PHILADELPHIA — Shortly after winning the college women’s distance medley relay Thursday in the Penn Relays, the Villanova runners were treated to a surprise.
Handing them their championship watches were former Villanova track stars Vicki Huber and Michelle Bennett, both part of the Wildcats’ 1988 distance medley relay team that still holds the Penn Relays record.
“Michelle Bennett pointed out their record was set before any of these girls were born,” Villanova women’s coach Gina Procaccio said. “We can’t believe that many years have gone by. But we’re thrilled that we’re able to keep the tradition alive.”
Villanova certainly has a proud tradition in the Penn Relays, a meet the Wildcats put a lot of emphasis on because of its proximity to their campus. The title Thursday was Villanova’s second straight and 12th overall.
Emily Lipari anchored the winning relay, running the mile in 4 minutes, 37.7 seconds for an overall time of 10:58.84. Homer City native Angel Piccirillo ran the 1,200 in 3:21.8, Michaela Watkins completed the 400 in 54.6, and Nicky Akande ran the 800 in 2:04.7. Kentucky was second in 11:04.45, followed by Columbia in 11:07.68.
The race was the highlight of the first day of the 119th running of the meet that opened under tightened security and heightened awareness following the Boston Marathon bombings. Spectators were prohibited from bringing backpacks or coolers into Franklin Field, and there were two fenced-in areas in the infield where athletes could keep bags that had already been checked at the entrance. The presence of additional law enforcement was also more visible outside the iconic football stadium located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
But one Penn official noted that lines to get in weren’t any longer than usual as many spectators and athletes heeded the advice that was given and arrived early to Franklin Field. And the 23,310 fans in attendance — the 10th best Thursday crowd in Penn Relays history — were treated to a full day of high school and college events, highlighted by Villanova’s win in the women’s DMR.
The Wildcats led for most of the race, thanks to a strong opening leg from Piccirillo, who has had a lot of success at Penn Relays. The Villanova freshman, a 10-time PIAA champion in cross country and track and field, won two Penn Relays championships in the mile while at Homer-Center High School.
“I’ve definitely had good luck here,” Piccirillo said. “This track has been really good to me. It was just an amazing opportunity to run with these girls and for Gina. It’s great being back here.”