With 2016 and New Year’s Eve celebrations just around the corner, we’ll take this time to look back and celebrate the top moments of 2015 in Villanova Athletics.
Before revealing the top 10 list, here are some moments that just missed the cut.
The Villanova-Richmond Homecoming Football Game: The Wildcats hosted #9 Richmond in a must-win game. The game was deadlocked at 14 going into the fourth quarter, with both defenses rising to the occasion. Richmond’s Jacobi Green broke the tie with a touchdown late in the fourth to put the Spiders ahead, but the PAT was blocked. The Wildcats marched down the field, dissecting the Richmond defense in a methodical fashion. Then on fourth-and-seven from Richmond’s 12 yard line, Zach Bednarczyk zipped it in to the hands of Kevin Gulyas in the end zone for a touchdown with 46 seconds left in the game. Gerard Smith converted the ensuing extra point to cap off the game-winning touchdown. Villanova won 21-20.
Andy Talley’s “Be The Match”: The odds are 1-in-20,000 of finding bone marrow donors for patients with life threatening blood diseases like leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell anemia. This past season, Villanova had three football players who were the perfect matches for patients. Offensive lineman Jake Prus, wide receiver Jacob Gribb, and cornerback C.J. Logan each donated bone marrow to patients in need, as part of coach Andy Talley‘s “Be The Match” Foundation.
Ryan Arcidiacono Scores his 1,000th Point: Who could have forgotten this day? In a rematch against Seton Hall, Ryan Arcidiacono reached the milestone with his second three-pointer of the game. However, the moment was overshadowed by infamy, with Seton Hall’s Sterling Gibbs clubbing him in the face. Gibbs was ejected from the game and the hit was widely discussed the following day across various news outlets. Arcidiacono converted two free throws as a result of the hit, giving him his 1,001st and 1,002nd points. Villanova went on to win in blowout fashion and the two made up after the game.
Now, on to the top 10 list:
10. December 4-6: Darby Goodwin’s Record-Breaking Weekend at the Big A.I. Open
It’s hard to pinpoint a certain day for this moment because Darby Goodwin continuously kept breaking records.
At the Big A.I. Open in Princeton, she would eclipse the record holder before her. Once she set a new mark, she would beat her own record, then do it again. By the time the weekend was over, the freshman swimmer owned two school records in the 100m and 200m backstroke.
On the first day of competition, she broke the record in the 100m backstroke during the first leg of the 400m medley relay. While the Wildcats finished second in the event, Goodwin clocked in at 55.20 seconds to set a new program best. She narrowly beat the previous record set by teammate Gabby Daigneault by .07 seconds.
The following day, she came back and beat her own time in the 100m backstroke. She became the first Villanova woman ever to finish the 100m backstroke in under 55 seconds when she came in at 54.80 seconds. Later in the finals of the same event, she would outdo her old time once again, setting a new mark en route to a first place finish of 54.69 seconds.
She wasn’t done just yet. On the third and final day of the Big A.I. Open, Goodwin broke an 18-year old record in the 200m backstroke prelims with a time of 1:58.90. The record was previously held by Jackie Gruters, who set the mark back in 1997. Later in the finals of the 200m backstroke, she finished in first place and did so at a better time. The record now officially stands at 1:58.30.
9. April 18: Kate Poppe Breaks School Record for Career Strikeouts
It was a great month of April for pitcher Kate Poppe.
First, she threw her third career no-hitter against Creighton, walking two and fanning 11 batters in the process.
Sixteen days later, in the first game of a doubleheader against Providence, she took the crown as Villanova softball’s strikeout queen.
With the game tied at 1-1 at the top of the seventh inning, Poppe would tie Keri Stoller‘s mark of 718 career strikeouts. She struck out Providence’s Nicole Lundstrom to match the 2001 graduate.
Villanova was unable to put Providence away in the bottom of the seventh, so the game went into extra innings – three more of them.
Poppe went to work right away with back-to-back strikeouts to start the eighth inning, earning her 719th and 720th strikeout.
By the time the game was over, she finished with 13 strikeouts and sole possession of the career record. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they lost the game but went on to win the three-game series against the Friars.
As for Poppe, she continued to rack up strikeouts throughout the season. She finished the year with 246 K’s, averaging 8.35 strikeouts per seven innings. Poppe still has one more season to go and currently sits on top with 786 career strikeouts. She’s very well on pace to be the first Villanovan ever to break a 1,000.
8. November 21: Patrick Tiernan Finishes Second at Cross Country Nationals
Going in to nationals, Patrick Tiernan had experienced nothing but the sweet taste of victory. The redshirt junior claimed the top spot in each of his five races along the way.
He would be joined by another unbeaten runner in the field of 252, Oregon’s Edward Cheserek. Cheserek, an eight-time NCAA Champion, won back-to-back cross country titles and was looking to make to make it three-in-a-row.
Tiernan wasn’t fazed, going toe-to-toe with the defending champion. For the opening half of the race, it was the Villanovan that led the crowd and pressed the pace.
By the 5,000 meter mark, it was a two-man race with Tiernan in front and Cheserek right behind. The two were far ahead from the rest of the pack.
It stayed that way, with Tiernan in front for most of the race. By the time the two crossed the 8,000 meter checkpoint, they had a comfortable 23 second gap between them and the crowd.
With about 1,500 meters left to go before the finish line, Cheserek made his move and dashed in front of Tiernan. From there, he went on to win once again.
Tiernan finished in second, the best individual finish by a Villanovan at nationals since Donal White did the same in 1970. His time of 29:11 set a new program record, beating the mark set by Sydney Maree back in 1979.
It also marked the third straight year in which Tiernan finished in the top 20 at nationals.
7. September 19: Zach Bednarczyk Leads ‘Nova to Victory in Battle of the Blue
A packed Villanova Stadium was still, as Walter Payton Award winner John Robertson laid on the field in agony. The Wildcats trailed 21-14 in the fourth quarter and no longer had their clutch star quarterback to bring them back.
That’s when redshirt freshman, number 14, Zach Bed-who? came into the game.
Little did Delaware and those watching the game know, they would know exactly who Zach Bednarczyk was by the time the clock hit 0:00. The redshirt freshman hadn’t taken any career snaps before going in, and yet, he would put together one of the greatest finishes of the year.
His first pass in the game was incomplete, bringing up fourth down. His second pass reached Kevin Gulyas on a drag route for a touchdown. It seemed to be the game-tying score, until a botched extra point attempt kept Delaware ahead by one.
The Wildcats got a stop, thanks to back-to-back sacks by Don Cherry and Reggie Paris. With 4:47 left in the game, Bednarczyk was back on the field to orchestrate the offense.
He wasn’t nervous, going for big plays like any battle-tested veteran player. His first play of the drive was a deep 34-yard pass to Gulyas. Moments later, he hit Aaron Wells to convert a key third down situation.
After a two-yard run by Gary Underwood, Bednarczyk placed the finishing touches on his symphony. He initially dropped back, then decided to take off for 21 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The stadium erupted in cheers for Bednarczyk’s introduction.
Delaware’s desperate Hail Mary attempt to win the game was picked off by Wes Smith, and the Wildcats went on to win 28-21.
6. August 28: Gabby Pethokoukis Returns to the Court for the First Time Since Being Cancer-Free in Win Over Stony Brook
To fully appreciate this story, you have to first go back to 2014. One February morning, Gabby Pethokoukis woke up with a feeling of soreness in the back of her throat.
It was first thought to be mono, then tonsilitis. She promptly got her tonsils removed, and a biopsy was performed on them. The test later revealed that she had Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare non-Hodgekin’s lymphoma that is regarded as the fastest growing brain tumor.
She left school and went back to her native state of Illinois to receive treatment at the Lurie Center in Northwestern University. Pethokoukis began rigorous chemotherapy in May 2014. By late June of 2014, tests revealed that she was cancer-free.
However, she wasn’t ready to go back on to the court just yet. She couldn’t finish a single practice, let alone last for 10-20 minutes without feeling exhausted. The chemotherapy wore her body down. As a result, she sat out the 2014 season and opted to redshirt.
Fast forward to the 2015 volleyball season. Pethokoukis and her team are getting ready to play the first game of the year against Stony Brook at the Penn State Classic. She’s ready to go, back in shape, and has many practices under her belt.
In an emotional first game back, she aided the Wildcats to a four-set victory over the Seawolves, with eight kills and a team-high four blocks.
She provided an important presence in the middle, helping her team to one of their best seasons in recent history. Pethokoukis went on to be one of the top blockers in the conference this year, notching 127 blocks. She also had 265 kills to go along with it.
For her efforts this season, Pethokoukis was named to the All-Big East Second Team.
5. April 25: Villanova Upsets Oregon in 4xMile Relay Event at Penn Relays
This race had it all – cheers, boos, smiles, possibly some tears, and excitement. It definitely had excitement.
As mentioned earlier, Oregon’s Edward Cheserek doesn’t really lose. He’s racked up numerous accolades and trophies during his time as a Duck, but this time around, he couldn’t secure the 4xMile relay.
Villanova’s Jordy Williamsz ran a strong anchor leg to upset Cheserek and the Ducks at one of the biggest stages in track and field, the Penn Relays.
The first three legs of the race couldn’t have been done better by Villanovans Patrick Tiernan, Sam McEntee, and Rob Denault. The Wildcats held the lead at each exchange, and put Williamsz in prime position to challenge Cheserek.
Cheserek grabbed the lead once he got the baton, with Williamsz and the rest of the pack right behind. The crowd booed as Cheserek slowed the pace down to a near-walking speed. Adding to the bizarre nature of the race, it seemed like no one wanted to go in first place. It wouldn’t be the only time that happened, with similar events occurring for the rest of the race.
The lead changed a number of times before the final 250 meters, when Cheserek pushed ahead of the pack. Williamsz remained hot in pursuit and surged ahead to overtake Cheserek. From there he never looked back, except to check when he could start celebrating.
The win was one of the most exciting to come out of the Penn Relays. It was also the men’s track team’s third Penn Relays title in the last two years.
4. November 29: Volleyball Goes to the NCAA Tournament For the First Time Since 1997
The volleyball team hadn’t been to a NCAA Tournament since 1997, when players on the current squad didn’t even start kindergarten yet.
On Selection Sunday, that all changed. The team waited anxiously as the selection committee announced which schools were invited to the exclusive field of 64.
25 wins, a perfect 12-0 record at home, and a Big East Tournament finals appearance was worthy enough in the committee’s eyes to get the Wildcats a bid for the NCAA Tournament.
It was the icing on the cake for a sweet season that most didn’t see coming, except for the team itself.
Over the summer, the Big East preseason poll saw the Wildcats finishing in seventh place – out of the Big East Tournament and certainly not in consideration for the NCAA Tournament.
It was something the team took personally, taping the number seven all over the locker room as a daily reminder to motivate them. The team was fired up to prove their worth. Newcomers and veteran players of the team came together for a balanced team effort.
Five different players had at least 200 kills – Allie Loitz (419), Claire Crutchfield (316), Amanda Pedersen-Henry (291), Gabby Pethokoukis (265), and Lauren Carpenter (234).
It also helped having one of the top setters in the country, Emma Pettit, whose 1,367 assists were 18th best in the nation.
As the season unfolded, the team racked up wins and the rest of the conference started taking notice. It was a resurgent year for the volleyball team, and the program as a whole.
3. June 25: Darrun Hilliard Is Drafted by the Detroit Pistons
Darrun Hilliard‘s name barely appeared in NBA mock drafts. According to most, he wasn’t supposed to expect his name to be called, especially not before the Harrison twins from Kentucky.
It’s something that Hilliard has gotten used to. He has been discredited for most of his basketball career. ESPN rated him as a three-star prospect coming out of high school, an afterthought with three other four-star recruits coming in as well. However, Hilliard worked hard to improve his game and silently disprove his doubters. He found his way to the starting lineup in his sophomore year, while his peers in the same recruiting class eventually found other schools. By the start of his junior year, Hilliard was the only one left from his class.
It was his work ethic that served as a catalyst for his ascension from unheralded prospect to one of the team’s star players. The hard work certainly paid off.
With the 38th pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons selected Darrun Hilliard, fulfilling his dream of making it to the NBA.
According to the Pistons’ Assistant GM Brian Wright, it was his drive and work ethic that was the most compelling feature of Hilliard. They liked that “he was a self-made player” and that he worked his way to being one of the best players in the conference.
Hilliard enjoyed a great career at Villanova, amassing 1,511 points over his four years at the main line. He is the first Wildcat to be drafted since Dante Cunningham was picked in the second round by the Portland Trail Blazers back in 2009.
2. Men’s and Women’s Track & Field Teams win Big East Indoor and Outdoor Titles
The men’s and women’s track teams found success at the Big East Championships, with both teams winning the indoor and outdoor titles.
The men’s team successfully defended their indoor title, scoring a meet-high 201.5 team points. It was the program’s fifth indoor championship. Jordy Williamsz was named most outstanding track performer of the meet. Williamsz won the individual title for the 3,000 meters and helped anchor the ‘Cats to victory in the distance medley relay.
As for the women’s team, Katherine Petruzzellis became the first-ever Wildcat to win the pentathlon and broke a long-standing school record. She was named the most outstanding track performer of the meet. Villanova had at least one top-three finish in 12 different events, winning the conference championship by a landslide.
Moving outside, Elbert Maxwell was named most outstanding performer of the Big East outdoor championships. The men’s team success in the spring helped complete the Big East Triple Crown, with titles in cross country, indoor, and outdoor track. The Wildcats won a new program-best eight events at the Big East Championships. Their winning score of 243 points broke a meet record that was previously set the year before. The complete team effort resulted in a 60 point lead over second place.
Just like the men’s team, the women’s team also shattered meet records at the Big East Championships that they had set a year before. They finished a whopping 100 points ahead of the second place team. The women’s team tallied 21 top three finishes in 22 events.
All in all, a very successful campaign for the men’s and women’s track teams.
1. March 14: Men’s Basketball Wins the Big East Championship
The men’s basketball team had some unfinished business at the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden. In 2014, the Wildcats were ousted early in stunning fashion, but they made sure to not allow history to repeat itself this time around.
Not only did they make it to the championship game, they won it all. Villanova brought home its first Big East Tournament title since 1995.
Although technically a neutral site, Madison Square Garden was packed with screaming Villanova fans. It felt more like a home game, with cheers for the Wildcats echoing prominently throughout the arena. They watched Villanova beat Xavier, 69-52.
The Musketeers were able to hang around with the Wildcats at first, until Darrun Hilliard sparked a 13-2 run to give Villanova the lead in the first half. Once the Wildcats brought their lead into double figures, they never looked back. They maintained the steady pace for the rest of the game.
Villanova cut down the nets and took the trophy back to the Main Line, it was also the key to securing a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Josh Hart played phenomenally in New York, scoring 53 points through three games. He was efficient on the floor, shooting 21-for-29 (72.4%) overall and 9-for-14 (64.3%) from beyond the arc. Hart was awarded the Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player Award.
Dylan Ennis and Darrun Hilliard were also named to the Big East All-Tournament Team.