Marianne Abdalah packed a suitcase with her Slippery Rock Cross Country uniform and running shoes to travel to Florida and compete in the 2021 NCAA Division II National Championship.
For the first time since 2012, a Slippery Rock female XC athlete qualified for this meet, with Stephanie Case being the most recent and Jennifer Harpp earning the All-America award in 2015.
Head coach John Papa accompanied her to Saint Leo University’s Abbey Course, in what was his last time coaching a cross country run, specifically nationals. He has known Abdalah since she was 11 years old and, now, he was able to watch her journey continue in her collegiate career.
Finishing her first season with The Rock, Abdalah performed strong enough to earn one of the two individual spots into the Atlantic Regional races. To qualify, runners must place within the top three for team runs or the top two individual runners, which is extremely hard according to Abdalah.
Within the Atlantic Region, Abdalah and West Chester’s Sarah Supplee earned the two individual spots. Papa prepared her well to make it this far with his encouragement and coaching over the years of knowing her.
“Being able to give him one last national meet after knowing him so long was very special to me,” said Abdalah.
Going into the meet Abdalah had hoped to place in a top 40 overall finish position that would award her All-American accolades and make her coaches and team proud. Concluding the day, she finished 83rd out of 260, just shy of the top runner’s placement.
“If given another chance I would love to compete there again and try to place higher but placing top in my region is something to be happy about too,” Abdalah added.
Regardless, she said that getting to see people she knew from running and former teammates to reconnect.
“It was hard being on my own and not having the team there but was extremely validating personally after coming off a bad season at West Virginia University (WVU).”
With three semesters left to race, each competition is equally as important. Abdalah plans to begin her journey in a Physician Assistant program in June which will make the athletic and academic balance more of a challenge. With all of that on her mind, she says the upcoming indoor season this winter she will work toward another national meet before her workload increases.
Following the indoor season, the transition to outdoor track and field comes directly after. Because of this there has been no break at all and the running hasn’t stopped, Abdalah from maintaining her physique.
“Track is much harder and puts runners at higher risk for injury which is why I’ll compete in some races so that I don’t get hurt,” said Abdalah.
She added that making every race worthwhile is her mindset going into each season and specifically each meet.
“I like outdoor cross country more than track since each course has different routes rather than the typical indoor track that is always the same.”
Since her transfer from WVU, Abdalah has led The Rock in every race in each competition. The journey continues this Friday at Youngstown State University to kick off the winter season and lead The Rock to a winning indoor season.