Track and field finds success at national championship meet



Karolina Golabek

Junior Jordy Williamsz led the men’s track and field team to fifth place in the distance medley relay at the NCAA  Indoor Track and Field Championships that took place last weekend at the Randal Tyson Track in Fayatteville, Ark. 

The women’s team saw junior Angel Piccirillo and senior Stephanie Schappert come in seventh and ninth, respectively, in the Mile on Saturday. Piccirillo became the 17th athlete from Villanova to be a top-eight finisher in the mile. 

Williamsz’s split over the final 1600 meters was two seconds faster than any other anchor in the race. He clocked in 3:55.46 and by doing so made up a lot of time to allow Villanova to finish in the top eight. 

Senior Dusty Solis began the race, followed by junior Donald Urschel, freshman Elliot Slade, and Williamsz concluded. This was the Wildcats’ fourth finish in the top eight in the last six years. The team’s overall time was 9:32.96. 

“The DMR is always one of the toughest events to compete in,” Williamsz said. “It’s never an easy feat trying to get four very different legs to come together and all hit their mark. 

“Friday night wasn’t the highlight of the season as far as the team, but you can never be disappointed with an All-American Finish.”

Solis started solid, avoiding plenty of accidents that occurred within the first leg. There was a fall within the first two laps and a collision with 300 meters remaining. He was able to slip into fourth place at the handoff. Urschel had a split of 48.36 over 400 meters, while Slade had a split of 1:50.28 on the 800 meters leg. 

Williamsz performed extremely well on his leg, even going up to second place with less than 400 meters to the end. However, Oregon anchor Edward Cheserek pulled away once again at the start of the bell lap. He fell a few spots but was ultimately able to hold on to a strong fifth place. 

On the experience of competiting in this event at the National Championships, Wiliamsz said, “Personally, I just tried to bring us back into it as best I could. Fortunately I was able to bring us back into contention, unfortunately I wasn’t able to quite hang on the whole way.” 

Oregon, Penn State, Iowa State and Georgetown finished ahead of the Wildcats. 

Earlier in the weekend, junior Rob Denault ran the preliminary heats of the mile and placed seventh. 

The top four finishers in each heat advance, as well as the following two fastest times. With a time of 4:00.80, Denault just missed cutoff by eight-tenths of a second. 

“Rob probably had one of the fastest times ever to not make the final in the mile.” Villanova Head Coach Marcus O’Sullivan said. “He ran according to plan, but got roughed up a bit on the last lap. He did well for sure and the way he raced was the best strategy for him.” 

This was the second consecutive year that Denault qualified for the national championships in the mile. 

He qualified this year after running a personal best of 3:58.25 at the Penn State National in January. 

The competition to qualify was incredibly fierce this year. For the first time in history there were a dozen under-four minute runners who failed to qualified for the NCAA championships.

On the women’s side, Piccirillo finished with a 4:37.96, with Schappert following with 4:38.63 in the mle. 

’Nova was the only team to have two runners in the race. 

Piccirillo kept close to a leading group of five that formed in the last 400 meters of the mile. The leading positions barely changed throughout, with Michigan State’s Leah O’Connor running in the lead throughout the entirety of the race and ultimately claimed the national title. 

Piccirillo can take plenty of positives from the championships, as well as the indoor season. She established herself as one of the top middle-distance runners in the country. 

It was the first time she qualified for an individual event at the NCAA Championships. 

Earlier in the season, Piccirillo won the Big East title in the 800 meters this year and won the mile last year, becoming the first Villanova athlete with Big East titles in both of these races. 

For Schappert, this was the second consecutive year she qualified for the mile at nationals. Earlier in the season she achieved a personal best in the mile with a time of 4:36.31 at the Penn State National. She also won the Big East in the race, claiming her first individual conference title.

Both athletes will earn All-America honors in the mile. Piccirillo will receive first team honors for her top-eight finish. This is the fourth time in the last six years that Villanova has at least one All-American in the mile. 

“Watching your teammates reach their goals is exciting and makes you strive to do better,” Schappert said when asked about her teammates’ success throughout the indoor season.

“I don’t think I can pinpoint one thing that made this year a successful one, but across all the events, distance, sprints, jumps, and throws everyone was really motivated and training hard.”

The official announcement  of Schappert and Piccirillo’s All-American achievement will be made by the United States Track & field and Cross Country Coaches Association next week.

The team now looks forward to the beginning of the outdoor season in a few weeks with aspirations of winning another conference championship.

“Overall I think the team is set up really well to have a stellar outdoor season [and] hopefully capture another Big East Conference title, and get as many people to the NCAA outdoor meet as possible,” Schappert said.

The first event on the outdoor schedule for both the men and women is Saturday at the Philadelphia College Classic.