Monday, October 21, 2013

Villanova's Aussie Pipeline Paying Big Dividends

Aussies (R-L) Williamsz, McEntee, & Tiernan lead Villanova
Villanova's top three cross country harriers this year -- Patrick Tiernan, Jordy Williamsz, and Sam McEntee --  all hail from Australia, the latest in a series of top-notch talent that has come to Villanova from Down Under in Australia or New Zealand.  This new "pipeline" (superseding the famous "Irish Pipeline" established by legendary coach Jumbo Elliott) started almost 15 years ago when two New Zealanders -- distance man Adrian Blincoe and hurdler Nic O'Brien -- came to Villanova and had almost instant success.  Blincoe won an NCAA individual title over 3000i meters and anchored two NCAA DMR championship relays for Villanova, and O'Brien was an NCAA finalist and All-American hurdler.  When Blincoe was named assistant coach after graduating, this fertile recruiting ground was tilled ever more thoroughly and produced many high quality runners for the men's program: In addition to Blincoe and O'Brien, Villanova successfully recruited Matt Gibney, Hugo Beamish, Carl Mackenzie, Mathew Mildenhall, and (briefly) Ben Guest to the Philadelphia campus and all contributed mightily to the program.  The Villanova women also recruited Australian Brooke Simpson, who as a frosh helped the women win the 2009 NCAA cross country title.  Add to that corpus the current trio of McEntee, Williamsz, and frosh Tiernan and the theme becomes clear.

Here's a nice article about the new Pipeline from the folks at The Armory, reflecting on this past weekend's race at the Princeton Invitational:

The Pipeline From Oz

by Elliott Denman

Once upon a time, many a Villanova great traveled "the Irish Pipeline" to track and cross country stardom on the Wildcats' Main Line campus in the Philly 'burbs.

The long line of  Irish running notables who rose to the sport's loftiest heights donned in Villanova blue and white included such celebrated men as John Joe Barry, Ron Delany, Eamonn Coghlan and Marcus O'Sullivan, each, in turn, the best of their contemporary best.

Now, though, the Pipeline to 'Nova extends a whole lot further — half way round the globe, 11 and 13 time zones away, one hemisphere and across the planet's largest ocean distant.

It's "the Aussie Pipeline" nowadays at Villanova and O'Sullivan, who has been the Villanova coach for the past 16 years, is hopeful that his current "men of Oz" can start running to the glories of the earlier "men of Eire."

The Princeton University Cross Country Invitational — run Saturday over the Tigers' West Windsor course — served as an excellent venue to see this Aussie talent up close and personal.

Melbourne's Jordy Williamsz
They didn't run all out. They hung as a group in a togetherness-building drill. They let two others — Lehigh senior Tyler Mueller (23:36) and La Salle graduate student Alfredo Santana (23:40) — snare the top individual honors in the 8k race. And then they swooped home — Patrick Tiernan of Toowoomba, Queensland, third; Jordan Williamsz (that z is no typo) of Melbourne, Victoria, fourth; and Sam McEntee of Perth, Western Australia, fifth.

How together were they? Together enough to claim identical 23:50 clockings.

With good buddy Robert Denault, out of Aurora, Colo., [correction -- Denault is from Aurora, Ontario, Canada -- VR] a mini-step behind them, sixth in 23:51 and then teammate Brian Basili, a Jersey guy out of Columbia High in Maplewood (the school best known as the alma mater of the Running Clarks — Joetta, J.J. and Hazel) 10th in 24:06, the Wildcat men clinched their winning low total of 23 points.

La Salle (led by 14th place Nico Grego), ran a distant second at 94; host Princeton (led by steeplechaser Eddie Owens in 11th) was third at 135; St. Joseph's (which put Aaron Leskow in seventh) took fourth at 158, and Mueller-powered Lehigh ran fifth with 183, in the 30-school field.

Admittedly, Villanova was one of the few "majors" running its top group — other teams either ran at distant invitationals or went with reserves — but the Wildcats' team dominance was impressive nonetheless.

Perth's Sam McEntee leads Williamsz at NCAA Regionals
"We were solid today," said O'Sullivan, the four-time Olympian, three-time world indoor 1500-meter champion who ran over 100 sub-four-minute miles, and is now busy restoring Villanova to its traditional place of prominence.

"We're training hard: I wanted to have a race over a relatively flat course, where it could be nice and controlled," said the Wildcats' chief.

"They're a really good bunch of guys. I wanted the whole group to stay together, I didn't want them to be strung out. They stayed within themselves and were comfortable. At this stage in the season, that's important."

Next big one for the Wildcats: The Big East Championships Nov. 2 in Kenosha, Wis.
But "the most happy fella" in the men's race surely was Lehigh's Mueller. Right arm raised high, sporting a wide smile, he crossed the line in a run of delight.

He'd run a powerful sixth in 23:58 the talent-laden Paul Short Meet on his home Goodman Campus course two weeks ago and this one served as another big confidence-builder."Sure, I was excited," said Mueller. "My Paul Short race was awesome. That was real hot, but today was perfect, no wind, no sun, 60 degrees, on an even flatter course (than his own).

"I wanted to make sure the pace was fast from the beginning. It was 4:44 at the mile,  two miles a little over 9:30, and 14:25, I think, at three miles, pretty much even splits. Then we really cranked it down the last 2K when the Villanova guys started to push the pace.

Queenslander Patrick Tiernan
"I just tried to hold on to them as long as possible. Then I think Coach O'Sullivan told his guys to back off a little. So then it was just Santana and me going for it. We shared the lead for a while, we've always been close to each other. But then I got a little gap with a half-mile to go. I dropped my arms, pumped my arms, and brought it in.

"That last stretch, I kind of looked around and took it all in. It was a great feeling. Who knows? I may never win a race as big as this one again."

Mueller, a biotechnology major and Lehigh's Scholar Athlete of the Year Award winner, has one indoor season of eligibility remaining, but hopes to continue running for years to come. He calls his best track times — 14:19 for 5,000 meters; 29:54 for 10,000 — "modest" performances.

He knows that three of the top Villanovans have sub-4-minute mile credits, but knows there's room in this sport for him, too. Next time out for Mueller and Lehigh will be the Patriot League Championships at Lafayette, Nov. 2. And then he'll enjoy an ultimate home-course advantage at the NCAA Atlantic Regionals, Nov. 15 at the Goodman Campus course.

"Hopefully, I can qualify for Nationals (Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind.)," he said.

"But now I know I can run with the front guys. Our Lehigh team workouts have been fantastic, but we've had a tough time racing. Two of our  best guys have been out with jnjuries. Hopefully, they'll be back and if so, I know our Lehigh team will be due for a big one."

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