by Jacob Pickle
Coming into the 2012 Big East Championships at the Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx, N.Y., on Friday afternoon, the men’s and women’s cross country teams had plenty of competition watching out for them.
The men’s and women’s teams, two historically successful programs that swept last year’s Big East Championships, entered the conference meet with high aspirations and left with mixed results.
Although both teams both ultimately relinquished their titles as defending champions, as the women and men finished in fourth and fifth place, respectively, both groups put in strong performances and junior Emily Lipari ran a brilliant race to take home her first individual conference title. Syracuse laid claim to the men’s team title, while Georgetown ended up with the women’s championship.
For Wildcat fans, the meet was highlighted by the performances of juniors Lipari and Nicky Akande in the women’s race that ended with them taking first and third place, respectively, with times of 20:45:33 and 20:48:84 on the 6k course.
The race turned out to be a thriller, with Lipari and Sarah Collins of Providence battling for first throughout much of the race.
The two were neck and neck entering into the concluding straightaway, until Lipari used a strong last effort in the final couple hundred meters to pull away and claim the race by 0.79 seconds.
“I was about three seconds off the pace with 500 meters left,” Lipari said. “I just thought to myself that I hadn’t run so far to finish in second place. I didn’t think that I had the championship in hand until the moment I crossed the finish line.”
The women’s team impressed as a whole, finishing fourth behind three other nationally ranked programs.
Lipari, Akande and senior Summer Cook all claimed All-Big East honors for finishing in the top 15.
Lipari’s title also marks the 15th time out of the 31-year history of the women’s Big East Championships that a Villanova Wildcat has been the conference’s individual champion.
Although they didn’t end up taking home any hardware, the men’s team claimed fifth with an impressive and well-rounded performance.
Sophomore Samuel McEntee led the way for the Wildcats with a 17th place finish on the 8k course, and was paced by four other Villanova runners placing in the top 31.
Despite a nearly ideal day for running, the field opened up the race slowly and no team was able to establish a clear lead. Villanova Head Coach Marcus O’Sullivan felt as though his group had chances to be that team but it was unfortunately unable to do so.
“I was worried after the first mile because our guys did not seem to have that great a handle on the race,” O‘Sullivan said. “They were right there toward the front of the pack but I think there were opportunities for us to have been more aggressive earlier in the race.”
It’s hard to say how much of a difference an early move would have made running against a team like Syracuse, however. The Orange runners were in top form on Friday, with freshman Martin Hehir winning the individual title and a four others finishing in the top 15.
“Syracuse ran exceptionally well and I don’t think anyone could have beaten them today,” O’Sullivan said. “However, I do think there was a chance for us to have finished higher than we did. Every team has days when they are off, so we will have to be better at [the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional] in two weeks.”
Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams return to action on Friday, Nov. 9, for the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional at Penn State University.