Tewksbury High track superstar Leanne Tucker hasn’t scored a single point in Merrimack Valley Conference track competition so far in her senior year, but if you ask Villanova University coach Gina Procaccio, the future Wildcat could put points on the board in a Big East Conference meet today, if she was wearing the Villanova blue and white this spring.
“We think she can contribute right away at the Big East level,“ Procaccio said of Tucker, who will enroll at Villanova in the fall. “She’s already run a 2:09 (in the 800 meter run). That would score in a Big East meet.”
Understandably, Procaccio is looking forward to Tucker’s arrival in Philadelphia. The TMHS senior signed her letter of intent to attend Villanova last Wednesday, and will run for one of the nation’s perennial track superpowers when she heads off to college in September. Procaccio is convinced she’s found a diamond in the rough in Tucker.
“She’s really only been running for two years,” Procaccio said. “And she doesn’t even run year ‘round. She does other sports as well. So she’s got a lot of potential. To run under 2:10 as a junior is pretty impressive. We feel like she’s got a bright future ahead of her.”
Procaccio became a Tucker fan when she saw Tucker run at the New Balance Nationals last June in Greensboro, N.C. Tucker clocked her best-ever time in the 800 that day, at 2:09.13, good for sixth place in the country, as a junior.
“The thing that impressed us most is that she’s such a tough competitior, such a fighter,” Procaccio said. “She really fought hard in the national meet.
“When we recruit, we look for kids who perform well in high calibre meets,” Procaccio added. “We compete in Division 1 so she’ll be seeing high calibre athletes all the time with our schedule.”
Villanova’s track and field program is widely regarded as one of the top programs in the nation. The Wildcat women have won back-to-back national titles in cross country, led by senior Sheila Reid, who recently won the Honda Award as the top female cross country runner in the nation. Reid is one of five graduating seniors on the cross country team, so Procaccio will be sending all six of her incoming freshmen, including Tucker, out onto the trails in the fall.
“She’s never run cross country, but we’ll explore her potential,” Procaccio said. “We’ve had a lot of talented track athletes turn into great performers on our cross country team.”
In indoor and outdoor track, Tucker will likely start out running the 400 and the 800 meters, which, coincidentally, were Procaccio’s events when she ran at Villanova in the 1980s. An NCAA All-American, Procaccio is also a former United States national champion in the 5000 meters.
“We’ll start out experimenting with her in the 400 and 800 and see where she goes from there.” Procaccio said. “This is kind of a reloading year for us, but we’ve got five other freshmen coming in, so it’ll be fun to see this group grow and develop.”
Ironically, all of Procaccio's enthusiasm for Tucker is based on her junior season. Tucker suffered a torn muscle in her leg early in the indoor season this past December, and missed the entire season. She has been rehabilitating the leg for several months and it on schedule to return to competition within the next two weeks.