Editor's note: For the next month, The Wood Report will be counting down projected team finishes in this year's NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, IN.
Head Coach: Gina Procaccio (14th Season)
2012 National Finish- 20th
Key Returners from 2012
- Emily Lipari (Sr., 4:15 1500m, 9:08 Open 3k)
- Nicky Akande (Sr., 4:17 1500m, 9:39 Open 3k)
- Megan Venables (Jr., 17:03 5k, 35:26 10k)
- Stephanie Schappert (Jr., 2:07 800m, 4:18 1500m)
- Courtney Chapman (Jr., 4:26 1500m, 9:31 Open 3k)
- Kelsey Margey (So., 2:06 800m, 4:17 1500m)
- Ariann Neutts (Sr., 2:07 800m, 4:22 1500m)
- Julie Williams (Fr., 4:51 Mile, 10:50 2 Mile, NXN Qualifier '11)
- Katie Brislin (Fr., 4:29 1500m, 10:18 3k, 29th NXN '12)
- Angel Piccirillo (Redshirt Frosh, 2:05 800m, 4:21 1500m)
Although it feels like they have been around forever, Emily Lipari and Nicky Akande have finally reached their senior years at Villanova. Coach Gina Procaccio has done a great job keeping this Villanova team consistently good throughout the years, and this year will be no different. With two very solid front-runners returning, some nice depth and a good freshman class, the Wildcats are ready to return to NCAA prominence after their 20th finish in 2012.
Emily Lipari has had quite the storied career at Villanova. She is the only returning member from the 2010 NCAA National Championship winning team. Lipari has the tools and experience to be a top-15 runner. She has good range from 800m to 3k. If she steps up and becomes a huge low-stick for this team, they will see the success they are capable of this season.
Nicky Akande is one of the more under-rated athletes in the NCAA. Akande was awesome for the majority of the cross country season in 2012. She finished 3rd at the Big East Champs and took home the individual title at the Mid-Atlantic Regional. An unfortunate Nationals race in Louisville last year will have her hungry to improve upon her 95th place finish, this upcoming season.
Villanova's Men's and Women's programs, though coached by different people, share a similar attribute--they are loaded with middle distance talent. Lipari and Akande are both gems in the middle distance events (with some range) and have two other athletes that are sub 4:20 for 1500m. Coach Procaccio has proven that she can coach up the middle-distance runners and this played a huge reason in their ranking so high this season.
The rest of the squad that will help the Wildcats break into the top-10 this season is comprised of a few girls with pretty good experience in xc and a few that have limited opportunities, but have some very good upside.
Stephanie Schappert, Kelsey Margey, Ariann Neutts and Angel Piccirillo all are excellent middle-distance runners. Neither of these athletes have necessarily excelled in cross country (Piccirillo redshirted her freshman xc season) but all have the capability of stepping up in distance and being solid pack runners for Villanova behind Lipari and Akande.
Megan Venables and Courtney Chapman have a little bit better chops for the longer distances than the previously mentioned girls, but do not quite have the leg speed to compare with them. If these two can get some good miles in this summer, they should rise up and push the middle-distance girls for the no. 3-5 spots.
The recruiting class for Villanova this year is solid, though not sizable. Julie Williams is an immediate impact distance runner that has experience running well for the mile and two-mile races. Katie Brislin has outstanding track PRs and will also be able to contribute "from the gun." Brislin and Williams both come from high-profile high school teams-Fayatteville-Manlius and Tatnall and will bring their top-notch prep experience to an already very good returning Villanova squad.
The good news for the Wildcats is that every single athlete that competed in Louisville in 2012 returns for them in 2013. This not counting the loss of Summer Cook who decided to focus on the triathlon and moved to Colorado Springs to train with the OTC group there.
With all of these girls returning, Villanova will have the hunger to improve from 2012 and to make a statement in 2013. The pieces are there for a top-10 teams. Two awesome low-sticks up front (Lipari and Akande) and a bunch of very good middle-distance girls and high school stand-outs.
If things come together like they should, Villanova will have a fun battle through their conference and regional with Georgetown. Their front-runners will help keep their score low enough at Nationals and they will be looking at a big improvement this season at Nationals from 20th to 7th in Terre Haute.