Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kiwi Blincoe Primed & Fed the New Pipeline to Villanova

Villanova cross country runners, from left, Rob Denault, Patrick Tiernan, Sam McEntee and Jordy Williamsz are all far from home living on the Main Line — Denault is Canadian and McEntee, Williamsz and Tiernan are Australian. (Courtesy photo)

Villanova's Aussies fueling run to NCAA championships

RADNOR, PA — Sam McEntee didn’t have a winter coat when he arrived in the United States to attend Villanova three years ago in January. All he had was a hoodie. Fittingly, it snowed.

“I was freezing,” McEntee said

Sophomore Jordy Williamsz had never seen snow before he came to the U.S., either.

Freshman Patrick Tiernan also had never seen snow before, but thanks to conversations with Williamsz, Tiernan was a little more prepared for life in the states when he arrived at Villanova last January.

The late, great Jumbo Elliott had his “Irish Pipeline,” which helped transform the track and field and cross country programs at Villanova into a national power.

Marcus O’Sullivan, who was one of those Irish imports, has kept that international tradition going in his 16 years as Villanova’s coach. In recent years, though, the pipeline has been connected Down Under rather than to the Auld Sod.

McEntee & Williamsz led the way in 2012
McEntee, Williamsz and Tiernan hail from Australia. McEntee is from Perth. Williamsz hails from Melbourne and Tiernan is from Toowoomba, which is about 80 miles west of Brisbane.

All three, along with Canadian Rob Denault and Americans Brian Basili and Alex Tulley, are the reason the 14th-ranked Wildcats are headed to the Saturday’s NCAA cross country championships as a team for the sixth consecutive year.

The Villanova women are also making their sixth straight trip to nationals as a team.

Tiernan was the individual winner as Villanova won the Big East and Mid-Atlantic Regional titles in the same year for the first time since 2002. He was named the Mid-Atlantic Region Athlete of the Year.

McEntee finished second at the regional meet. Denault was ninth. Williamsz finished in 10th place, Basili was 12th and Tulley 23rd. All six earned All-Region honors.

“The school has always reached overseas,” O’Sullivan said. “This school was founded on Irish immigrants coming over and trying to provide them with an education. Jumbo kind of teed off on that and kept it moving. Over the years, we’ve had kids from England and Ireland. And then, in the last 15 years or so, we’ve had kids from Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, you name it.

Blincoe holds the NZ National Record at 5000 meters
“Then, all of a sudden, about 10 or 11 years ago, I got a call from Adrian Blincoe, who’s from New Zealand. I thought it would be a 20-minute conversation and it was a 2½ hour conversation with him. He tells me now that when he hung up the phone he knew this is where he wanted to come. So a big part of why we’re Down Under is because of Adrian. That led into the next area, which is Australia.”

Contrary to popular belief, O’Sullivan did not go to Australia to land Matt Gibney, which eventually led to getting McEntee, Williamsz and Tiernan. Blincoe was the point man there.

McEntee said he received a random message on Facebook from Blincoe, who was an assistant coach at Villanova at the time. One thing led to another and the next thing he knew he was on a plane headed to the States.

“I never really spoke to Marcus until I stepped off the train at Villanova with my dad,” McEntee said.

Williamsz, who met Blincoe in London in 2011, was running in the Australian circuit, but not in school. One day, he had an epiphany.

“I couldn’t sleep one night and said, ‘I want to go to school,’” Williamsz said “I spoke with my coach and he said, ‘Give me an hour.’ He rings me up an hour later and says, ‘You’re going to Villanova, start the paperwork.’”

Like McEntee, Tiernan received a message from Blincoe, who was about to complete his four-year run on O’Sullivan’s staff.

“He actually left here right after he sent it so I had a lot of contact with Marcus in the few months before I came over,” Tiernan said.

Williamsz also had a connection with McEntee and Tiernan. He and McEntee met and roomed together during a camp in Melbourne in 2010 sponsored by Athletics Australian, the governing body for track and cross country in Australia. Williamsz and Tiernan met a year later during a race in Melbourne.

Tiernan is the latest addition from Australia
“He likes to think he’s the reason I came here,” Tiernan said of Williamsz.

“I don’t think, I know I’m the reason you came here,” Williamsz said with a laugh.

Still, leaving home is never easy, especially when that home is roughly 10,000 miles away. It’s not like they can just hop on a plane or a train, like most of their teammates, and head home for the weekend.

Thank goodness for the Internet and cellphones. All three said they talk to their parents at least once a week. That’s a far cry from O’Sullivan, who had to take paper to pen to stay in touch.

“You’d go to the mailbox every day,” O’Sullivan said. “That was the highlight of your day.”

Adjusting to life in the United States was trying. McEntee remembers his first run at Villanova, a 10-mile trek around campus in January. He said he tried to talk to his teammates during the workout. That lasted for about three miles.

“After that, my jaw was just frozen it was so cold,” McEntee said. “After that I said that if I’m ever going home, now’s the time, but I managed through that first week.”

He’s still at Villanova, as are Williamsz and Tiernan, but there are some things they do miss, outside of their families and friends, of course. McEntee and Williamsz both grew up within 400 meters of the beach. Tiernan could go around his entire hometown on his long runs.

But that’s not all.

“(It’s difficult) not having a car,” Williamsz said. “It’s not like we’re bound to the campus, but if you want to go somewhere you have to catch a train and it costs like eight bucks each way. You want to be able to drive off and get out of here for a while.”

“Yeah,” McEntee said. “You lose a little bit of your independence.”

All three, though, are glad they did make the decision to come to Villanova.

“It’s easily the best decision I’ve ever made,” Williamsz said.

“I agree with Jordy,” Tiernan said.

“Me, too,” McEntee said.

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