in at 10:53.97 — the eighth-best time in Penn Relays history.

"What can I say? All I have to do is pretty much get them to the starting line," head coach Gina Procaccio said. "These girls know what the tradition is all about with Villanova in the Penn Relays. We definitely wanted this DMR."

After strong opening legs in the 1200 from sophomore Nicole Hutchinson (3:21.39) and the 400 from freshman McKenna Keegan (54.05), junior Siofra Cleirigh Buttner broke away from the pack right in front of Villanova's cheering section, handing the baton to anchor Angel Piccirillo with a comfortable lead. 

Buttner ran her 800 leg in 2:05.78 before Piccirillo ran the closing mile in 4:32.76 as Villanova fended off serious challenges from Penn State and Notre Dame, which finished in second and third, respectively.

"She's got amazing turnover to go from 0 to 60," Procaccio said of Cleirigh Buttner. "I've never had an athlete that's able to accelerate the way she does."

The Villanova coach admitted the third leg seemed a little slow at first as Columbia and Indiana joined Villanova, Penn State and Notre Dame in the lead pack. Buttner thought the same thing as she was running — and then decided to do something about it.

"I was trying to wait a little longer," the junior said. "I just thought it was just too slow. And right before 300, my legs just wanted to go."

Although Notre Dame and Penn State never went away, opening up the kind of lead she did for Piccirillo essentially ended the race. One of the most accomplished runners in the program's illustrious history, Piccirillo tied a Penn Relays record with her seventh women's championship, sharing it with fellow Villanovans Michelle Bennett and Kathy Franey.

She could own the record all to herself before her final Penn Relays ends as Villanova will compete for championships in the 4x1500 Friday and the 4x800 on Saturday.

"Down the line, Nicole, McKenna, Siofra were all running so fast, everyone's splits were on," Piccirillo said. "I saw that and it was getting me excited. I was like, 'They're all gonna go and I'm gonna go and we're gonna win it no matter what.' Then to see Siofra open up a gap, I was like, 'Even better, we're gonna make it decisive.'"

Anchoring the winning DMR was particularly gratifying for Piccirillo, who missed last year's meet because she redshirted with plantar fasciitis. That decision wasn't an easy one but Procaccio said she was "glad it paid off" with Piccirillo returning in top form and helping 'Nova avenge a loss to Georgetown in last year's DMR — a race that snapped Villanova's four-year winning streak in the event.

"I've been waiting for this weekend since probably November," said Piccirillo, who attended last year's Penn Relays as a fan and was "screaming my head off" during the Wildcats' win in the 4x1500. "I've been ready to go. It's just a great feeling to be back here for one last win with these girls."

Piccirillo will have a couple more days to enjoy the Penn Relays as the meet concludes with a full slate of events Friday and Saturday. But nothing beats winning the DMR — consistently one of the most exciting events at the country's oldest and largest track meet.

"Everyone knows the tradition," Procaccio said. "The DMR is the most prestigious relay, to be able to get four different disciplines in one relay. And Villanova is kind of synonymous with the DMR."

Penn also had a strong showing in Thursday's DMR, finishing in sixth place with a time of 11:15.76. Earlier in the day, the host Quakers set a school record in a 4x100 relay heat with a time of 45.21 seconds to advance to Friday's final.

Villanova picked to win Big East in preseason coaches' poll

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USA Today Images

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.