Cross country exceeds expectations

Andrew Whalen

Even if the hardwood currently has your undivided attention, make no mistake about which storied Villanova sport’s program has consistently brought home the NCAA Championship hardware. Villanova’s track and field/cross-country program has won an astonishing seven national championships. The next closest university has four. In addition to team accolades, Villanova track stars have participated in every summer Olympics since 1948. At the collegiate level, more than one thousand Villanova runners have earned All-American status.

Gina Procaccio coaches Villanova’s women’s cross-country and distance runners. Procaccio has been working with the team since 1994 and became the head coach in 2000. Coach Procaccio explained that the track team participates in three separate seasons: fall cross-country, winter indoor and spring track. For the fall season, Procaccio identifies members of the team with “good distance track times and develops them into strong cross-country runners.” Procaccio particularly studies those runners who compete in the 800 to 5,000 meter range.

The cross-country runners, besides training in and around school grounds, also run through Valley Forge and Rose Tree Park, as well as on the Wissahickon Trail, so that they can simulate competitive environments. Procaccio says that cross-country courses are 6,000 meters in length; some are golf courses, cornfields, woods, hills or flat grounds. The only cross-country stipulation is that the course cannot be run on a track, but rather on dirt or grass.

Before Villanova’s women’s cross-country team could compete for this year’s national championship, however, they needed to finish in the top two at their Regional qualifying meet.

Coach Procaccio said, “The team was under the gun to get to Nationals this year.”

Villanova needed to beat Georgetown, a team that had already defeated them twice this year, at the pre-national and Big East Conference meets.

The Wildcats were able to rebound then from their earlier losses to Georgetown, to win the second regional qualifying spot, finishing behind only Princeton. Cross-country team scoring is based on a point system. The first place runner gets one point, the second place runner two points, and so on till every participant is accounted for. Every team runs seven girls. The team with the lowest combined score is the winner.

Villanova next joined 28 other qualifying teams at last week’s NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana. Villanova entered ranked 23rd in the country. The team’s No. 1 runner Senior Marina Muncan finished 23rd out of 253 runners with a time of 20:23.5. Muncan’s effort earned her All-American honors for the fourth straight year. Sophomore Frances Koons was the second Wildcat to finish, placing 65th in the field.

After the final tally, Stanford was declared team champion with 146 points. The Wildcats improved on their pre-meet 23rd ranking by finishing 21st.

Coach Procaccio saw many positives this season. “The season was very successful even when we were forced to compromise. Our third runner Akilah Vargas is an 800-meter runner, and she ran some great 6,000-meter races. Our fourth runner, Bridget Akard was a walk-on, and she really stepped it up this year.”

Eyeing the transitional and spring seasons, Coach Procaccio said she is “very excited for track season. Many girls saw drastic improvements in cross-country which should transfer to great performances on the track.” There is no doubt the track team can be back on top with their “continued hard work and positive attitude.”