Men’s XC Finishes Second in Paul Short Run


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Liam Murphy (above) finished in fourth place on Friday.

Jacob Artz, Staff Writer

In its last meet before the much anticipated and highly competitive meet at Wisconsin, the Villanova men’s cross country team shattered personal bests and littered the top-10 with fast times.

This all happened without its number one runner, graduate Haftu Strintzos, who was held out for one more meet. He is recovering from contracting COVID-19 a month ago, and head coach Marcus O’Sullivan wanted to make sure he is fully ready for the Wisconsin meet in two weeks.

Villanova finished second out of the 46 teams with a total score of 100 points at the Paul Short Run last Friday at Lehigh’s Goodman Campus Course, losing to North Carolina, which registered 64 points. The race was an 8K.

This race was especially important because of the national competition, like North Carolina, which is ranked number 13 to Villanova’s ranking of 21.

“For us to be right there with [North Carolina], that bodes well for what we thought our team was going to be, and it looks like it is a strong team,” O’Sullivan said. “That was our first real race out.”

Villanova placed four runners in the top-10, with junior Liam Murphy leading the runners with a time of 23:07.6 for a fourth place finish. He smashed his personal best by more than 40 seconds from the same race last year, when he finished in 23:49.0. 

Senior Charlie O’Donovan posted a fifth place finish, with a time of 23:10.7, again breaking his personal record by almost 30 seconds from the same race last year.

The other two top-10 runners for Villanova were senior Josh Phillips and junior Jack Jennings. Phillips posted a time of 23:15.7 for ninth place and Jennings finished with a time of 23:16.8, good for 10th place.

O’Sullivan gave his runners much credit with their improved form over the quicker course conditions.

“Big jumps for the two guys that were in the top four was Liam [Murphy] and Jack Jennings, together as freshmen during COVID, and they have really matured this year, so that onto itself, has made a huge contribution to where we are right now,” O’Sullivan said.

The more mature and older runners in Phillips and O’Donovan aided Murphy and Jennings with their steady progression.

In the overall team perspective, the difference between Villanova and North Carolina, according to O’Sullivan, is simple.

“Another guy,” O’Sullivan said. “Just switch one guy out and all of a sudden, you’re winning.”

The course was running extremely swiftly. The top eight finishers all recorded top-10 times in the race course’s established history, and the top-two runners broke the overall course record.

The fast conditions were aided by beautiful weather before the arrival of the remnants of Hurricane Ian and the pressure for the runners to keep up with highly nationally ranked teams.

“They went out very fast,” O’Sullivan said. “They went out in 4:35 for the first mile. Guys weren’t fading in the last mile. They were coming home really strong. My theory is the ground was very hard and dry, which provides for a very fast surface, and I also think with the storm rolling in, it brings in a lot of clean air, a lot of oxygen. And you get the benefit of that. The conditions were very optimal for fast times.”

The Wildcats will take another step up in their journey towards the Big East Championships, Regionals and Nationals at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course. The meet takes place on Oct. 14.

Villanova is planning on taking 12 runners to Wisconsin, which has been narrowed down from 20 by injuries and runners who are suited for different races. The goal is to cut the list of runners to 10 for the Big East Championships on Oct. 29.

“There’s still room for play in terms of people being able to, you know, position themselves for the conference spot,” O’Sullivan said.

The course itself is the same length as the Goodman Campus Course but different with its rolling hills. The weather will be a huge factor because the meet is taking place in Wisconsin in mid-October, and the weather conditions could vary.

The competition will be higher and deeper in this, as many top ranked teams will compete to accumulate points for Regionals, and the Wisconsin meet is an important determinant as to what teams qualify for that meet. 

The week of the Wisconsin meet falls on Villanova’s fall break, which will allow for easier travel and the athletes to focus solely on the meet.