Nov. 20, 2010

By John Oehser, Special to NCAA.com

This, Sheila Reid knew, didn't need to be discussed.

Just like last year, when the Villanova Wildcats started to get really good early in the women's cross-country season, then kept improving en route to putting more pictures and trophies into a facility already stuffed with each, Reid said the goal has been clear for a while.

Around Villanova women's cross country team, the objective is always pretty obvious.

Not to mention very, very lofty.

“The challenge this year is, 'Can we repeat?''' Reid said early this week as the top-ranked Wildcats prepared for the 2010 NCAA Division I women's national championship meet, which will be held at Lavern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind. on Monday.

The answer to that question is it's probable.

At least, the Wildcats are very much favored to do so.

Villanova, which won its eighth national championship in dominant fashion last season, is the unanimous choice as the nation's top-ranked team. The Wildcats enter the meet with 12 first-place votes and 360 possible points, well ahead of second-ranked Florida State, Texas Tech (third), Stanford (fourth) and Georgetown (fifth).

“It's a different team, but I feel a lot more relaxed,” said Wildcats coach Gina Procaccio, an assistant on the Wildcats' 1994 and 1998 national title teams whose '09 national title was her first as the program's head coach. “I think they do, too, because last year it was kind of an unknown: 'Could we really get this done?' Since they did last year, I think they're pretty relaxed knowing it is possible to do.”

FSU won the South regional and Atlantic Coast Conference championship, with Texas Tech finishing second to New Mexico in the Mountain Regional, Stanford finishing third in the West Regional and Georgetown finishing second to Villanova in the Mid-Atlantic Regional.

Reid, a senior, won the individual title at the regional by 13 seconds. And all five of the Wildcats’ top runners finished in the top 15.

It was the Wildcats' second consecutive Mid-East Regional title.

“It's certainly a different team,” Reid said, “but we're definitely more relaxed. We have that experience behind us. Although we lost a couple of really strong girls on our team from last year, we gained a couple of good ones, and the ones who are back are a lot stronger than last year.”

While Reid is a contender for the individual title, she said the strength of the Wildcats – and the reason they're again pursuing a national title – is depth. “Especially our top four,” she said.

So, while Reid said the Wildcats haven't talked much about repeating, there has been little doubt all season about the idea as a team wide objective.

“It's been an unspoken thing,” she said during a conference call with media covering the national title meet. “This is pretty much the first time we've really said out loud that's what we're going for and that's what I'm going for.”

Were the Wildcats to repeat it could be start of something they’ve done before – between 1989-84, they won six consecutive championships. And it is just that possibility, that atmosphere that brings top-level competitors to the team.

“But every year, we're going to be going to the national championship trying to win, and we're always going to be trying to put together a team truing to win,” said Procaccio. “That's Villanova tradition and my competitive nature.”

It was just that tradition that drew Reid to Villanova – and that's always evident around the program. The walk to the locker room, she said, is a hallway honoring the school's All-Americans through the years, and the coach's office is covered with national champions.

It creates a distinct environment, Reid said, and if it's an environment fraught with pressure, it's also one that creates champions.

“It's a high bar, but I wouldn't have it any other way,” Reid said. “It's hard to live up to it, but I think it's a great motivator. At any other school, maybe to get on the podium would be a fantastic result, but the tradition here demands a little more of you.

“That's something that's really unique to Villanova. I feel really blessed to be a part of it.”