This weekend was supposed to mark the 126th annual Penn Relays. Typically tens of thousands of athletes and track and field fanatics flood Franklin Field, but this year is clearly different. In the wake of the novel Coronavirus pandemic and the cancellation of sports competitions worldwide, the organizers continued the Penn Relays in an altered way, and they ran a virtual simulation of a handful of events.
However, the 2020 Villanova men’s and women’s track teams were looking to continue their legacy of triumph, following their respective first-place finishes at the Big East Indoor Championships.
The ‘Cats have an extensive championship list of more than 130 championship titles doled out between both the men’s and women’s teams. Their first title at the Relays dates all the way back to 1955, where they were able to win the 4x400 relay. These championship titles are rewarded with the distinguished 18” bronze plaque and are highly coveted throughout the track community.
In 2019, the ‘Cats took home one Championship title in the women’s 4x1500 with Lydia Olivere, a current sophomore, Rachel McArthur, Caroline Alcorta and Nicole Hutchinson. That was their fourth annual consecutive win in this relay, leading Villanova to hold the most victories in this event, with 12 total championships. The women’s team holds the most victories and the Penn Relay event record in both the 4x800 (record from 2013) and the distance medley relays (record from 1988).
Although the men’s team did not take home any championship titles in 2019, it still holds the most victories in the 4x400, 4x800, sprint medley and distance medley. The ‘Cats were hoping to win in the distance medley relay but unfortunately, a fall in their first-leg led to a seventh-place finish only five seconds behind first place.
Although relay races are the main attraction of this meet, there are also individual championships up for grabs, although University athletes compete mainly in the relay portion of the weekend. The University holds championship titles in the decathlon (David Cook, 1993), 3000-meter steeplechase (Pat Traynor, 1962 and 1963), 440-yard hurdles (John Dicarlo - 1946), and Villanova's first championship came in 1933, when Carl Hickey won the long jump.
Women’s distance head coach Gina Procaccio recently spoke with Spikes Magazine where she commented on her successes at the Penn Relays as a collegiate athlete for the ‘Cats, a professional athlete and now a coach. Procaccio won a championship in the collegiate distance medley relay and then individually in the open mile when she was a professional. As a coach, her favorite memories were the performances that would shock her.
“Our fastest leg prior to that race was a 2:06,” Procaccio said about the 2013 4x800 relay. “That day they split 2:06, 2:04, 2:04 and 2:02 to get the win and set a collegiate record in a great, competitive race with Oregon that went down to the wire.”
Marcus O’Sullivan, men’s distance head coach has also seen a plethora of success as both a collegiate athlete for the University and now as a coach. O’Sullivan was a part of six Penn Relay championship titles during his time as an undergraduate at the University.
The Wildcats’ performances at Penn Relays are said to be unmatched and unfortunately, they were unable to defend that claim this year. However, the team continues to train in this unexpected offseason as it gears up for the upcoming season and the 2021 Penn Relays.