VILLANOVA, Pa.--The first BIG EAST championship of 2017-18 is this weekend when 10 women's cross country teams and nine men's squads converge on Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course on Saturday morning. The conference meet returns to the site for the first time in four years and will consist of the men's championship race at 11 a.m. Central time (12 p.m. Eastern) followed by the women's race at 11:50 a.m. Central time (12:50 p.m. Eastern).
Live results of Saturday's conference championship can be accessed via the link at the top of this release, and full results will be posted on villanova.com and the track & field social media accounts Saturday afternoon. In addition, BIG EAST Digital Network will produce a Championship Recap show for BIG EAST.com, Facebook Live and the BIG EAST YouTube page.
Villanova enters the BIG EAST meet on a high note after both the women's and men's teams had successful showings at the Penn State National Open two weeks ago. That meet followed the Main Line Invitational and Paul Short Run last month as the Wildcats rounded into shape for cross country's championship season. The women's team is expected to have its full lineup in competition this weekend for the first time this season, while the men's team will be looking to continue the momentum it generated in the Penn State meet.
Villanova is ranked No. 15 in the nation and No. 2 in the Mid-Atlantic Region going into the conference championships. Senior Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (Dublin, Ireland) is the Wildcats top returner from last season, when she was the BIG EAST runner-up to teammate Angel Piccirillo. Cleirigh Buttner is expected to make her season debut on Saturday and join a stacked Villanova lineup which has relied on the junior duo of Nicole Hutchinson (West Vancouver, B.C.) and Bella Burda (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.) in the season's first three meets.
Hutchinson and Burda have each earned BIG EAST Female Athlete of the Week honors this season, with Burda the most recent winner after she was the individual champion of the Penn State meet. It was her first career victory in cross country and followed strong finishes at each of the first two meets of the year. Hutchinson won her first race of the season at the Main Line meet and then was the runner-up at the Paul Short Run.
The middle of the Wildcats lineup has also been strong this season thanks to the performances of junior Kaley Ciluffo (LeClaire, Iowa) and freshmen Rachel McArthur (Bristow, Va.) and Lauren Ryan (South Yarra, Australia). Ciluffo and McArthur have been among the team's five scoring runners in all three of their races this season, while Ryan was the fourth Villanova finisher in her official collegiate debut two weeks ago. Senior Katie Fisher (Uxbridge, Ont.) is another veteran performer who earned All-BIG EAST and all-region honors last season.
Villanova is led by the sophomore tandem of Andrew Marston (Wayne, Pa.) and Casey Comber (Maple Glen, Pa.), and the Wildcats surged to a third place finish at the Penn State National Open in their last outing. Marston was the individual runner-up at the meet and earned BIG EAST Male Athlete of the Week honors for his performance, which came after he missed the Paul Short Run two weeks earlier. Comber came in sixth at Penn State after opening the year with a win at the Main Line Invitational and an eighth place finish at the Paul Short Run.
The positive momentum Villanova has created this season began at Paul Short, where each runner in the team's lineup recorded a personal best time for an 8,000 meter course. Notable this year have been the efforts of sophomore Paul Power (Phoenixville, Pa.), senior Zach Swenson (Boulder, Colo.) and redshirt freshman Nick Steele (Harvard, Mass.). That trio, along with redshirt freshmen Martin Barr (Skokie, Ill.) and Rob Morro (Havertown, Pa.), has stepped up to become reliable members of the team lineup.
Power has been second and third among the Wildcats finishers in his last two races, while Steele has also been a scoring runner in all three meets this season. Villanova is currently ranked sixth in the Mid-Atlantic Region and moved up a spot after its finish in the Penn State meet.
Following the BIG EAST Championships, the Wildcats will prepare for the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional at Lehigh on November 10.