KENOSHA, Wis. - The sophomore trio of Andrew Marston (Wayne, Pa.), Casey Comber (Maple Glen, Pa.) and Paul Power (Phoenixville, Pa.) led Villanova to a third place showing on Saturday morning in a remarkably close finish to the BIG EAST Championships at Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course. Each of the Wildcats top three runners earned first team All-BIG EAST honors in a race where just 17 points separated Georgetown, Butler and Villanova in the team standings.
Marston was the individual runner-up in a field of 85 runners with a time of 24:42.7 on the 8,000 meter course. Comber was just behind him in third place (24:40.6) and Power placed ninth (25:01.7) to give the Wildcats three runners in the top-10 for the fifth straight year. The top five finishers for Villanova were separated by just over a minute at the finish line, with redshirt freshmen Martin Barr (Skokie, Ill.) and Nick Steele (Harvard, Mass.) coming in 21st (25:34.0) and 22nd (25:34.3) on each other’s heels.
The scoring battle between the top three teams shaped up early, with Butler gaining an early lead over the first 2,000 meters. By the midpoint of the race, a leading group of eight runners had gained a bit of separation over the rest of the pack. Marston and Comber were right in the middle of that group, and by the 5,000 meter mark the team scores still showed Butler with a slight edge and both Georgetown and Villanova firmly in contention.
It was the Hoyas who wound up taking the team title with 40 points, while Butler (54) and Villanova (57) finished second and third. The rest of the team scores included Providence (94), Marquette (129), DePaul (157), Creighton (241), Xavier (242) and Seton Hall (243). This is the 21st time in 38 years at the BIG EAST Championships that the Wildcats have tallied a top-three team finish. It is the 22nd time that Villanova has had at least three All-BIG EAST performers.
The temperature was just 38 degrees with a wind chill of 28 at the start of the men’s race on Saturday morning, as the conference meet returned to the Wayne E. Dannehl course for the first time in four years. The third place finish was an encouraging one for a Villanova team that has made great strides during the course of the season. Seven of the team’s nine finishers are in their first or second year of collegiate cross country eligibility.
Redshirt freshman Paul Nichols (Latham, N.Y.) and senior Ben Malone (River Vale, N.J.) were just behind the Wildcats scoring runners. Nichols finished 26th with a time of 25:42.9 and Malone was 28th in 25:50.2. The final two finishers for Villanova were sophomore Logan Wetzel (Saline, Mich.) in 40th place (26:03.5) and junior Zach Swenson (Boulder, Colo.) in 43rd (26:10.0).
Prior to the conference meet, the Wildcats had finished 14th at the Paul Short Run and then third at the Penn State National Open when they had their full lineup competing together for the first time. The team will look to continue its momentum at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional at Lehigh in two weeks.
COMPLETE VILLANOVA RESULTS
Georgetown 1st of 9 40 Butler 2nd 54 Villanova 3rd 57 Providence 4th 94 Marquette 5th 129 DePaul 6th 157 Creighton 7th 241 Xavier 8th 242 Seton Hall 9th 243
Andrew Marston 2nd of 85 24:32.7 Casey Comber 3rd 24:40.6 Paul Power 9th 25:01.7 Martin Barr 21st 25:34.0 Nick Steele 22nd 25:34.3 Paul Nichols 26th 25:42.9 Ben Malone 28th 25:50.2 Logan Wetzel 40th 26:03.5 Zach Swenson 43rd 26:10.0