'Nova's legacy Wildcats carry it to Franklin Field

Posted: April 25, 2006

Competing in the Penn Relays with Villanova emblazoned across your singlet carries with it a definite level of pride and prestige, for both the men and women of the track and field program.

Nova's track and field director, Marcus O'Sullivan, knows this from personal experience. The 1984 'Nova graduate, one of just three men to run sub-four-minute miles more than 100 times and one of Nova's all-time great distance runners, is intimately familiar with Franklin Field's grand showcase.

With that legacy, he says, comes a certain amount of pressure, something O'Sullivan spoke of as he prepared the Cats' men's team for this week's 112th edition of the world-renowned track and field carnival.

"The reason this is such a big stage for us is the history of Villanova's performances in the Penn Relays. As far as the type of pressure, I would put it in the scope of the Olympics," the four-time Olympian said.

"When you are a local school going down there as the 'home team' and taking on the world, you're representing all the schools in the area, all the athletes from this region, and the pressure can be tremendous. You have all the major programs from across the country coming here to put on their best show, and there's nothing nicer than to feel that you can compete on such a high level."

Yet O'Sullivan added: "Even though it is really big, we try to downplay it as not a big deal. Sometimes I'm hesitant to discuss expectations, because that can play mind games with some of our kids. They already know it's a big deal. The worst thing I can do is add more to it."

Toward that end, O'Sullivan was reluctant to have any of his athletes discuss the Relays - "There are some kids who might say something and then think, 'What have I said? Can I really do what I [predicted]?' "

Still, there is plenty of optimism on the Main Line campus.

The distance medley relay team - in an event 'Nova won in 2001 - has the potential to be something special. Led by Bobby Curtis and fellow junior Drew Eckman, a graduate of Oxford High, the quartet has a nice blend of experience and youth as O'Sullivan looks to fill out the squad from ultra-talented freshmen Elvis Lewis and twin brothers Dan and Sean Tully (the Tullys led Syosset High of New York to the Penn Relays' high school 4x800 title last spring).

Other key Cats performances have been turned in by:

Kenyan Kippy Keino, a junior, won the 3,000 steeplechase at the Princeton Quad Meet; Cherokee graduate Marc Pelerin, a senior, took the 3,000 meters at the same meet; Mark Korich, a junior out of Springfield, Montgomery County, ran a season-best 3:52 in the 1,500; junior Jonathan Kolodziej took the 800 at Princeton in 1:54; and Robert McDade, a junior from Cardinal O'Hara, set the school record in the discus (187 feet, 6 inches) at the 2005 Relays.

'Nova women's strong suit

Villanova women's track and field coach Gina Procaccio knows something about excelling in distance events. As a senior at Nova in 1987, she helped the Cats' 4x800 and distance medley relay teams set records.

So when Procaccio, the program's first female coach, now in her sixth year, characterizes the Wildcats as "pretty strong" in the distance medley relay, 4x1,500 and 4x800, Penn Relays opponents may want to take note.

"I think we can definitely compete with anyone out there," said Procaccio, who also refuses to discount Villanova's chances in the 4x400 as well as the 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles.

The optimistic approach appears warranted by the Cats' deep and internationally flavored roster.

Marina Muncan, a senior from Serbia and a seven-time all-American performer, is considered one of the country's top runners in the 1,500. Earlier this month, she qualified for the NCAA regionals by winning the 1,500 at the Sea Ray Relays in Knoxville, Tenn. There, she, Frances Koons, Ioana Parusheva and Akilah Vargas placed second in the 4x800.

Muncan, Perusheva and Vargas helped Nova to a runner-up finish to Stanford in the 4x1,500 at last year's Penn Relays. And Koons, a sophomore from Allentown Central Catholic, and Parusheva, a graduate student from Bulgaria, have qualified for the NCAAs in the 1,500.

Contact suburban staff writer Pete Schnatz at 215-854-5817 or pschnatz@phillynews.com.

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