Chris Lotsbom covered the Big East Championships for RRW on Saturday, and here is his feature:
NEW YORK (22-Feb) — A pair of New York natives set meet records here on the final day of competition at the Big East Conference Championships at The New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory. Senior Emily Lipari led a dominant performance by the Villanova distance squad with her 2:43.69 victory in the 1000 meters, while Georgetown freshman Sabrina Southerland clocked a fast 2:04.85 for 800 meters.
Racing in her final indoor conference championship, Lipari toed the line determined to claim victory. Not only was the 21-year-old seeking her third straight 1000m title –and Villanova’s fifth consecutive win in the discipline– she also wanted to make amends for Friday’s runner-up finish in the distance medley relay.
In that relay, Lipari was unable to catch Georgetown’s Katrina Coogan as the Hoyas went on to set a meet and facility record of 10:55.63. Villanova placed an agonizing second in 10:59.74.
Motivated by the team’s silver medal finish, Lipari and her Wildcats teammates made a pact: Saturday was going to be a new day, one filled with wins and hard fought efforts.
“We don’t like to lose,” said Lipari with a chuckle. “A lot of us were pretty bummed. We came out here today and said none of us are losing, we’re really going for this. We were super pumped.”
In the 1000m, Lipari would go head to head with Coogan once again, a rematch of the distance medley relay anchor legs. Just as she had 26 hours earlier, Coogan burst out to the early lead with Lipari trailing behind. Lap by lap, Coogan continued to push the pace, all the while Lipari sat in the catbird seat, poised and ready to execute her patented kick.
“For me, that’s the easiest way to run. It’s what’s most natural for me, and if someone is going to take the race out then I’m just going to go behind them,” she said. “There’s really no point in fighting it.”
Rounding the final bend and accelerating into lane three, Lipari surged by Coogan’s right shoulder and crossed the line in a new meet record of 2:43.69. She had shaved one-one hundredth of a second off Sheila Reid’s mark from 2011.
“It’s kind of special to be able to do this in my last year,” Lipari said. “I’m really excited looking forward to see what else will happen [this season].”
Lipari wasn’t done, though. Later in the meet, she’d return to help Villanova place first in perhaps the wildest 4x800m relay in meet history.
Through two legs, both Georgetown and Villanova were battling just like they had in the distance medley relay a night prior. It was in the third leg that officials mis-counted laps, bringing the anchor legs onto the track a lap too early.
Despite the mistake, Lipari led Villanova across the line first, prevailing over Georgetown anchor Andrea Keklak. Villanova wound up claiming the overall team championship with 159.50 points, and Lipari earned the Most Outstanding Track Athlete Award.
Hometown favorite Sabrina Southerland of Georgetown set a meet record to win the women’s 800m crown in 2:04.85. Only a freshman, Southerland led nearly the entire way, spurred on by the cheers of friends, family, teammates, and Ray James, her coach at Benjamin Cardozo High School in nearby Queens.
“I was definitely feeling the love around the building. It feels so good to be home and see everyone from back home,” said Southerland.
Though Villanova’s Kelsey Margey and Nicky Akande made valiant efforts trying to catch Southerland, the 18-year-old managed to hold on down the stretch. Breaking Kathy Klump’s previous meet best of 2:05.47, Southerland was overjoyed.
“I was just running for my team cause I know the team needed points,” she said. “It’s honestly a blessing and I couldn’t do it without everyone behind me.”
Re-writing the record books at The Armory was just the cherry on top.
“I could not imagine setting the record anywhere else. This is my home track so I’m happy I did it here,” she said.
Georgetown also claimed the men’s 800m, as Ahmed Bile placed first in 1:50.85 over Villanova’s Ben Malone. Bile is the son of Abdi Bile, the 1987 World Champion over 1500m.
“I heard your cheering section out there, I knew you were coming,” Bile told Malone moments after finishing. An hour and a half later, Bile would return to the oval, leading Georgetown to the 4x800m title.
While Georgetown may have swept the 800m, the day still belonged to Villanova, as the school of 10,600 students earned a total of six wins in the distance disciplines on Saturday.
Sophomore Angel Piccirillo claimed the women’s mile in 5:01.87, leading wire to wire. After splitting halfway in a pedestrian 2:47.2, Piccirillo fended off Georgetown’s Andrea Keklak down the stretch — the same athlete whom she battled in the distance medley relay 800m leg on Friday.
“Last night was a hard one for me,” said Piccirillo. “We wanted to come back and really put a stamp on today and I think we are doing that. Definitely [last night] was hard. The cool down wasn’t a happy one, but after that we had to focus on today.”
Jordy Williamsz and Josh Lampron gave Villanova’s men’s team wins in the mile and 1000m, while Sam McEntee –third in the 5000m on Friday– came back to win the 3000m ahead of teammate and 5000m champion Patrick Tiernan.
Williamsz, a native of Australia, sprinted away from the field in the final lap to win going away in 4:08.90. Moments after crossing the line, he pointed to the large Villanova cheering section in the stands. The same section would scream an “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” chant as the gold medal was draped around Williamsz neck.
“It’s great when the boys get behind me and give me some Ausie love,” said Williamsz, who credited coach Marcus O’Sullivan for the teams success. “He’s the best coach ever.”
Lampron and McEntee relied on kicks of their own to win the 1000m and 3000m in 2:22.66 and 8:10.52, respectively. They led Villanova to the men’s team championship.
The women’s 3000m was won by Providence’s Laura Nagel in 9:07.26, just ahead of teammate Emily Sisson (9:09.35). Butler junior Mara Olson rounded out the top three in 9:12.76.