BETHLEHEM, Pa.--Led by individual Mid-Atlantic Region champion Bella Burda (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.) and a strong pack which placed six runners in the top 20 overall, Villanova finished second at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional on Friday morning to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships next weekend. Burda surged into the lead over the second half of the women’s 6,000 meter race on the Goodman Campus Course at Lehigh and won with a time of 20:01.49 to become the Wildcats ninth regional champion since the current NCAA regional format began.
This will be the third straight year and the ninth time in the last 10 seasons that Villanova earns a team bid to the national championships. There was a split of just 31 seconds separating the Wildcats five scoring runners, and the team scored 60 points to finish behind Penn State (31) and ahead of the rest of the field of 28 teams. The rest of the top five included Pittsburgh (85), Georgetown (88) and Penn (180).
Burda crossed the finish line just under four seconds ahead of the runner-up from Penn State and was the top Villanova finisher for the third straight meet. She was followed by five runners who placed from 13th through 20th places. Sophomore Kaley Ciluffo (LeClaire, Iowa) was the team’s second runner with a 13th place finish (20:28.8), while freshman Rachel McArthur (Bristow, Va.) was 14th (20:29.2) and freshman Lauren Ryan (South Yarra, Australia) was 15th (20:30.6). The final scoring runner for the Wildcats was junior Nicole Hutchinson (West Vancouver, B.C.) in 17th place (20:31.8), followed by senior Katie Fisher (Uxbridge, Ont.) in 20th (20:36.2) and graduate student Maria Seykora (Broomall, Pa.) in 36th (21:00.3).
Villanova had each of its top six runners recognized as Mid-Atlantic All-Region performers in the awards ceremony following the race. The top 25 individual finishers were named all-region, and this is the third time the Wildcats have had as many as six honorees. Villanova has now had 72 all-region performers since 2000 when the current regional system started.
The team race on Friday was shaping up to be a close one between Penn State, Villanova and Georgetown by the time the runners passed through the first mile marker. There was no change midway through the race, with the Nittany Lions establishing control up front and the Wildcats and Hoyas battling for second place. Strong finishes throughout the lineup helped Villanova pull away from Georgetown over the final 2,000 meters to secure the automatic NCAA bid with a top-two team finish.
Villanova has made 28 previous appearances in the NCAA Championships, tied for the fifth most all-time, and has won a record nine national titles. At last year’s national meet, the Wildcats finished in 21st place.