Women’s cross country ranked No. 2

Lindsey Beakes

With the Big East Championship on Saturday, the women’s cross country team sits at second on the most recent USTFCCCA Coaches Poll. The team is looking to defend its title as Big East champions from 2008 and has a number of invitational wins that will help it do just that.

The team started off the season with a fifth place ranking in the USTFCCCA Coaches Poll, giving it the motivation to move up. Last year, the team claimed the Big East title from the No. 6 spot. Also, Villanova lost its only first place runner from last year, Frances Koons, which means most of the returning team was there to experience the Big East win last year.

“Those are coaches’ rankings, but we are always looking to move up,” said Head Coach Gina Procaccio. “The team builds and gets stronger with the years, and we only lost one girl from last season.”

The Wildcats opened up their 2009 season with the Main Line Invitational at Haverford College on Sept. 24, where they dominated the field. The Wildcats claimed spots one through five, as well as the 11th, 14th, and 16th spots. The team was lead by senior Kaitlyn Tallman, junior Sheila Reid, senior Nicole Schappert, junior Amanda Marino and sophomore Bogdana Mimic. While the other three top 20 finishers were junior Kaitlin O’Sullivan, freshman Ariann Neutts and freshman Meghan Smith.

“We aren’t necessarily doing things differently,” said junior Sheila Reid. “This year the team is a tighter pack.”

When the women traveled to Oregon a week later, they did not disappoint, as they ran away with the Bill Dellinger Invitational with a win over No. 2 Oregon. The team further solidified its close talent by finishing with five runners in the top ten.

“We gained momentum at Oregon,” said senior Nicole Schappert. “We don’t want to get too confident but we know we can run with any team.”

Reid won the race and set the new course record in 16:22.92. Marino, Schappert, Mimic and Tallman followed, all finishing the course in less than 17 minutes.

After a hip injury last year, Reid has not only made herself the top runner on the team, but she was also named the Big East women’s cross country athlete of the week, following the Bill Dellinger Invitational, the same time the team was ranked No. 2.

“It is an honor,” Reid said. “I’ve just been building off of seasons.”

Reid continued to improve upon her season at the Panorama Farms Invitational in Virginia where she finished first. Three of Reid’s fellow teammates, Nicole Schappert, Amanda Marino and Bogdana Mimic, followed. All four girls broke the course record. Villanova had seven other runners, Tallman, junior Ali Smith, freshman Brooke Simpson, Neutts, Smith, O’Sullivan and freshman Anna Francis, finish in the top 60 at the meet.

“This is a much closer group,” said Procaccio. “They definitely gained confidence after the top four all broke the record of a good runner.”

The closeness of the runners’ times has allowed them to utilize pack running, which has helped them place so many women in the top spots during races. At the Panorama Farms Invitational, the team ran as a pack for the first two miles before breaking at a hill after the third mile.

“Virginia was a different race than Oregon,” said Schappert. “It was a 6K with hills. But this year we run more as a pack, it’s not like there is one runner far out front.”

Coming off of two big invitational wins, the women are looking ahead to the Big East championships as well as the Mid-Atlantic Regional and NCAA championship, where they finished third and sixth, respectively, last year.

“We don’t want to do things differently,” said Marino. “It’s like going into anything else.”

The women will have to take on West Virginia, who is ranked No. 4 nationally, as well as other Big East contenders, when they race at the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country course tomorrow.

“We want to win,” said Schappert. “But we know there are good teams in the Big East.”

As for preparing, the team claims to be doing things as they normally would, especially protecting themselves against any sicknesses. The championship season coincides with flu season and extra precautions have to be taken with H1N1 scares around campus.

“It’s a lot of sleep and obsessive hand washing,” said Marino.

The Wildcats’ 6K Big East Championship race begins at 11:50 a.m. Saturday morning at the Wayne E. Dannehl Cross Country course in Wisconsin.