Cross country looks to continue tradition of success at Big East Championship meet



Katie Ho Sang

The new cross country and track and field offices cannot hold all of the awards the men and women’s distance squad has garnered over the years. 

As the Jake Nevin Fieldhouse undergoes renovations, a quantity of Penn Relay wheels, Big East Champion trophies and All-American awards sit in storage, waiting for a new display. 

The women’s team placed fourth at last year’s confernce championship meet, falling short to Georgetown, Providence and Butler, respectively. This Saturday the Wildcats travel to Ohio, seeking their first Big East title since 2011. 

The men’s team will also be competing for a conference title, looking to keep the cross country crown on the Main Line for the third year in a row. They swept last year’s championships in a dominant fashion. 

Though the team is adjusting to the loss of a large graduating class, a deep group of returners are ready to lead the team this weekend. 

At last year’s Big Easts, the Australian trio of Patrick Tiernan, Sam McEntee and Jordan Williamsz took first, second and third place, respectively. 

Although McEntee graduated, Tiernan and Williamsz returned after a successful outdoor track campaign. 

Williamsz placed 5th in the 1500 meters at the NCAA Championships, while Tiernan mustered a 10th place finish in the 5000 meters. Graduate student Robert Denault, junior Harry Warnick and senior Kevin Corbusier placed sixth, twelfth, and 21st, respectively, at last year’s Big Easts, and have all been consistent scorers this season.

The team’s goals extend beyond capturing the Big East title. Two weeks after Big Easts, the team will compete at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals with the goal of qualifying for nationals as a team. The top two teams and a select few individuals from the region automatically qualify. At last year’s regionals, the team placed first. 

The United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association ranked the Wildcats No. 7 in the nation during preseason. 

The impressive depth of the squad, including seven talented freshmen, creates a well-balanced team, capable of succeeding at the national level. 

Last year, the team placed seventh at the NCAA Championships, with Tiernan leading the team with an 18th place individual finish. Tiernan, a two-time All-American in cross country, hopes to improve upon his individual finish from last year to help the team score as high as possible. 

With such a deep group of elite runners, a podium finish is not out of reach.

While the men’s team is led by experienced upperclassmen, the women’s team has many fresh faces. The Wildcats lost just one of the seven women who competed at last year’s championships. 

Stephanie Shappert placed 16th at last year’s Big East championships, took the individual ECAC crown and was the top Villanova finisher for four out of the six races she competed in. Shappert excelled on and off the track and graduated last year as the top student in her marketing major. 

“There is a void without Steph Shappert on the team, though the freshman do make up for it in numbers” sophomore Síofra Cleirigh-Buttner said. “She will always be a great role model for us.”

This year, Dublin native Cleirigh-Buttner and senior Angel Piccirillo lead the Wildcats. Cleirigh-Buttner and Piccirillo placed 12th and 19th, respectively at last year’s Big East championships. Other noteworthy returners include sophomore Nicole Armstrong, senior Caitlin Bungo, and junior Alex Russo. 

Armstrong, however, will be sidelined for the championship season due to injury. Still, a strong freshman class follows; at the Pre-National meet, the majority of the team’s scorers were freshman. 

Bella Burda leads the freshman force. Burda has been a consistent third place finisher during meets, and will be a key contributor this weekend. Freshmen Nicole Hutchinson and Ann Campbell will also look to help the team.

The women’s team fell short in qualifying for Nationals last year but is hungry for a national showing and a Big East title. 

“We want to win Big Easts, which will require huge effort from everyone on the team. I think we just need to want it more than any other school,” Hutchinson said. 

The Wildcat’s fiercest competitor will be the Georgetown Hoyas, who placed fourth at NCAA Nationals last year. 

Like the men, the women’s team will look for a top two finish at Regionals to secure a spot at Nationals. It will also be possible for Wildcats to qualify as individuals. With so many young talents, the future looks bright. 

“Although we have a young team overall, we are fortunate to have two great seniors [Bungo and Piccirillo] to guide us this year and look over us,” Cleirigh-Buttner said. “I have been impressed by the effort they have made and the support they show to the team. Of course there will always be a few bumps in the road along the way, but we know how to support each other and move on. We will never stop coming.” 

Villanova’s deep freshman class, and rich men and women’s distance running history, confirms this. The men and women’s teams are ready to compete this Saturday. 

Expect the strength of the Main Liners to leave a chill in the Halloween air.