VILLANOVA, Pa. - After several weeks of training at the start of the fall semester, the Villanova men’s and women’s cross country teams will make their season debut on Friday evening in the Main Line Invitational at nearby Haverford College. The women’s three-mile race begins at 4:45 p.m. and the men’s four-mile race follows at 5:30 p.m. Admission to the meet is free and parking on the Haverford campus is available in the South Parking Lot behind the athletic facilities.
Long a fixture on the Villanova cross country schedule, the Main Line Invitational is the ideal opening meet and a check point of sorts for the Wildcats as they continue their training for the bulk of the season schedule still to come. The Alumni Cross Country Course at Haverford makes use of open space on the southwest corner of campus and crosses part of the well-known Nature Trail on campus. The women’s race will make three passes around a one-mile loop and finish in a long straightaway just above the starting point. The men’s race has a slightly larger loop and will approach a finishing chute just before the turn towards the women’s closing straightaway.
Entering the first meet of the season, the Villanova women’s team is ranked No. 18 in the nation and No. 2 in the Mid-Atlantic Region by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). Three all-region and four All-BIG EAST performers return from last season for the Wildcats, led by senior Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (Dublin, Ireland) and junior Bella Burda (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.) at the top of the team’s lineup.
Cleirigh Buttner was the BIG EAST runner-up to teammate Angel Piccirillo last season and is a three-time All-BIG EAST and Mid-Atlantic All-Region honoree. Burda has garnered all-conference and all-region recognition in each of her first two collegiate seasons, and was honored last year as the female winner of an NCAA Elite 90 academic award at the NCAA Championships.
Among the runners expected to be in action for Friday’s race are Burda and senior Katie Fisher (Uxbridge, Ont.), who earned her first career all-region honor last season and was also a second team All-BIG EAST performer. Juniors Nicole Hutchinson (West Vancouver, B.C.) and Kaley Ciluffo (LeClaire, Iowa) were each a part of the Villanova lineup for the NCAA Championships last season and are experienced runners who should be regular contributors throughout the season. Other returning runners who could make their season debuts on Friday are seniors Rebecca Del Rossi (Canton, N.Y.) and Erin Jaskot (Blauvelt, N.Y.), and sophomores Ann Campbell (Mission Hills, Kan.) and Jacquelyn Smith (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.).
Newcomers who may make their Wildcats debuts at the Main Line meet are freshmen Rachel McArthur (Bristow, Va.) and Lauren Ryan (South Yarra, Australia), along with graduate transfer Maria Seykora (Broomall, Pa.). McArthur and Ryan are part of an impressive incoming class for Villanova this season.
The men’s team will have a new look at the top of the lineup following the graduation of defending NCAA champion Patrick Tiernan, who won last year’s national title after becoming the first men’s or women’s runner in BIG EAST history to win four consecutive individual conference cross country crowns. Tiernan won’t be far away from the Wildcats however, as he joined the coaching staff as a volunteer assistant this year while continuing his own professional career.
Sophomores Andrew Marston (Wayne, Pa.) and Casey Comber (Maple Glen, Pa.) are the team’s top two returnees entering the 2017 season. Marston was an individual qualifier for the NCAA Championships as a redshirt freshman last year, while he and Comber each garnered All-BIG EAST and Mid-Atlantic All-Region honors. They are expected to be joined in the Villanova lineup by sophomore Logan Wetzel (Saline, Mich.), who redshirted the 2015 cross country season and then missed the 2016 campaign while recovering from an injury. He came on strong on the track late in the 2016-17 indoor season and continued his upward trend during the outdoor campaign.
Other returning runners from last season include senior Ben Malone (River Vale, N.J.) and sophomore Paul Power (Phoenixville, Pa.). Malone is a veteran presence as a fifth-year senior, and Power had a successful start to his official collegiate career in 2016 after redshirting as a true freshman the year before. Junior Zach Swenson (Boulder, Colo.), and sophomores Lucas Arrivo (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Louis Vazquez (Brooklyn, N.Y.) could also see action in Friday’s race.
Four redshirt freshmen look to make their official collegiate debuts at the Main Line meet, including Martin Barr (Skokie, Ill.), Rob Morro (Media, Pa.), Paul Nichols (Latham, N.Y.) and Nick Steele (Harvard, Mass.).
Villanova will return to action after the Main Line meet when it competes in the Paul Short Run at Lehigh on September 29.