By John Oehser, Special to NCAA.com
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – In the end, it was a big deal. A real big deal.
And while Gina Procaccio told her Villanova women’s cross country team all season that it wasn’t, that the season wasn’t about repeating, once the top-ranked Wildcats had rallied to win a second consecutive NCAA Division I women’s cross country national championship, it was obvious it was.
The Wildcats were calm and confident Monday afternoon.
And they were balanced.
And as a result, they were champions. Again.
“We just have such a solid four,” Procaccio said Monday after Villanova’s top four runners – led by individual champion Sheila Reid – placed in the top 22 in team points at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute. “We had four in the top (22) in team points. That’s what we had last year. That was the key.”
Reid, a junior, won the individual championship with a time of 20 minutes, 6.9 seconds and the Wildcats’ other top four runners finished as follows: Senior Amanda Marino (20:27, 10th overall, eighth team), senior Allison Smith (20:40, 24th overall, 20th team), junior Bogdana Mimic (20:41, 27th overall, 22nd team) and freshman Emily Lipari (21:19, 94th overall, 69th team).
The Wildcats, who won their 10th national team title, finished with 120 points, 34 ahead of runner-up Florida State (154), 45 ahead of third-place Texas Tech (165), 47 ahead of Georgetown (167) and 107 in front of fifth-place New Mexico (227).
The Wildcats, whose national title last season snapped an 11-year span between titles, were in fourth place Monday at the 3-kilometer, halfway point, but Reid and Procaccio were calm .
“We’re just a year more experienced,” Reid said. “Last year, we had to question, ‘Can we do this?’ This year, we knew we could, because we did it last year and it was all about delivering on the day. We did it.”
While Reid, Marino, Smith and Mimic provided the core of points that propelled Villanova, Reid and Procaccio credited Lipari with a solid performance in her first season.
“Last year, our fifth runner was right with the lead pack,” Procaccio said. “She was a senior. This year, we had a freshman. I didn’t know how she was going to react in the race. She was way back there, but she never gave up. She kept fighting.
“She knew her job was to try and pass as many people as she could down the straightaway. Once I saw she got in before Florida State and Georgetown, I figured we had it.”
Said Reid, “She stepped into a very difficult role as a freshman stepping into that fifth spot. She has just done phenomenally.”
The victory not only gave the Wildcats a second consecutive national title, it further solidified the program as one of the elite cross-country programs in the nation.
“The tradition is just so daunting at Villanova,” Reid said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to believe you could ever be in the same shoes as these women who have done these amazing things. Being at Villanova has really demanded more from me. It’s just a really high bar and it means a lot to be a part of it.”
Procaccio admitted this past week to feeling pressure at times in her first nine seasons, and she said, too, that she spent this season trying to alleviate any pressure of repeating from her team.
“I did everything I could to make it, ‘It’s not a big deal – what’s the difference – we’re going to try to win whether we’re ranked first or second,”” Procaccio said.
But on Monday, the Wildcats took that pressure and turned it into a dominant victory that took them from a windy day in Indiana into a place among the great teams of an already great tradition.
“We attract kids who want to win,” Procaccio said. “I think that has to be it. When I recruit, I explain to kids the situation and what we’re all about. I think the kids who want to be a part of that are the kids we attract. I told those three seniors in that group – Sheila being one of them – ‘if you guys come, I think we can win nationals by the time your seniors.”’
On Monday, they won it for a second consecutive year. And without question, it was a big, big deal. A real big deal.