Loaded Lineup Comes Through For Wildcats in Strong Second Place Finish at Paul Short Run

09 Dec 2021 | 10:36 | Cross Country

BETHLEHEM, Pa.—Led by three of the top seven finishers and all five of its scoring runners in the top 30 overall No. 23 Villanova made a major statement while facing strong competition for the first time this season and finished second by a single point in the Men’s College Gold Race at the Paul Short Run on Friday morning. The race for the team title was one of the closest in the history of the renowned meet as the Wildcats had a team score of 57 points to trail North Carolina (56) by a single point among 40 teams in the field.

Villanova and the Tar Heels began the day tied for 23rd in this week’s national rankings and nearly matched each other on the course. Princeton (74) came in third and Utah State (77) was fourth as the top four teams were separated by a mere 21 points. No other school had a score lower than 210 as several of the nation’s perennial heavyweights in men’s cross country battled for the top spots. Utah State entered the meet ranked 16th in this week’s United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) top 30 poll and Princeton is ranked third in the Mid-Atlantic behind the Wildcats at the top of the regional rankings.

The finish in the team standings was impressive for a Villanova team which showed what it is capable of at full strength. The senior trio of Josh Phillips (Belrose, Australia), Haftu Strintzos (Melbourne, Australia) and Charlie O’Donovan (Cork, Ireland) finished second, third and seventh in the field of 357 runners. Phillips led the Wildcats with a time of 23:31.3 on the 8000 meter course. That mark is the 10th-fastest ever on the Goodman Campus Course at Lehigh and also the 10th-fastest time that any Villanova runner has recorded in an 8K cross country race. Strintzos was right behind him in third place with a time of 23:33.9 and O’Donovan came in seventh overall in 23:39.5.

Redshirt freshman Liam Murphy (Millstone, N.J.) and graduate student Nick Steele (Harvard, Mass.) were the fourth and fifth scoring runners in the Wildcats lineup. Murphy stepped up with a big performance and placed 16th in 23:49.0 while Steele also covered the course in under 24 minutes and finished 29th with a time of 23:56.9. The spread between the top five in the Villanova lineup was just 25.6 seconds despite the crowded course with more than 350 runners jockeying for position. Rounding out the top seven for the Wildcats were redshirt freshman Jack Jennings (Mendham, N.J.) and graduate student Justin Weber (South Milwaukee, Wis.) who finished consecutively in 36th (24:07.0) and 37th (24:07.7) places.

Despite being only the second outing of the year for Villanova there is no such thing as “early” on the cross country calendar, not in a season that features three meets in the span of a month followed by three postseason races in just 23 days. Friday’s strong result for the Wildcats is sure to have both an immediate impact in upcoming national rankings as well as postseason implications for later in the year when the NCAA Championships draw nearer. Villanova has earned a team berth to the NCAA Championships in each of the last three seasons.

Graduate students Ryan Cutter (El Sobrante, Calif.), Paul Nichols (Latham, N.Y.) and Martin Barr (Skokie, Ill.) ran in the Wildcats lineup on Friday as each team entered up to 10 runners in the field. Cutter came in 78th overall in 24:35.5, Nichols finished 95th with a time of 24:45.1 and Barr wound up 121st with a time of 24:56.2.

Caleb Garnica of Utah State was the first runner across the finish line with a winning time of 23:29.4, followed by Phillips and Strintzos with a gap of just 4.5 seconds between the top three finishers.

Villanova returns to action on Friday, October 15 when it runs in the XC23 Invitational at Panorama Farms in Earlysville, Va.

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