Men’s cross country steals show, first place at Big East

Leslie Combs

The men knew when they stepped to the line last week at the Big East Cross Country Championships what they had to do.

“He [men’s head coach Marcus O’Sullivan] told us the night before ‘you guys better win this race,’” junior Ryan Hayden said. “We had no option but to win and that is what came out in the last mile. No matter how much we were hurting we had to get out there.”

Despite their instructions the men did not look like they were going to pull off the victory on the 8k course last Friday.

“Actually, with one mile to go we were not winning,” O’Sullivan said. “We were probably being beaten by Providence and Georgetown. Then in the last mile something crazy took place.”

In a wooded area referred to as the “bear cage” the Villanova men took matters into their own hands … or legs. Entering the secluded woods Hayden was in second place, a great distance behind Providence’s front runner Adam Sutton.

“Sutton basically took advantage of the team thing going on and did his own thing,” O’Sullivan explained. “He went for his own race and everyone let him go and he went away with it.”

Meanwhile, senior Jon Fasulo had joined Hayden and classmate Adrian Blincoe at the two and half mile mark and remained at the front while Blincoe fell back to 12th entering the woods. Sophomore Tom Falvey was 13th and Patt Dunn, the crucial fifth man, was back in 21st.

A major obstacle in the “bear cage” is a huge hill. When other runners lost their steam going up and had trouble focusing while going down, the Wildcats’ training kicked in at just the right time. Fasulo kept pushing the pace and passed Hayden, while Blincoe stepped it up, moving all the way up to fourth. Falvey ended up in 11th and Dunn moved up to 19th.

“When they came out we were winning,” O’Sullivan said. “The tables turned on the three teams, Georgetown, Providence and ourselves, and we ended up winning. Everything happened in the woods.”

Upon exiting the woods ’Nova did not relinquish its newfound lead and took the Big East title for the first time in nine years; its second in 23 years. The ’Cats respected times were 23:48, 23:54, 23:59, 24.11 and 24:39. The fifth year senior Sutton took the individual title uncontested in 23:33

“We held on or made up ground and that was the difference,” Fasulo explained. “It’s a reflection of the strength of the team. When the other guys were dying we were coming on.”

The ’Cats victory with 39 points over Providence’s 49 and Georgetown’s 55 was largely due to their fifth man.

“We have had four in the top 10 and the fifth guy fell to about 30th and we always lost.,” O’Sullivan said.

This time, the four ’Nova frontrunners didn’t finish in the top 10 but in the top 11; however, more importantly was the fact that all five runners finished in the top 20.

“We have never had five in the top 20,” O’Sullivan said. “We have never been able to accomplish that. It was a tremendous victory and super performance … something that I am very proud of. I am very proud of the boys for getting it done.”

The Nov. 1 race also marked the first time the men assembled together this fall.

Neither Blincoe nor Hayden had run competitively, focusing instead on their training, while other runners, such as the winner Sutton, had raced three or four times coming into the conference finals.

“Our win was a good analogy for our team,” Fasulo explained. “While other runners are starting to tire, we are just starting up. It is a good debut for us.”

The primary reason for the ’Cats coming together this late in the fall is due to the fact that while the conference finals are an important part to the season, the season is far from over. The Big East marks the first of ’Nova’s big meets this fall, ending with Nationals later this month. The men trained through the Big East and will continue to do so until Nationals draws near and are hoping that their intense training will continue to pay off.

“Hopefully it is an perception of things to come with Regionals and Nationals, but we still have three more weeks left.”

The men will continue their post season Nov. 16 when they compete in the Mid Atlantic Regionals, but will so ranked 10th in the nation following their Big East Victory.