Meet track and cross country’s Bella Burda: Mid-Atlantic Region Women’s Athlete of the Year


Villanova Athletics

Junior Bella Burda took home her first career individual cross country victory on Oct. 13 at the Penn State National Open.

Mike Keeley

Fresh off a women’s cross country season where she helped the Wildcats to an impressive twelfth-place finish in the NCAA Championship and a BIG EAST title, junior Bella Burda was initially unsure how to describe a season many believed hard to predict beforehand.

“The team didn’t really know what to expect coming in because we had some good freshman,” Burda explained. “I feel like it was exciting just to come together, see what we could do. We were a lot better than last year.”

Burda also noticed a distinct change in this year’s team from her previous two years.

“This year was different from my previous two years, in that we really had a team that could do something this year,” she said.

Although outsiders often think of cross country as an individual sport, Burda stressed that having a close team both emotionally and physically is vital.

“In the middle of a race with people all around you, it can be overwhelming,” Burda said. “But then you’re running and you see a teammate next to you and it’s kind of like this weird mental relief. You need your teammates for support.”

Speaking of her appreciation for her team, Burda explained how “it was really rewarding” to play a major part in her senior teammates finally winning the BIG EAST in their last year of eligibility.

“It was a close race too,” Burda said. “Our coach actually thought we hadn’t won because the scorers hadn’t come out and we were really disappointed. When she finally came over and told us we did win we were elated.”

Despite the impressive achievements of this season, the future could be even brighter.

“We have three really good freshmen,” Burda repeated her earlier point, speaking slowly to ensure her point was understood. “The future is very bright.”

Competitive fire has helped Burda perform at an elite level in her time as a Wildcat, which ultimately led to her title as the Mid-Atlantic Region Women’s Athlete of the Year.

“My past two cross country seasons weren’t very good,” Burda said. “[Being named the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Athlete of the Year] definitely means a lot.”

Burda is now a three-time All BIG EAST cross country runner and has seven awards overall. But she isn’t focused on those – just her improvement as a runner.

“To finally get towards where I want to be, and run with the top people in the region, and win the region, it felt like I was finally getting somewhere,” Burda said. “I still haven’t been All-American. That’s a big goal.”

Academically, Burda first became interested in her major of biology her junior year of high school. Although she did not take AP Biology until her senior year, she previously read a book suggested by the AP Biology teacher for those interested, and it fascinated her.

“I like learning how small little details work together to create life,” Burda said.

As a biology major and three-sport athlete, Burda’s workload is one even most student-athletes would probably find overwhelming.

“A lot of diligence is involved, because you have to get enough sleep to run well,” again slowing down as she explained. “You need to do well in school but you also need to sleep. It’s always just a balance, you have to make sure that when you have time you do your work.”

Burda is clearly an expert in time-management, as she won the NCAA Elite 90 award at the 2016 Cross Country Championship for highest cumulative GPA of an athlete at a championship.

“Well, I didn’t win it this year,” she frowned, showing her drive to be the best drives her on and off the field.

However, no one can get to the level Burda has without a support system.

“My parents throughout high school were always very supportive,” Burda said. “They made sure to get me to any extra meets the school couldn’t provide transportation to. My high school coach was also extremely dedicated, and he gave his heart and soul to the team and the sport. My coach right now, [Villanova Head Coach] Gina Procaccio, is also extremely dedicated. She doesn’t give up on you, and she’s also just a very knowledgeable, talented coach.”

In the little time she has left unoccupied, Burda keeps herself busy.

“I actually play the viola in the school orchestra,” Burda said. “It’s pretty low-key it meets twice a week. We play lots of genres from classical music to show tunes. We’re playing Christmas music right now.”

Led by Burda, Wildcat track and field is a team to keep an eye on going into the winter months as they pursue the Winter Track & Field Championships in College Station, Texas.