Friday, April 29, 2011

The Nerves & Pressure of the Penn Relays

Villanova women’s distance medley relay team member Sheila Reed, left, consoles Emily Lipari, center, and Christie Verdier after the Wildcats finished 13th in the event Thursday afternoon at Penn Relays. (Times staff / ROBERT J. GURECKI)

Strong finish, baton eludes Villanova in Penn Relays

April 29, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — Villanova women’s track coach Gina Procaccio had a sinking feeling that Thursday was not going to be a good day for the Wildcats.

“I could see it in the paddock,” Procaccio said. “She just didn’t look right.”

“She,” was freshman Emily Lipari, who was running in her first Penn Relays as a collegian. Procaccio noticed that Lipari was not her usual, jovial self.

“She looked tense,” Procaccio said.”

Not a good sign, especially at the Penn Relays.

Procaccio’s fears turned out to be justified as the favored Wildcats fell apart and finished a disappointing 13th in the college women’s distance medley relay Championship of America. Only a strong anchor leg prevented the Wildcats from finishing last in the 14-team field, 35 seconds behind winner and Big East rival Georgetown (10:51.49)

The Hoyas ran the fifth-fastest time in Relays history.

Villanova, well …

“It was just one of those days where everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong,” Procaccio said.

The Wildcats felt that if they could get the baton to Reid in good position, the junior from Canada would have a shot to bring Villanova its first title in the DMR since 2006. She never got the chance.

Lipari started slowly. The 1,200-meter leadoff split was seven seconds behind her best, Procaccio said. She was in 10th place when she handed the baton to Christie Verdier for the 400-meter leg. The race turned into a disaster when Verdier had the baton knocked out of her hands before she hit the first turn.

“It would have been really tough to win seven seconds down at the leadoff,” Procaccio said. “I knew Georgetown was pretty tough, so we kind of had to be with them leg for leg. So then the dropped baton added to it, (and) made it impossible then.”

As for Lipari, she’s not sure what went wrong.

“Things just didn’t fall into place for me,” Lipari said. “From the start I just felt really sluggish. There was nothing I could do about it. You have good days and you have bad days.”

There wasn’t anything Verdier could do, either.

“Before I got the baton one of the teams hit me in the face with the baton while she was passing it to her teammate,” Verdier said. “Then, as I got the baton (from Lipari) that same person kneed the baton out of my hand.”

By the time Verdier retrieved the stick, the Wildcats were 30-to-40 meters behind the rest of the field.

“When it’s that bad, you just laugh,” Procaccio said. “What are you going to do? It was tough at the start and then the baton was dropped. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

“I feel for them. I really think over the last three or four years, we’ve gotten a lot better because Villanova made us better,” Georgetown coach Chris Miltenberg said. “And I’d like to think that we’re making them better, too. But I know for a fact that we’ve gotten to where we have been because they pushed us. I feel for them. Obviously, they’re phenomenal. Since I’ve been coaching at Georgetown, they’ve done nothing but beat us. I have the utmost respect for them and I know they’ll be back.”

Reid already has her sights set on this afternoon’s 4 x 1500-meter championship.

“We race tomorrow [Friday] and we’re racing to win,” Reid said. “We don’t take this to heart. We’re pretty resilient when it comes to recovering after bad races and we’re going to come back to the track tomorrow and hope to make some magic happen.”

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