The result of the 4×800-meter relay was a foregone conclusion, with Villanova preparing to celebrate a sweep of the three women’s distance relays for the second straight year Saturday at the Penn Relays.
However, as she crossed the finish line for the last time at Franklin Field as a member of the Wildcats, anchor Siofra Cleirigh Buttner kissed the baton, a clear sign that the 35-meter victory was far from routine for her.
For Buttner, from Ireland, it marked the eighth watch she had won in a Championship of America relay in her career, second in carnival history behind only teammate Angel Piccirillo, who wrapped up her career last season with nine.
“I knew that it was the last time I’d be able to carry it across the line for Villanova,” Buttner said, fighting back tears. “I know last year Angel got very emotional and I think that’s something hitting me now. I think it was kind of like … right then, I was in the moment; but, right now, I think I realize how important that was for me.”
Joined on the relay by Kelsey Margey, Rachel McArthur, and McKenna Keegan, Buttner led ‘Nova across the line in 8 minutes, 19.78 seconds, second-fastest in program history and No. 8 all-time at Penn. It gave Villanova its third victory of the meet, and 15th in its last 18 distance relays dating back to 2012.
“I’m just really impressed with how fast they ran,” Wildcats coach Gina Procaccio said. “I never expected it to be that fast. They just went out and ran hard. A lot of their first legs were really hard but they still gutted it out in true Villanova fashion.”
The Villanova men also wrapped up a rewarding weekend sparked by a second terrific anchor leg in as many days from redshirt sophomore Casey Comber, who led the Wildcats to victory in the 4-by-mile in 16:23.75. Comber, from Hatboro-Horsham High School, was the first Wildcat to anchor two relay winners at the same carnival since John Marshall in 1982 in the sprint medley relay and the 4×800.
To find the last time ‘Nova’s men won more than one relay in the same year, you’d have to go back to 1984 – coach Marcus O’Sullivan’s senior year.
“I wasn’t sure about that,” O’Sullivan said, “but I was sure that it was the first two (in the same year) that I’ve won since I’ve been here, 20 years coaching.”
As with Buttner and Margey on the women’s side, fifth-year senior Ben Malone ended his Penn Relays career with two victories. For him, however, they were the first and second wins of his career.
“It’s unbelievable,” Malone said. “If you had told me when I was a freshman that it would have taken until my fifth year to get my first (championship) wheel, let alone my second, I would have told you that you were crazy. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This is really special.”
The five victories tie the most that the Wildcats have posted at one Penn Relays. The men have won five relays four times, and the men and women combined for five in 1979.
Houston and Mississippi State closed the weekend with two relay championships each.
With Cameron Burrell, the son of coach and former Penn Wood High School star Leroy Burrell, running legs on both relays, the Cougars captured the 4×100 in 38.95 seconds and the 4×400 in 3:01.82. Kahmari Montgomery ran a sizzling 43.38-second anchor leg on the 4×400.
After capturing the shuttle hurdles relay on Friday, Mississippi State grabbed the men’s 4×800 in 7:14.16.
Other Championship of America winners Saturday were Middle Tennessee State in the men’s 4×200 in 1:22.91, Oklahoma in the women’s 4×200 in 1:32.41 and Duke in the women’s 4×400 in 3:32.43.