AUSTIN, TX. ~ Friday night at Mike A. Myers Stadium, five-year Villanova triple jumper Malik Cunningham (St. Andrew, Jamaica) became a first-team All-American. Cunningham jumped 16.17 meters at the 2023 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships to place seventh in his hallmark event and claim the Wildcats’ highest national performance in any jump in 44 years. Cunningham’s top eight at the NCAA Championships earned Villanova two team points. Junior distance runner Liam Murphy (Millstone, NJ) finished 11th in the 1,500-meter final earlier Friday night.
Nate Cooper won the triple jump at the 1979 NCAA championships, the last time the Wildcats scored in a jump. Cooper was the Wildcats’ only triple jumper ahead of Cunningham. They are two of Villanova’s six male jumpers who have been All-Americans. Both athletes are two-time All-Americans, with Cooper finishing 4th and 1st outdoors in 1978 and 1979. Cunningham made his NCAA Championships debut outdoors Friday night after finishing 14th indoors in 2022 .
Cunningham won his fourth BIG EAST title and his second outdoors this spring in his final college season. He qualified for the national championships by finishing second in the triple jump at Penn Relays and seventh in the NCAA East prelims two weeks earlier. His two team points Friday night gave the Wildcats their 59th NCAA outdoor championship score in 76 years. Villanova is one of 27 national outdoor goalscorers. The Wildcats finished 61st with two team points. Villanova was one of two BIG EAST schools (Butler) and five Mid-Atlantic Region teams (Navy, Princeton, Penn State, Fairleigh Dickinson) to complete the meet.
The Wildcats have qualified at least one national champion in the 1,500 meters nine times in the past 12 seasons. Murphy ended a spectacular year finishing 11th in Friday night’s race in 3:45.72. He made his NCAA outdoor championship debut this week and will be a second-team All-American in the 1,500 meters next week. Villanova’s 36th All-American 1500m is Murphy.
In the first half of Friday night’s championship race, 12 competitors jostled for position. Murphy was pinned down by numerous runners approaching 700 yards and appeared to be moving on the outside with two laps to go. A lap later Murphy was near the back of the pack and had no choice but to swing wide to give himself a chance in the final 400m. Murphy had to run as far as the center of lane three to rush forward, just like he did in the semifinal two nights earlier. He actually took a few steps in Friday’s run when his right foot landed on the lane four line. It worked and the official spreads showed Washington’s Joe Waskom, Wisconsin’s Adam Spencer and Murphy in two hundredths of a second with 400 yards to go. The splits revealed seven runners within a quarter of a second of the lead at the bell.
Murphy had one of Villanova’s most successful and memorable seasons in 2022-23. He won the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional and was named cross-country athlete of the year. During the indoor season, he posted a PR of 3:55.58 in the Mile, set an indoor school record and won a BIG EAST title in the 3,000 meters, and guided the Wildcats to a school record and a gold medal in the medley distance relay. .
Still outdoors? At Princeton, he set a 1,500-meter PR of 3:39.42. Two weeks later, he helped Villanova win the Americas Championship in the 4xMile Relay at Penn Relays. Then came BIG EAST gold in the 5000 meters and 4×800 meters relay, which set the meet and Villanova Stadium records of 13:43.32 and 7:17.96. Murphy qualified for the 1,500 meters in both rounds of the NCAA Eastern Preliminaries last month. He was the East’s fastest qualifier for this week’s Nationals. Murphy ended his extraordinary year with a second-team All-America finish on Friday night after running his second-fastest 1,500-meter run (3:39.82) two nights earlier in the national semifinals.