Men’s Cross Country Places 19th at Nationals


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Villanova placed 19th at Cross Country Nationals

Jacob Artz, Staff Writer

For a team and the coaching staff, the word perfection is not in the dictionary.

This concept applies to the NCAA Championships for the Villanova men’s cross country team.

After a very successful season that included a team Big East Championship and individual and team Mid-Atlantic Regional titles, the NCAA Championships culminated in a finish the team was not expecting.

On a frigid Saturday morning at the Oklahoma State University Cross Country Course in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Villanova placed 19th as a team. Its top runner, sophomore Liam Murphy, placed 92nd overall.

Murphy ran in a time of 30:10.2 to pace the ‘Cats. Sophomore Jack Jennings was the other runner to place within the top-100, placing 99th in a time of 30:11.8. Freshman Marco Langon placed 121st in a time of 30:24.5 and senior Charlie O’Donovan posted a time of 30:26.8 for 130th place. 

Senior Josh Phillips ran a 30:42.2 to finish 160th. Senior Haftu Strintzos finished with a time of 30:53.9 for 185th place and graduate Jack Fredian ran in 31:55 to place 235th.

Northern Arizona won the team portion to claim a three-peat in the NCAA Championships team title, and Stanford’s Charles Hicks won the individual title with a time of 28:43.6.

After possessing much momentum from their high finishes the last two meets, the Wildcats were confident in a top-10 finish, but it did not materialize.

“I started having doubts last week when we lost Haftu (Strintzos) during that race, and he wasn’t in our top five,” Villanova head coach Marcus O’Sullivan said.

Strintzos’s poor performance at the NCAA Championships proved costly for the expectation of a top-10 finish. In the race, he was distant compared to where he was a season ago. Last year, Strintzos impressed the fastest 10k cross country course time in Villanova history, finishing ninth and clocking in at 28:57.3.

“Losing him, where he was top-10 as an individual last year, that would’ve got us very close to where we needed to be,” O’Sullivan said.

At the halfway point of the race, O’Sullivan could tell the team was around 11th to 12th place, but the second half produced fading in the standings.

For the team portion, the difference between finishing in the top-10 and 19th is marginal.

It is a math game. If Strintzos finished in the top-20, that takes away 160 points from the team total. Additionally, if the other runners finish four to five spots better, another 40 to 50 points is subtracted.

If this hypothetical scenario played out, ‘Nova would have gone from 513 points to 313 points, putting it in 10th place.

“It’s all about numbers, and it’s all about five athletes all running well with the lowest possible score to possibly get one of those that don’t run well,” O’Sullivan said.

After an individual title last week at the Mid-Atlantic Regional, Murphy paced the team once again.

“He was back a little bit,” O’Sullivan said. “He came through at the end to be the top runner we had in the field. I would have to say overall he’s had a very good season.”

He would have liked to have been in the top-50, which would require shaving half a minute off of his time. This is a goal he could strive for next season.

Murphy and Jennings have proven to be the future core of the team for the ‘Cats, posting the two best finishes at the most competitive meet. 

“They all get along really well, you know, and if you had the likes of Liam and Jack in positions that they’re in of these upperclassmen ahead of them, now all of a sudden, you have a good team,” O’Sullivan said.

Another surprise piece for the future is Langon. He was not expected to be contributing this early, but he showed welcoming promise this season.

“He had a super season,” O’Sullivan said.

For a freshman, Langon impressed and will be a key contributor on the teams of the future, since he was high amongst the freshmen in the field.

For the season overall, it is one to remember for the Wildcats. The most recent result stings for O’Sullivan, but he is proud of the season.

“It was good,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m disappointed in actually just today, but overall, I have to say they’ve had a super year. It was pleasantly surprising to see them do so well, and, you know, I’m very happy for them.”

Looking ahead to the next cross country season, recruiting will be a major factor in replacing some of the seniors in Phillips, O’Donovan and Fredian. Runners who were in the back of the rotation will need to step up.

Strintzos, Langon, Murphy and Jennings will all be back next fall, which is four of the top six scorers from this season.

The indoor and outdoor track and field seasons will help the team in succeeding next fall.

“Cross country is the harbingers of the indoors and outdoors, and you try to get them strong, cardiovascular,” O’Sullivan said. “They go onto the track. They do really well on the track, and then you build them back up again for another cross country, and you hope each season builds on top of each other.”