For freshman Maggie Smith, running at Villanova means more than just fulfilling her lifelong dream to run at the collegiate level.
She is now part of the legacy of one of the most successful women’s running program in history.
The women’s cross country team at Villanova has nine national championship titles and 16 Big East titles. No other program has won more than five championships.
“I’m aware of the history, and all of us want to contribute to that,” Smith said. “I want to live up to the legacy.”
In only three races so far this season, Smith has already cemented herself as a cornerstone of this year’s young team.
In a year that Smith describes as a “building and growing year,” she has placed second at the Main Line Invitational, fourth at the Paul Short Run and 35th out of 243 runners at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational.
“[Head Coach] Gina [Procaccio’s] saying for this year is ‘funstoppable,” Smith said. “We’re a young team, and we’re trying to figure out our strengths and what we can work on as a team.”
Despite labeling this year as a re-building season, Smith led the team to a 22nd place finish out of 36 teams at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational. 20 of the 36 teams that competed were nationally ranked.
“It was really eye-opening to be in a race with so many people,” Smith said about her performance in Wisconsin. “It was a good experience, and as races get bigger, we get more of a reality of competition.”
That reality of competition is exactly what the Wildcats will face later on this season as they prepare for the Big East Championships on Nov. 2. But for Smith, running in races of this magnitude is a slighty foreign concept.
A native of Nova Scotia, Canada, Smith has had to adjust to a new country, a new school and a new running system in her first year of college.
“Nova Scotia was a smaller pond of runners,” she said. “I wanted to run in the States because it was a broader sense of competition.”
If racing against elite runners was a goal for Smith, she has already exceeded that goal in her first two months as a collegiate runner, and then some.
“I was happy with the Paul Short Run,” she said. “I’ve kept good nerves during the races, and I don’t look at the start list before the race. I go to the start line with an open mind.”
The biggest difference between running in Nova Scotia versus running in the U.S. according to Smith, is running with a team.
“I’ve always been an assertive runner, but now, I’m not running alone,” Smith said.
Back in Canada, Smith ran by herself at the front of the pack. At the university, she looks for her teammates throughout the race. This calms her nerves more than anything else.
In fact, the sense of team that Smith feels at Villanova is the reason why she chose the school in the first place.
“I fit in best at Villanova,” she said. “There’s a comraderie on the team and a sense of belonging.” Smith chose Villanova over schools like Providence and Notre Dame.
The team’s chemistry has been especially evident this season. After sweeping eight of the top ten spots at the Main Line Invitational, Villanova’s top three runners, Smith, sophomore Lydia Olivere and senior Ann Campbell, all finished within 29 seconds of each other at the Nuttycombe Invitational.
“We’re having fun with it this year,” Smith said. “Being a young team makes us underestimated, but we hope to prove everyone wrong.”
When asked what her goal was for this season, Smith did not hesitate.
“We definitely want the Big East title,” she said. The weight of the word ‘we’ did not go unnoticed.
“We all help each other, because we’re all going through the same thing,” Smith said of her teammates. “Everyone knows they need to run well for the team. We have to show up and do our jobs.”
Seeking their third straight Big East Championship, now is the time for the Cats to stick together, just like they have done all season. Smith says it is all about execution. “We’re ready to go,” she said.
Capturing the Big East title would add another accomplishment to Smith’s already acclaimed Villanova resume. Even more importantly, it would be another step towards contributing to the decorated history of women’s cross country at Villanova.
“There’s so much talent here, it’s inspiring,” Smith said. “It motivates us to give back to those before us who did so well and were so talented.”
Smith does not take the label of a Villanova runner lightly. Despite having an incredible start to the season, she knows the standards that this program has created for her.
Instead of being daunted by those standards, she is looking forward to embracing them.
“I love being a part of something that’s bigger than myself.”