Success in Big East Cross Country Championships


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Success in Big East Cross Country Championships

Jamie Pennington, Staff Writer

On Friday Mar. 3, the Villanova men’s and women’s cross country teams competed in the 2020-2021 Jeep Big East Championships at WakeMed Soccer Park Field in Cary, North Carolina. The men’s competition included an 8000-meter race, and the women competed in a 6000-meter race.

The men’s team finished the team event in third place, just behind the runner-up Georgetown and champions Butler. The Wildcats proved their dominance in the conference, as each of the 10 competing runners placed in the top 40 in a field of 94 runners. This tremendous showing by the ‘Cats continues their three-year streak of Big East Championship success, in which all five scoring runners placed in the top 20.

Villanova sophomore Haftu Strinzos prevailed as the Big East Men’s individual champion, finishing the 8000-meter course in 23:05.02, beating out runner-up Barry Keane of Butler by a mere one second in a battle to the finish. Strinzos made the decisive move to pass his competitor in the last 1500 meters after remaining patient through the initial 800-meter downhill at the start of the race and through the succeeding uphills. 

Strinzos was not alone in his incredible finish, as teammates Josh Phillips (7th place, 23:30.3), Nick Steele (14th, 23:39.5), Charlie O’Donovan (15th, 23:40.02), Paul Nichols (17th, 23:41.1) and Jack Fredian (18th, 23:44.8) all finished within the top-20, each of the six receiving all-Big East accolades. Justin Weber (24th, 24:01.7), Patrick Spychalski (34th, 24:26.8), Ben Seiple (37th, 24:39.8) and Liam Murphy (38th, 24.43.9) rounded out the ‘Cats’ leading performance. 

The women’s team made its mark at the Big East Conference Championship. The Wildcats finished fifth in the overall team standings, along with junior Lydia Olivere and sophomore Anna Halwigh earning all-Big East honors.

Olivere looked to defend her 2019 Big East Individual Championship title, and this year she finished an impressive third place in the 6000-meter event with a time of 20:36.1 (her third straight year finishing in the top 10). Olivere began the race towards the front of the pack during the imperative 800-meter downhill start, maintained a fifth-place position with 1300 meters remaining and made her way up the ranks to third through a steady, persistent performance on a difficult course.

Halwigh joined Olivere in the top 20, with a time of 21:13.2, as well as a second team all-Big East accolade, her fourth all-Big East recognition. Additionally, Halwigh improved 11 spots from the 2019 conference championships.

Joining Olivere and Halwig as scoring runners for the Wildcats were Brynne Sumner (27th, 21:37.1), Elizabeth Vaughn (41st, 22:10.7), Kaleigh Hughes (47th, 22:21.8) and Nikki Merrill, who concluded the lineup with a time of 22:58.6 in a field of 93 runners.

After the race, the men’s cross country team was named as an at-large selection for the NCAA Championships next Monday. The Wildcats earned a team berth for the third straight season, as well as for the 16th of 23 seasons under head coach Mark O’Sullivan.

The team is expected to be competitive in the championship, coming into the conference championships ranked 30th nationally as well as first in the mid-Atlantic region. Three Big East sides made the 31 team competition, as Villanova will be joined by Butler and mid-Atlantic rival Georgetown.

On the women’s side of the event, Olivere automatically qualified for the NCAA meet as an individual by finishing third in the Big East race. This will be her third time competing in the nationwide event, running with her team in both the 2018 and 2019 editions. She finished in 29th place overall as a sophomore, earning All-American honors from the USTFCCCA. Olivere had a memorable 2019 season, finishing with a bevy of honors. The Wilmington, Delaware native was named All-Big East First Team, was a Big East champion, was named Mid-Atlantic All-Region, and an All-American. She was also All-Big East First team and Mid-Atlantic All-Region in 2018, her freshman season. This is the 31st time in 32 years that the women’s program has been represented at the NCAA meet, either by the team or by an individual.

This year, the race takes place in Stillwater, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State University, and will be televised on ESPNU and on the ESPN app. Coverage will begin at 12:30 Eastern, with the women’s 6k race beginning at 12:50 and the men’s 10k race following at 1:30.