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Junior Maddie Villalba came in fourth at last Friday's NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals, a program-best finish that qualified her for a spot at next weekend's Nationals in Wisconsin.

Credit: William Snow

Penn cross country will send three Quakers to compete at the NCAA National Championships after a very strong overall team performance at Mid-Atlantic Regionals this Friday.

Junior Maddie Villalba’s fourth-place finish in the 6,000-meter race guarantees her a spot to race on the national stage next week in Madison, Wis. A consistently dependable racer for the Quakers, Villalba shaved off over 20 seconds from her Ivy League 6K time two weeks prior to run a standout race in State College, Pa. Her fourth-place individual finish is the best in program history.

On the men’s side, sophomore Anthony Russo and senior Sam Webb secured two more Nationals spots for the Quakers, coming in seventh and ninth place in the 10K race, respectively. The two have consistently led the team in individual times, and were named All-Ivy athletes after finishing 10th and 11th at Ivy Heptagonal Championships last weekend. 

The Quakers returned to the University Park course hoping to hold their own at Regionals after racing on the same course in early October at the Penn State National Open. A number of strong individual performances and inner squad depth led to a promising finish for the Red and Blue. 

“We all knew we were capable of placing well individually and as a team and finally to see it happen was really gratifying for everyone,” Russo said.

In addition to the three qualifying for nationals, sophomores Danielle Orie and Daniel Cohen placed in the top 25 individuals to secure All Mid-Atlantic Region status. 

As for overall team performances, the women’s race saw Villanova take first place followed by Princeton in second. Although the Quakers faced some midseason challenges, they were able to earn a fifth-place overall team finish in a very competitive field. 

“That was by far our best women’s race of the season and I couldn’t be more proud of how they competed,” coach Steve Dolan said. 

The men’s team had a similarly strong overall team performance and placed fourth after narrowly missing Georgetown in third place. Princeton defended its title from last year, followed closely by Villanova in second. 

Last year, both teams took sixth overall for the Red and Blue, but saw individual runners fall just short of qualifying for Nationals. After a tough weekend of racing in a very competitive Ivy League field two weeks ago, the teams were able to bounce back and consolidate their place within the Mid-Atlantic. 

“Although we didn’t have a great team finish at the Ivy League Championships, we still felt we were capable of running well today and it was really exciting to see everyone have the confidence to do that,” Dolan said.

Both teams fell short of a second place finish that would have qualified the entire team to compete at Nationals. Those not competing in Madison next week will have a brief chance to rest and recover before making the transition indoors for the winter season.

Villalba, Russo, and Webb will have one week to prepare for the national stage before they fly out to race next Saturday. Webb will conclude his collegiate cross country career at Nationals, where he paced the men’s team earlier in the season at the Nuttycombe Invitational. 

“Having Nationals as my definite last [fall] race is a bit emotional, but at the end of the day the goal is always to run well and you have to keep those emotions in check,” Webb said.

Webb will lead the charge for the other two Quakers in Wisconsin, as neither Villalba nor Russo have previously seen the course in Madison, both having not run at Nuttycombe.

The trio represents a very short list of Penn cross country runners who have qualified to run at Nationals. All eyes will be on them as they look to make even more history for the Red and Blue.