Men’s Cross Country Wins Eighth Big East Championship


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Villanova captured its eighth Big East Championship and its second in the last four years on Saturday.

Jacob Artz, Staff Writer

After a disappointing result in the Big East Championships last year, Villanova men’s cross country head coach Marcus O’Sullivan called for “redemption” this year.

His team certainly responded.

Villanova captured its eighth Big East Championship and its second in the last four years on Saturday at Highland Park Course in Attleboro, MA. Villanova outpaced the hometown squad of Providence, with 27 points, compared to the Friars’ 55. Georgetown finished third with 68 points, while Butler claimed fourth with 75 points.

The head coach praised the process of preparing the team for winning.

“This is a culmination of a few years of work,” O’Sullivan said.

Villanova placed five runners inside the top 10. Senior Haftu Strintzos placed second, with a time of 23:21, sophomore Liam Murphy finished third, with a time of 23:28, senior Charlie O’Donovan recorded a time of 23:34 for fifth, sophomore Jack Jennings claimed seventh, with a time of 23:37, and senior Josh Phillips posted a tenth place finish in 23:43.

Villanova now has its sixth Big East title under O’Sullivan, but he is adamant that the success is credit to the entire coaching staff.

“We have a very good assistant in Coach Matt [Valeriani], so it starts in recruiting,” O’Sullivan said. “[He] works really hard in terms of bringing recruits in. We work well together.”

For Strintzos, this was his second consecutive runner-up finish in the Big East Championship. This was only the second race of the season for him due to a bout with COVID-19, but he did not show any signs of any lingering issues.

“I thought he had a really good chance of winning from about 800 [meters] out,” O’Sullivan said. “He was right there with Barry Keane from Butler, who’s won it before.”

However, with 200 meters remaining, Strintzos approached the last major hill and did not have enough stamina once he completed the hill to sprint to the finish, giving Keane the title. 

Sophomores Murphy and Jennings impressed. They share commonalities in how they entered the program and how they have risen to the top of Big East cross country competition.

They came into the program during the uncertainty of COVID-19 and matured through their journey. With both finishing in the top 10, O’Sullivan reflected on how the two runners have performed this season.

“That was a huge improvement from last year,” O’Sullivan said.

All the runners executed well, giving O’Sullivan a luxury that does not occur much in sports, especially in meets with a Big East title looming.

“To be able to say, ‘We’ve got the team [championship], you can enjoy the last 1,000 meters,’ is a really nice feeling to have knowing that you’re well ahead,” O’Sullivan said.

To aid the team, O’Sullivan jogged the course before his runners hit the course. The new course in the cross country landscape will be improved and set up for impactful meets in the future.

“I think it’s got the merits of being a good location for us,” O’Sullivan said.

Providence had an advantage, considering it is located 20 minutes from the course, and it uses the course sometimes to train. The hilly nature of the course did not allow athletes to “get going” because of the constant inclines and declines.

Providence, along with Georgetown and Butler, provided a substantial challenge to Villanova, but O’Sullivan pointed to the one separating factor of fitness.

“We’re staying, performing well the whole time,” O’Sullivan said.

Villanova seeks to continue its fine running in two weeks at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional at the Blue and White Courses in University Park, PA. The team is confident that it will run well at the regional meet, which will put it in a great position for the NCAA Championships.

“We look like we’re in great shape to be able to go [to the NCAA Championships],” O’Sullivan said. “I’m saying that confidently, but anything can happen at Regionals.”

The Blue and White courses provide a longer test for the runners, increasing the distance of the race by two kilometers. There are many challenging hills as well.

Villanova placed third last year in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic regional behind the winner Georgetown and runner-up West Virginia at the Lehigh Goodman Campus Cross Country Course. 

Georgetown is a team to worry about with its stack of talent, and Princeton, which finished fourth in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional last year, is coming off an Ivy League title on Saturday.

The 10 runners employed at the Big East Conference meet will be reduced to seven for the regional and national meet, with all 10 runners continuing their training in case of injuries or unforeseen circumstances causing one of the seven runners to miss a meet.

Villanova tallied many points through the Wisconsin meet, putting it in position to secure a berth into the NCAA Championships. 

There are two avenues to secure a spot in the NCAA Championships. The first is earning an automatic bid through running well at the regional meet or an at-large bid based on points accumulated during major meets in the regular season, like the Wisconsin meet.

The team is not resting on the points it has already accrued, but rather, desires to win to create momentum for the NCAA Championships.