Success Has Forged New Opportunities For Providence's Women

* Providence senior Lily Tuck (Sunderland, Canada) won the Friar Invitational on Sept. 9.

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Lilah Drafts Johnson - MileSplit Correspondent

Providence College, an NCAA Division I school located in Providence, Rhode Island, is the smallest of the schools in the BIG EAST conference.

But despite its size, the women's cross country program routinely boasts impressive results: the Friars placed third at the 2021 BIG EAST Cross Country Championships and went on to finish 27th at the 2021 NCAA Championships.

This year's USTFCCCA national preseason poll ranked Providence's women's program No. 15 nationally and No.1 in the Northeast Region.

So how does this small, private college in New England manage to compete against larger, powerhouse state universities at the national level?

A quick look at this year's roster might reveal some clues.

While many collegiate programs find themselves fighting over the same pool of top tier U.S. high school talent, Providence implements a different recruiting strategy. Ten out of 16 athletes on the 2022 women's roster are from abroad, with representation from countries such as New Zealand, England, Canada, and Ireland.

The Friars are led by longtime head coach Ray Treacy, who himself was an Irish national junior champion and a member of the Irish National Cross Country team. Treacy's collegians have gone on to achieve national and international acclaim, and in many cases, rewritten the record books of their respective countries.

Emily Sisson, a U.S. Olympian in the 10k and 2015 Providence grad, broke the half marathon record this May. Kim Smith ('05) dominates New Zealand's national record book in the 3,000m, 5,000m, 10,000m, half marathon and marathon. Roisin McGettigan ('03) of Ireland holds the national 3,000m steeplechase record.

It took Treacy time to build an internationally trusted training program for collegiate runners.

"When I took over the women's cross country and track program at Providence College in 1985, we had one person on the team who could run under 5:20 in the mile," he told MileSplit recently. "Needless to say, that did not encourage many recruits to join the program." 

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Lilah Drafts-Johnson is a graduate of Oberlin College, where she was a double major and a 2018 NCAA Division IIII champion in the 400mH. She is currently a Master's student at the University of Maryland and has written for D3 Glory Days. 

Treacy, a Providence alum himself, continued, "Our men's cross country team finished second at NCAAs in 1981 and 1982 and that name recognition was enough to attract interest from international student athletes."

The Friars have enjoyed consistent success under Treacy's guidance since.

The women's program has qualified for NCAAs 29 out of the 33 years since their first appearance on the national stage in 1989. They finished in the top 10 in 20 of those years. In 1995, and again in 2013, the Friars took home national titles with a team comprised of both international and domestic runners.

"Our top seven on the 1995 team was four international and three domestic student-athletes, and on the 2013 team was three international and four domestic student-athletes," Treacy said. "The yearly success of the team has continued to attract interest from overseas and here at home."

With a proven track record of helping international student-athletes to reach their goals and contribute to the team's decorated history, Treacy and his coaching staff have been able to develop a recruiting pipeline overseas. This year's roster features a number of international newcomers with accolades in their home country.

Cara Laverty (left), from Derry, Ireland, was the All-Ireland U19 Champion in the 800m and 1,500m; Jane Buckley (middle), who hails from Cork, Ireland, enters her rookie collegiate season with the distinction of winning the Irish Junior Cross Country Championships in 2021; Rounding out the freshmen trio is NĂ­amh O'Mahoney (right), the 2019 All-Ireland Cross Country Champion and 3,000m All-Ireland Champion in 2018 and 2019.

The transition from high school to collegiate running is always an adjustment, but international student-athletes may also face the culture shock that comes with acclimating to a new country.

Treacy says he matches his international student-athletes with teammates who are from the United States to ensure a welcoming introduction to Providence.

"When I took over the women's cross country and track program at Providence College in 1985, we had one person on the team who could run under 5:20 in the mile," Treacy told MileSplit recently. "Needless to say, that did not encourage many recruits to join the program." 

"This gives [international students] an immediate contact person if something is different from what they are used to. In the majority of cases, the roommates stay together for all four years," Treacy said. "There have been numerous cases in which they became such good friends that many of the domestic students have traveled to their roommates' [home] country for vacation periods."

In addition to the rigorous academic program that the college offers, as well as the all-star coaching provided by Treacy and his staff, Providence athletes have the unique experience of getting to train, compete and learn alongside athletes from all over the world.

Despite their different upbringings, the Friars are unified by the common goals of the team.

"Everyone is focused on the same goals athletically and academically," Treacy said of his team. "I believe we have had success because the team culture is very good."

The Friars have a young team this year, with no seniors in their top nine and five freshman added to their roster. 

But they have their sights set on finishing within the top 15 at NCAAs in cross country and will test their runners next on Friday, September 30, at the famed Lehigh Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.