Liam Murphy Leads Men’s Cross Country to Mid-Atlantic Regional Title


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Liam Murphy finished first overall at the Mid Atlantic Regional

Jacob Artz, Staff Writer

After the Big East Championships, Villanova men’s cross country head coach Marcus O’Sullivan said, “We look like we’re in great shape to be able to go (to the NCAA Championships). I’m saying that confidently, but anything can happen at Regionals.” 

For insurance, the team traveled to Wisconsin earlier this season to tally points in pursuit of qualification for an NCAA Championships at-large bid.

They didn’t need any of those points.

Villanova automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships on a rain-filled Friday morning, placing first as a team in the Mid-Atlantic Regional at the Blue and White Courses in University Park, Pa.

“It meant a lot to this group of guys to come back 12 months later and get it right, and get it right in a big way,” O’Sullivan said.

After placing third at the Big East championship meet, sophomore Liam Murphy improved his position by two spots as he won the individual title with a time of 29:52.6 on the 10k course.

“He’s been getting better and looking better all year,” O’Sullivan said. “I had a fleeting moment a few days ago just thinking, you know, this is the kind of kid that could win this event maybe not this year, but sometime down the road, and sure enough, he jumps ahead of me.”

Murphy’s breakaway was “decisive” and the other runners could not catch up to him.

Murphy actually fell twice after the first five or six minutes of the race and at the breakaway, but he was able to run another five miles at a swift pace.

A Mid-Atlantic All-Region honors winner from last year, Murphy obliterated the competition. Georgetown’s Parker Stokes finished in a distant second with a time of 30:04.1.

Murphy destroyed his previous personal record from last year at the same Mid-Atlantic Regional, when he ran a 31:05.4. 

Villanova placed six runners in the top-15. Freshman Marco Langon placed fourth with a time of 30:05.6, senior Charlie O’Donovan slotted eighth with a time of 30:12.0, senior Josh Phillips finished 11th running in 30:15.5, sophomore Jack Jennings posted 12th place, finishing one tenth of a second behind Phillips, and senior Haftu Strintzos placed 15th with a time of 30:25.1. 

O’Sullivan does not like to bring true freshmen to a race of this caliber, but he saw the promise in Langon at the Main Line Invitational, when Langon crushed the field by nearly 10 seconds.

“I felt like we needed him on our squad, not knowing how deep we were going to be at that time,” O’Sullivan said.

With O’Donovan and Phillips leaving the team after this season, this will be valuable experience for Langon. Only a year ago, Langon was in high school running half of the required 10k.

In the team standings, Villanova stood alone with 36 points. Georgetown finished second with a point total of 58. Princeton placed third with 73 points.

For the Mid-Atlantic Regional and NCAA Championships, the course length expands to 10k opposed to a long of 8k in the regular season.

The runners had to be more cautious in the warmups, as the wet conditions meant they needed more dry clothes to keep the athletes in top form before the race.

O’Sullivan said the wet conditions do not affect the runners much once the race starts.

Strintzos surprisingly finished in 15th place, but O’Sullivan said it was just a matter of getting lost in the pack.

“He was right there with a mile to go with the group, so I think he was in second or third place at that point,” O’Sullivan said.

The win in the team portion allows Villanova to bring the whole team to the NCAA Championships, which will be held next Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, at the Oklahoma State University Cross Country Course.

“It’s a very tough course, and we’ve been on it before,” O’Sullivan said. “And it’s rolling hills, and if they have no rain on it, it’s very fast.”

The Oklahoma dry grass and the hills take much out of the legs. Many of the runners Villanova is taking have run the course before. The team will travel on Wednesday, and the runners will walk the course on Thursday and Friday before Saturday’s race.

The 2021 NCAA Championships saw Strintzos record a blazing time of 28:57.3 in Tallahassee to finish ninth. This mark is the fastest 10k cross country time ever in Villanova men’s cross country, surpassing NCAA champion Patrick Tiernan from Villanova in 2016.

Other runners that competed last year in the NCAA Championships that are in the rotation this year are Jennings, who placed 73rd with a time of 29:57.1 and Phillips, who posted a time of 30:46.8 to finish in 167th place.

“You build a lot on experience,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s very intense. It’s like a buffalo stampede, and it keeps going until the field breaks away after about two to three, four miles.”

The difference with the NCAA Championships is there is only a week between meets, and with the regionals and NCAA Championships being the two longest races of the season at 10k, it can be tough to recover.

“If you can go out there and hold yourself together, like you’ve been doing all year, you’re gonna do pretty well,” O’Sullivan said.