Athlete of the Year: Running toward history

Tim Richer

The ’06-’07 school year marked an outstanding season for Villanova athletics. Several teams, including the men’s basketball, women’s soccer, track & field and cross country squads, featured both memorable seasons and athletes. Among all of the Wildcat stars, none stood out more than Frances Koons, a junior runner from Allentown, Pa.

Koons began her 2006 cross country dominance by cruising to a 12-second victory in the individual championship at the Paul Short Invitational held at Lehigh University. With her time of 20:16, Koons set the first of several meet records for the season.

In one of her larger meets, Koons followed up her Paul Short victory by finishing second in the NCAA pre-Nationals at Indiana State University. In the 6K race, Koons finished ahead of 251 collegiate runners with a time of 20:08.

The junior standout continued to roll as she won the women’s Big East cross country championship in Boston with a time of 20:28. With the victory, Koons became just the 11th Wildcat ever to earn that honor and the first since Ann McGranahan won the meet in 2000.

In perhaps her most crucial victory of the year, Koons dominated the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional meet by registering a season-best time of 20:02. Her score, which was 30 seconds better than the next fastest runner, allowed her to advance to the national championship meet in November.

Koons proved she belonged among the national ranks, registering a time of 22:02 at the national championship and finishing 87th out of 253 of the nation’s best runners. Poor weather conditions at Indiana State led to slower times for all the runners.

The winter indoor track and field season provided much of the same for Koons as she continued to dominate several meets. The junior star set a meet record in January at the NYC Gotham Cup on her way to victory in the 1,000-meter run. She was also the leader of a 4×800-meter relay team that took first in the meet.

Koons set her third meet record of her junior year later in January as she ran a 4:38 mile at the Penn State National Invite en route to qualifying for nationals. She also joined teammates Akilah Vargas, Tiera Fletcher and Arusha McKenzie in winning the distance medley relay and qualifying for nationals in that event as well.

For the third straight meet, Koons set a record in the New Balance Invitational in New York as she ran a 9:01 3,000-meter race, defeating the previous meet record by 12 seconds. The score was also 17 seconds better than her previous best in 2005.

By mid-February, the entire Villanova indoor team had picked up, cracking the Top 20 and ranking as high as No. 14 in the country.

After the team garnering its national ranking, Koons took the Big East indoor championships by storm, winning the 1,000-meter, one mile run and 4×800-meter relay. After the meet, the Wildcat was named the Big East’s Most Outstanding Track Performer.

“Frances is not only a terrific athlete, but she is also a great leader,” women’s Head Coach Gina Procaccio said. “We are extremely proud of her and all our runners.”

She followed up her Big East accolade by being named the Mid-Atlantic Region Women’s Track Athlete of the Year at the NCAA indoor championships at Arkansas in March. Koons concluded her junior indoor season with an eighth-place finish in the 3,000-meter with a time of 9:20. She also gathered All-American honors in the event for the second straight year.

Koons delayed her debut in the 2007 outdoor track and field season until early April at the Duke Invitational. She did not disappoint, qualifying for the NCAA regionals with a winning time of 4:20 in the 1,500-meter. The next week, the junior qualified for the 800-meter by finishing sixth in the Sea Ray Relays in Knoxville, Tenn.

In the Penn Relays this past weekend, Koons anchored a distance medley relay team that finished second, only behind the University of Tennessee.

Koons looks to finish the season strong as she will compete in the Big East championships, NCAA regionals and NCAA championships in Sacramento in early June.