Inspired Villanova men win distance medley relay at Penn Relays

Villanova’s Casey Comber, facing camera is mobbed by teammates after crossing the finish line in the men’s distance medley relay championship of america on April 27.

The men of the Villanova track team admit they are inspired by the women who compete in the same sport for the Wildcats. They were particularly impressed after Nicole Hutchinson posted her second magnificent leg in as many days Friday to lead the 4×1,500-meter relay team to Nova’s second win of the week.

So the men came out about 3 ½ hours later on a somewhat cool, damp day at Franklin Field in what was considered to be a wide-open distance medley relay and kept hope alive until Casey Comber put together a spectacular anchor split to give the Cats their first victory in the event since 2011.

“Watching their dominance definitely drives us,” Comber, a redshirt sophomore from Hatboro-Horsham High School, said of the women’s success. “It’s hard to watch a team be so dominant like that and not think, ‘Wow, I wish we could go out and do that.’

“We knew it was going to be a tight race today. That definitely inspired us. Just watching your program be successful is such a big motivator. I was glad to see it both [Friday] and today.”

Since 2012, the Wildcats’ women have won 14 times in 17 races in the distance medley, 4×1,500, and 4×800 relays. When Hutchinson finished off her anchor leg of 4 minutes, 17.0 seconds to cross the finish line 30 meters ahead of runner-up Indiana, the Cats had their fourth victory in the last five years in the 4×1,500, clocking 17:35.48. Hutchinson ran a sizzling opening leg in Thursday’s women’s distance medley.

The men’s DMR didn’t have a clear-cut favorite although Notre Dame had the highest finish (second) of any team in the field in last month’s NCAA indoor championship. Villanova was eighth in that race and figured to have as good a chance as anyone.

Comber got the baton for the 1,600-meter anchor trailing first-place Indiana by 15 meters and dropped behind by 20 after the first lap. But a slower pace at the front allowed more teams, including the Wildcats, into the race. With one lap to go, Comber moved into first.

Comber found another gear on the backstretch, opened up some distance on the field and held off Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse to win by 8 meters in 9:34.37. Joining Comber were redshirt senior Ben Malone (1,200 meters), freshman Brian Faust (400) and junior Ville Lampinen (800).

Villanova coach Marcus O’Sullivan got a little emotional when discussing Comber’s contribution.

“What’s very special to me was having a local person here anchoring,” O’Sullivan said. “To understand just how much grit he has and how tough he is, winning today wasn’t what it was about. For him taking the lead with a quarter [mile] to go, I knew I put the right person on the anchor.”

The women’s 4×1,500 marked the carnival debut of Villanova freshman Lauren Ryan, of Australia. Ryan rallied from a 25-meter deficit on the third leg and handed off to Hutchinson only 5 meters behind pacesetting Indiana. Hutchinson then brought it home.

“From what I’ve heard from past Australians that have been here and from my teammates, it’s one of the best atmospheres to run at,” Ryan said. “The crowd was something I’ve never run with before. It was amazing. Everyone was behind us. So getting the job done as a team was a really special moment.”

Five other Championship of America relay finals were decided Friday, headed by the college women’s 4×100 where Auburn, anchored by Natalliah Whyte, crossed the line first in 44.14 seconds.

Behind a blistering 800-meter anchor leg by Isaiah Harris, who was clocked in 1:44.74, Penn State won the men’s sprint medley relay in 3:15.25. Clemson cruised to victory in the women’s sprint medley in 3:45.05.

The shuttle hurdles relay titles went to Mississippi State on the men’s side in 57.04 seconds, and Notre Dame in the women’s race in 54.87.