Track and Field Prepares For BIG EAST Championship


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Track and Field Prepares For BIG EAST Championship

Mike Keeley

The men’s and women’s track & field will travel up to Ocean Breeze Park, Staten Island, NY, to compete in the 2018 BIG EAST Indoor championships. Men’s head coach, Marcus O’Sullivan, believes the close proximity of the meet will give the Wildcats an advantage come this weekend. 

“We can do our last workout here and then head on up, which is good,” O’Sullivan said. 

Going into this weekend’s meet, coach O’Sullivan’s squad is confident in their ability to bring the indoor title back to the University, after capturing the title in 2016. Despite the strong competition from the likes of schools such as DePaul and Marquette, the Wildcats see a path to victory.  

Due to the strict rules applied to roster construction and the unpredictable nature of racing, how the Wildcats manage their roster in the mid and long-distance races will be especially vital to securing the points necessary for success. 

Determining how to split the load of the 3000 and 5000 meter races amongst sophomores Andrew Marston, Casey Comber, Paul Power and freshmen Rob Morro and Martin Barr, will be crucial to the team’s success. 

“They’re doing really well in the distance events,” O’Sullivan said. “They’ll kind of share their energy between the 5000 and the 3000. You don’t want to go kill your kids by overextending them. You have to pick your events wisely.” 

Although it is necessary to manage runners’ workloads in sprint events as well, these lineups are more set in stone. Junior Sterling Pierce, a three-time BIG EAST champion, will lead less experienced freshmen teammates in the 60 and 200 meter races. Freshman Keegan Hughes will also run in the 60 meter, while freshmen Amir Brock and Richard Bush will run in the 200 meter sprint. 

Hughes and Bush also plan to run in the 400 meter race along with junior Harry Purcell, a two-time BIG EAST champion himself, and freshman breakout performer Brian Faust. 

The coaching staff is less certain about who will run in the 800 meter race. This event presents some unusual challenges because of the fact that it is in the middle ground between sprinting and long-distance running, meaning there are more choices. One thing for sure is that senior sprinter Ishmael Muhammad will race, while the Wildcats are also leaning towards placing junior sprinter Ville Lampinen into the lineup. Purcell’s name has also been brought up, so whether it is a stylistic preference or simply how they have chosen to manage all the athletes’ workloads, the majority of 800 meter runners this weekend are likely to be sprinters. 

For the men’s relays, the 4 x 400 meter and the Distance Medley Relay(“DMR”), neither lineup is set. However, expect to see the same DMR combo that ran last weekend and looks to be in a good spot to qualify for NCAA championships. This lineup is comprised of Faust, Purcell, graduate Ben Malone and sophomore Logan Wetzel. Their 9:29.56 time shows them to be in good form for this weekend, and the Wildcats will be hoping to pick up valuable points here. In the 4 x 400 meter, teams are allowed to register alternates, making it hard to know exactly who will run. However, it is certain that it will not be anyone who is registered for another race. The seven registered are Brock, Bush, Faust, Lampinen, Purcell, Young, and Muhammad. 

As for the field events, the Wildcats have registered a young group. Of the 20 entries into events, 14 of them are underclassmen, with upperclassmen competing only in the pole vault, long jump, shot put and heptathlon. If this young group impresses at this weekend’s meet, it will mean a lot not only for the Wildcats’ championship hopes this season, but also to the future of the team, as this young crop of field athletes develop. 

The women’s team, led by head coach Gina Procaccio, also plans to make waves at this weekend’s championships. After finishing as runners-up in last year’s event, the Wildcats believe they have a well-rounded roster capable of succeeding throughout the meet. Procaccio’s squad will enter competition with momentum at their back, as multiple athletes have recently recorded personal bests. Specifically, a trio of juniors, Alex Patrick in the long jump, Kaley Ciluffo in the mile and Nicole Hutchinson in the 3000 meter. 

“It gives the kids confidence,” Procaccio said. “It’s always exciting to see kids meet their goals.” 

In the Wildcats theoretical path to success in this meet, one athlete who will be relied upon to put points on the board is senior, and seven-time BIG EAST champion, Siofra Cleirigh Buttner. As the school’s record-holder in the indoor 800 meter race and a key part of many previous 4 x 400 meter and DMR victories, Cleirigh Buttner will need to be at her best throughout the weekend for the Wildcats to achieve their goals.  

Another Wildcat who fans should pay attention to this weekend is sophomore Trudy Ann Williamson, owner of the University record in the 60 meter sprint. With a time of 7.41 seconds, Williamson broke the record her freshman year at the Nittany Lion Challenge, before losing the rest of the season to injury. Since she has come back this year, Williamson has put up the second and third best times in the program’s history. She could also potentially run in the 200 meter sprint. 

“She’s a great competitor,” Procaccio said of her star sprinter. “She didn’t let any setback get in her way.” 

Just as in the men’s event, the Wildcats’ DMR team is one of the best in the nation. Although this is not guaranteed to be the team that races this weekend with Cleirigh Buttner and others now available, the relay team of Ciluffo, Hutchinson, sophomore McKenna Keegan and senior Kelsey Margey recorded an adjusted time of 11:06.51 last weekend. This finish placed them 6th in the country at the time and well within the top twelve that qualify for NCAA championships.  

Other athletes that are coming off great results in the past couple weeks are Alex Harris, who won first in the mile at the FastTrack Invitational, and Cala Lejman, who won the pole vault at the same meet. They will look to continue that form into the weekend.