Villanova sorting out its Penn Relays lineups

Students stretch in the bleachers during the 118th running of the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pa. on April 26, 2012. ( David Maialetti / Staff Photographer )
Students stretch in the bleachers during the 118th running of the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pa. on April 26, 2012. ( David Maialetti / Staff Photographer ) (David Maialetti)
Posted: April 23, 2013

The competition to earn a spot on the Villanova teams that will compete in this week's Penn Relays is just as intense as the competition on the Franklin Field track, minus, of course, the screaming crowds and the call of the race by the public-address announcer.

The head coaches of the Wildcats' track and field programs, Marcus O'Sullivan (men) and Gina Procaccio (women), know the pressure of running in the Penn Relays when you are wearing a Villanova singlet, having dealt with that as athletes and coaches. So they take the battle for the last relay spots up to the last minute.

"You're waiting to see all the different nuances right up until the last workout," O'Sullivan said. "I try to tell the kids, 'This is nothing personal. If you're not on the team, don't look at me like, why didn't you put me on the team?' This is about our tradition. It's about Villanova. I'm going to put the best team out there."

Procaccio said it's a matter of being absolutely sure.

"You want to see things leading all the way up to the last workout," she said. "I don't want to say, 'You're on [the team],' and then I see other things. The last thing you want to do is change after you've told somebody something."

With that being said, the two coaches have strong core runners for the six races in which they expect to contend at Penn - the men's and women's distance medley and 4x800-meter relays, along with the women's 4x1,500 and the men's 4xMile.

The Villanova women won the DMR last year and have two returning runners from that team in juniors Emily Lipari, who will anchor this year, and Nicky Akande. The pair ran the final two legs on the Wildcats team that finished a close second to Michigan in last month's NCAA indoor championships.

Procaccio said Akande, Lipari, and freshman Angel Piccirillo, who led off 'Nova's DMR team at NCAAs, might run all three relays, but a different runner could be the fourth participant for each event.

O'Sullivan also thinks his team will challenge in the three races in which it will compete because of its depth.

The Wildcats finished fifth in the NCAA indoors in the distance medley despite a bad stumble by anchor Sam McEntee, who is expected to anchor Friday's race.

Samuel Ellison, a junior who starred at Upper Dublin High School, also was on the team in the NCAA meet and probably will go this week in the DMR and the 4x800 against some tough teams.

"Anything can happen," O'Sullivan said. "I've always preached to the guys over the years that we just have to be there, be in the race, and things can happen. I'm pretty excited about it this year."


Contact Joe Juliano

at jjuliano@phillynews.com.

Follow @joejulesinq on Twitter.

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