‘Nova men aim to defend national titles in NCAA championship meets

Leslie Combs

Villanova track and field traveled south this week to compete in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships today and Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark.

The Wildcats are returning to the national stage a year later to defend their national title in two events and continue their rise back to the distance running’s top pedestal.

Juniors Ryan Hayden, Nic O’Brien and Paul Moser join senior Adrian Blincoe to make up the quartet designated to bring home the distance medley relay title for the second straight year.

Hayden will lead off in the 1,200 meter, passing the baton for O’Brien to run the shortest leg, a 400m, before Moser kicks in a 800m prior to passing off to Blincoe who will anchor with a 1,600m.

Although the ’Cats are the defending champions in the race, they are not the favorite coming into the event and do not have the fastest time posted this year.

Sharing the spotlight with ’Nova is Arkansas, Stanford and Eastern Michigan. The later has the fastest time going into the race, but the Eagles are not expected to run the same squad.

“People know they [the Wildcats] are good enough to win, but it is going to be tougher this year,” men’s assistant coach Scott Tantino explained.

Blincoe also qualified to defend his indoor national title in the 3,000m run, but again is not favored to repeat.

The standout senior native to New Zealand is coming off an injury, but Tantino feels that Blincoe is just starting to peak at the right time and will run a strong race.

Also running individually is Hayden in the one-mile run. The junior is having an outstanding season and many in the elite distance running circuit expect him to bring home the title.

Tantino has high hopes for Blincoe and Hayden, whom he called championship runners.

“They live for this,” Tantino said. “They know when they have to be ready to race and know how to race at this level.”

The men are not the only ’Cats racing in warmer climates this weekend. The women also traveled to Arkansas to prepare themselves for this weekend’s championships.

Forming the DMR squad that is expected to place in the top 10 are juniors Rebecca Mitchell and Melanie Rhoden, freshman Marina Muncan and sophomore Ioana Parusheva. Last March the ’Cats placed 10th in the DMR and indoor nationals.

Muncan also qualified individually in her rookie season in the one-mile run and will be joined by Parusheva in the event. Parusheva competed on the indoor DMR squad a year ago, but qualifying for the one-mile this year is the first time the Yugoslavian sophomore will run individually indoors at the national level.

Head coach Gina Procaccio is confident in the ability of the women to compete among the elite distance runners in the country.

“I expect them to run well this weekend,” Procaccio said. “They are ready.”

The veterans of both the men and women’s teams are not strangers to the University of Arkansas’s track after competing there two years ago for the 2001 NCAA Indoor Championships and are ready to return with much more experience and talent under ’Nova’s belt.