2017 Penn Relays Preview #2/College Women’s Distance Relays

PHILADELPHIA -- Already one of the winningest runners in Penn Relays history, Angel Piccirillo returns for three more Championship of America races for Villanova the last weekend of April at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field.

Piccirillo, a 5th-year senior from Homer City, Pa., has six Relays watches as a collegian – the most won by a female runner at Penn is seven, by two other Villanova competitors, Kathy Franey (1986-90) and Michelle Bennett (1988-91). She is scheduled to anchor two teams for Villanova this year, the DMR and the 4x1500, and run 2nd leg on the 4x8.

Piccirillo has two additional Relays wins to her credit, for winning the high school girls’ mile for Homer Center HS, in 2010 and 2011. Her lone loss at Penn in high school came as a senior, when she lost the mile to Mary Cain, of Bronxville, N.Y. In that race, Cain set the current meet record.

The most watches won by a single competitor at the Relays is 12, by Diane Guthrie, who won the high jump, long jump and heptathlon for St. Elizabeth Tech of Jamaica and George Mason University between 1989 and 1995.

Despite not having Piccirillo a year ago – she redshirted last spring – Villanova won the women’s 4x15 without her, in a stirring battle with the Oregon Ducks, when Siofra Cleirigh Buttner outkicked Annie Leblanc.

Buttner returns this year and will be joined by two other members of that winning team, Sammy Bockoven and Nicole Hutchinson, who ran the first two legs a year ago. Bockoven, a sophomore from Hudson, Ohio, has a 4:23 1,500 PR; Hutchinson, a sophomore from West Vancouver, British Columbia, has run 4:18, and Buttner ran 4:33 in the mile this winter. Piccirillo, the runnerup in the NCAA indoor mile in 2016, has a 1,500 PR of 4:13.49.

Oregon, which won the 4x15 in 2012, will be back for this year’s Relays with three new members, two freshmen and a sophomore. It is the lone distance relay the Oregon women are contesting this year.

Another West Coast power, Stanford, returns to the Relays after a one-year absence. The Cardinal will have competitive squads in all three of the distance relays, led by two veteran juniors, Elise Cranny and Olivia Baker. Stanford won the 4x15 in 2015.

Georgetown returns to defend its championships from a year ago in the 4x8 and DMR but without standout runners Andrea Keklak and Katrina Coogan, who have graduated.

Two schools that have never won a championship at the Relays, Brigham Young and Virginia Tech, could contend for watches, BYU in the 4x15 and VaTech in the 4x8.

Malika Waschmann (Corvallis, Ore.) and Olivia Baker return from Stanford’s 2015 4th-place 4x8 team. Baker was NCAA runnerup in the 800 last spring and has run 2:01.02. In high school she anchored Columbia of Maplewood, N.J., to two stirring come-from-behind victories in the 4x8, in 2013 and 2014. Waschmann, a senior, has run 2:05. They will be joined by Elise Cranny (Niwot, Colo.), a miler who has a 2:04 half to her credit, and freshman Christina Aragon (Billings, Mont.), also 2:04.

Along with Villanova, newcomer Virginia Tech may be the Cardinal’s top challenger. The Hokies plan a lineup of Rachel Pocratsky (Gaithersburg, Md.), 2:05 PR; Laurie Barton (Clemson, S.C.), 2:06; Shannon Morton (Chesapeake, Va.), 2:06, and Hanna Green (Latrobe, Pa.), runnerup in the NCAA indoor meet this winter, a best of 2:01.17.

Angel Piccirillo has already run on three winning 4x8s for Villanova – 2013, ’14 and ’15. Their string in that event was broken a year ago by Georgetown. The Wildcats’ lineup for ’17 is expected to be Sammy Bockhoven, Piccirillo, newcomer Kaley Ciluffo, and Buttner. ‘Nova has won the event 12 times, despite a drought from 1998 to 2012.

Georgetown returns just one runner, Emma Keenan (best of 2:03), from last year’s winning squad. Piper Donaghu (2:05) was part of the Hoyas’ 3rd-place team in 2015 as a freshman. They are to be joined by Jocelyn Hubbard (Marshfield, Mass./2:07) and Kennedy Weisner (2:09).

Penn State has not won the women’s 4x8 at Penn since the inaugural race, in 1978, when the Nittany Lions won in 8:49.9 with the team of Sandy Miller, Kathy Byrnes, Lea Ventura and Kris Bankes. Later that spring they finished 3rd in the AIAW college women’s nationals, in 8:41.1. This year’s lineup is expected to be freshman Rachel Banks (Chardon, Ohio), senior Tori Gerlach (Pennridge HS, Pa.), senior Julie Kocjanic (Mt. Lebanon HS, Pittsburgh) and freshman Danae Rivers (Wilbur Cross HS, Conn.).

Three Ivy League schools – Columbia, Princeton and Penn -- have solid entries.

Columbia, 5th a year ago, plans to use Brittney Wade (Bethesda, Md.), 2:06 best; Jillian Murray (Chevy Chase, Md.), 2:10; Devon Towell (West Chester, Pa.), 2:10, and Sarah Hardie (Eastport, N.Y.), 2:07.

Princeton was 3rd a year ago and won the indoor Heps 4x8 this winter. They have Jackie Berardo (Hunterdon Central, N.J.), 2:08; Ashley Forte (Worthington, Ohio), 2:07; Anna Jurew (NYC), 2:10, and Zoe Sims (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii), 2:09.

Penn, the host school for the Relays, was 2nd indoors to Princeton in this event. The Quakers have Ella Wurth (Boca Raton, Fla.), 2:08; Maddie Villalba (Doylestown, Pa.), 2:07; Mikayla Schneider (Villanova, Pa.), 2:08, and Nia Akins (San Diego), 2:08. Villalba, Schneider and Akins are all freshmen.

Other contenders include Clemson and Monmouth.

Clemson, 4th a year ago, has Imani McGowan (Simpsonville, S.C.), 2:09; Dana Maydew (Boulder, Colo.), 2:09; Ersula Farrow (Detroit), 2:04, and Grace Barnett (Pawleys Island, S.C.), 2:07.

Monmouth has Jenna Cupp (Newark Valley, N.Y.), 2:47 1,000; Brianna Stratz (Warrington, Pa.), 2:11; Chandi Piiru (East Orange, N.J.), 2:10, and Tionna Garner (Trenton, N.J.), 2:06.

Georgetown’s two distance titles a year ago – the DMR and 4x8 – were the first women’s watches for the Hoyas in five years. Their DMR lineup from last year has turned over, so they will have to defend with a fresh group of Piper Donaghu (Portland, Ore.), Jody-Ann Knight (Bentonville, Ark.), Emma Keenan (Gwynedd-Mercy Academy, Pa.) and Kennedy Weisner (St. Mary’s, Pa.). Weisner, a 4:37 miler, placed 4th in that event in the Big East this winter.

Villanova has won the DMR at the Relays 14 times, including 2015 when Angel Piccirillo led off and Siofra Cleirigh Buttner ran the 800 leg. Piccirillo is now penciled in for anchoring duties, with the first three legs to be run by Kaley Ciluffo, a sophomore from LeClaire, Iowa, by way of Clemson; McKenna Keegan, a freshman quartermiler (54.66) from Avon Grove, Pa., and Cleirigh Buttner in the 8 (2:01.98 best).

A very strong Wildcats team, but can they handle Stanford? The Cardinal have never won the women’s DMR at Penn. This year’s lineup is the freshman Christina Aragon, one of the great young runners in the country (4:08.71 1500 in high school); Gabrielle Gayles (Merritt Island, Fla.), 53.59 400, followed by Olivia Baker and Elise Cranny, both of whom were NCAA runnersup outdoors last spring. Cranny has run 4:09 for 1,500.

This is a big race for both the Aragon and Donaghu families.

Piper Donaghu, running leadoff for Georgetown, is the daughter of Michael Donaghu (Dartmouth ’89), an All-American in cross country 30 years ago, and the older sister of Ella Donaghu, currently a freshman on the Stanford team.

The Aragons also have two daughters running college, Danielle and Christina. Their parents, Chuck and Kathy, both ran in the Olympic Trials in the 1980s. Chuck narrowly missed the 1984 U.S. team in the 1500, finishing a close 4th, while his wife, as Kathy Pfiefer, ran in that year’s marathon Trials, finishing 52nd.

Danielle and Christina are both scheduled to run the leadoff legs of the DMR at the Relays for their respective schools, Christina for Stanford and Danielle for her father’s alma mater, Notre Dame, in the first appearance ever at the Relays for the Notre Dame women’s team. (Her older sister, Alexa, also ran for the Irish.)   

The remainder of the Notre Dame DMR lineup is Payton Miller (Golden, Colo.) in the 400, Kelly Hart (Yorktown, Va.) in the 8 and Jessica Harris (Cockeysville, Md.) on the anchor. Harris, the ACC indoor champion in the mile, has run 4:33. The Irish have placed in the NCAA indoor finals in the DMR the past two seasons and ran 11:02 this winter.

Penn, Princeton and Columbia all have solid squads from the Ivy League.

Penn – Ella Wurth, Mikayla Schneider, Nia Akins and Ashley Montgomery (Mt. Pleasant, Mich.), a 4:20 1,500 runner.

Princeton – Kaitlin Hanss (NYC), 4th in the Heps 1,000; Elisa Steele (Kirkwood, Mo.) 400; Zoe Sims, and anchored by Elizabeth Bird (GB), 3rd in the Heps 3k.

Columbia – Sarah Hardie (2:47 1k best), Akua Obeng-Akrofi (53.13 400 best), Brittney Wade (2:06 800) and anchored by Henna Rustami, the daughter of Afghan refugees, from Syosset, N.Y.
Other teams of note include Penn State, Clemson and Indiana.

Penn State is anchored by the freshman Danae Rivers (4:32 mile), 3rd in the NCAA indoor mile last month, Clemson by Grace Barnett (4:33), the ACC runnerup indoors. The Clemson women have won one race at Penn, the sprint medley relay 25 years ago.

With the return of Piccirillo, a member of the 2014 winning team, Villanova is stronger than last year’s championship lineup, but they face stiff competition from Oregon, Stanford, Georgetown and BYU.

Stanford returns two runners, Rebecca Mehra and Elise Cranny, from the 2015 championship team. Mehra, the Pac-12 runnerup in the 1,500, has run 4:17. The running order is scheduled to be Aragon, Cranny, Waschmann and Mehra.

Two runners return from Georgetown’s 3rd-place team of a year ago, Kennedy Weisner and Audrey Belf (4:22). They are to be joined by Piper Donaghu and Haley Pierce (4:22). Pierce anchored the winning high school girls’ DMR for the Tatnall School (Wilmington, Del.) in 2012.

Oregon returns one runner – leadoff miler Emma Abrahamson (4:18 1,500 best) – from last year’s 2nd-place group. She is joined this year by Australian sophomore Lilli Burdon (4:18), fellow Aussie Jessica Hull (4:19) and Coloradan Katie Rainsberger (4:12.62 1,500 in high school a year ago). Rainsberger is the daughter of the former Lisa Larsen Weidenbach, a 2:28 marathoner in her day and former winner of the Boston and Chicago marathons.

Brigham Young hasn’t won a Penn Relays event since Alma Richards won the men’s high jump for the Cougars in 1913. They have an excellent 4x15 women’s team, comprised of Whittni Orton, a freshman from Panguitch, Utah, 1,500 best of 4:17; Erica Birk (Hoytsville, Utah), 4:19; Ashleigh Warner (Orem, Utah), 4:22, and Shea Collinsworth (Layton, Utah), 4:15.

Other teams of note include North Carolina State, Penn and Penn State.

N. C. State has never won a women’s relay Championship at the Relays. The Wolfpack has Carolinians Elly Henes, best of 4:23; Ryen Frazier, 4:23; Samantha George, 4:16, and Canadian Megan Rempel, 4:23. Henes, a freshman from Green Hope High School in Cary, is the daughter of Bob and Laurie Henes, both of whom were All-American distance runners for the school. Laurie Henes, the 1991 NCAA 5,000 champion, is the school’s women’s distance coach.

Penn has the twin sisters Clarissa and Cleo Whiting (Delta, Colo.); Kylene Cochrane (Long Valley, N.J.), and Ashley Montgomery, while Penn State has a lineup of Pennsylvanians Tori Gerlach, Tessa Barrett and Julie Kocjanic along with freshman Danae Rivers, from Connecticut.