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Murphy and Strintzos: Two Paths, One Finish Line

Courtesy of Villanova Athletics
Murphy (above) and Strintzos were the only two Wildcats to run a sub-25 on a 8.5 kilometer course.

The 2023 Big East Cross Country championships occurred on a cold, windy day in Wisconsin. The finish line sat untouched until Liam Murphy and Haftu Strintzos crossed it first and second, respectively. They were the only two runners to achieve sub-25-minute times on the eight-and-a-half-kilometer course.

On the surface, they are two highly-skilled runners for Villanova’s cross country team, but their journeys to get there were very different.

In Millstone, NJ, Murphy had an athletic life from the very beginning that wasn’t always characterized by running.

“I didn’t really like [running] in seventh grade, so [in] eighth grade I quit and didn’t do it,” Murphy said.

Murphy then started focusing his attention on soccer, convinced he was going to play it in college. It wasn’t until freshman year that his parents started to change his mind.

“My freshman year, my parents said why don’t you try it one more time?” he said. “So I did outdoor track my freshman year, and it went pretty well.”

While Murphy’s parents helped him greatly, he grew up influenced by his older brother. Conor Murphy ran at Rutgers.

“I’d say he’s probably the first person I text after every single race,” Murphy said. “My parents, I will text them about it…but’s [it’s] definitely a better connection when I could talk to someone who’s actually been in the same sport.”

While Murphy’s accomplishments were clear after the Big East championship, it was not always an easy road for him. For Murphy, achieving his goals took years of dedication, and back in 2022, he hit a low point.

It was a mix of poor diet, poor training, constant burnout and frequent illness. Murphy could not seem to catch a break.

“My coaches were telling me that the training really hasn’t been going the way it should be,” Murphy said. “I was getting sick. And getting sick breaks up your training.”

In 2021, Murphy placed 21st overall, something that still sits with him today. With his own training and heavy summer training days, he finds himself now a Big East champion, joining his teammate, Strintzos, who won it in 2020.

Despite Strintzos finding success earlier in his career, it wasn’t an easy journey for him, either.

Strintzos was born in Tigray, a very remote part of Ethiopia. He lived there until he was 10-years-old. Tigray is a town with no electricity or running water, and there was a constant possibility of not being able to get a meal multiple days of the week.

After a decade of these conditions, Strintzos was adopted by an Australian aid worker. Shortly after, he moved to Australia, which he still calls home to this day.

As for Strintzos’ running career, cross-country wasn’t something he discovered until a sixth grade physical education coach pointed him into what is now his decorated career.

“My [PE teacher] said, ‘Hey, you should try for the state championships,’” Strintzos said. “All [of] the sudden in grade six I was representing the primary school in the state championships.”

All it took was a push of encouragement, and Srintzos was put on track for the rest of his career.

“I love running with a purpose,” Strintzos said. “My background and the opportunity I have been given certainly gives me a lot of motivation to keep me going.”

Despite having opposite paths, running for Villanova has brought them to where those two roads now converge.

Strintzos and Murphy will continue their journeys as the men’s cross country team travels to the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional on Nov. 10. The runners will have their sights on finishing the season at the NCAA Championships on Nov. 18.

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