With the season on the line, the women’s cross country team finished in second place at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional on Friday morning. Its finish in the top two earned them a spot to the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. next Saturday.
Sophomore Lydia Olivere won the 6K women’s race with a time of 20:02.0, marking the third straight season where Villanova has produced the Mid-Atlantic Regionals champion. This was Olivere’s third victory in four races.
The team, which totaled 77 points, only finished four points behind the top finisher, Princeton. The Cats had three of the top four runners amongst a field of 208 at the Goodman Campus Course at Lehigh.
This is the second time this season that Villanova has raced at Lehigh. Freshman Maggie Smith led the team with a fourth place finish at the Paul Short Run on Oct. 5.
“It’s always good to know the course and be familiar with it,” Head Coach Gina Procaccio said about returning to Lehigh. “It definitely gives you a sense of calmness.”
Smith and senior Ann Campbell finished in third and fourth place with times of 20:15.8 and 20:21.3, respectively. They, along with Olivere, earned Mid-Atlantic All-Region honors. It is only the second time since 2000 that the women’s team has had three of the top four finishers at the Regionals meet.
“Today’s goal was to place in the top one or two spots to make it to Nationals, and we did that,” Procaccio said.
Freshmen Brynne Sumner and Nikki Merrill were the fourth and fifth scoring runners for the team. Sumner finished in 32nd place with a time of 20:57.0, and Merrill finished in 37th with a time of 21:04.0.
“We had to ask a lot of young kids to step up and do a good job, and they did that,” Procaccio said. “It’s hard to ask that out of such young runners.”
Freshman Anna Helwigh and senior McKenna Keegan finished in 60th and 64th place, respectively, to round out the rest of the Villanova runners, a lineup that featured four true freshmen.
The men’s cross country team, too, will be continuing its season after winning the Mid-Atlantic Regional. All five scoring runners placed in the top 13, securing an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships next week.
The ‘Cats had a dominant race, finishing 30 points ahead of second place finisher Georgetown. Their total of 37 points was their best since 2013. The team is also coming off of a Big East title win on Nov. 2.
Sophomore Josh Phillips led the team with a third place finish amongst a field of 175 runners at the Goodman Campus Course at Lehigh. His time was 30:02.0 in the men’s 10K race. This is the first time this season that the men have run a 10,000 meter race.
A gap of only 29 seconds separated the five Villanova scoring runners. Redshirt freshman Haftu Strizinos finished in fourth place with a time of 30:02.9, graduate student Nathan Rodriguez finished in 7th with a time of 20:10.6, and seniors Andrew Marston and Casey Comber finished in 10th and 13th place, respectively, with times of 30:15.7 and 30:31.9.
“I think they’ve got great leadership,” Head Coach Marcus O’Sullivan said. “The struggle this year was with injuries, sickness and the inexperience of younger runners. Trying to pull them together was a challenge, but also very rewarding to see them come together.”
The team showcased its depth during this meet, having all five scoring runners place in different spots than they did at the Big East Championships earlier this month. Phillips was the fifth scorer for the team at the Big East race, and first for the team at Regionals.
“These guys are all being trained slightly differently, so to see them all out there harmoniously coming together is great to watch,” O’Sullivan said.
Sophomore Charlie O’Donovan and junior Rob Morro rounded out the rest of the Wildcat runners, finishing in 38th and 81st place.
Now, the team prepares for the NCAA Championship meet. It is the second straight year the ‘Cats have earned a bid, following a three year drought from 2015 -2017. The meet will take place at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind. on Nov. 23.
This year’s appearance marks the fifth straight season that a Wildcat will appear in the NCAA Championships.