Marianne Abdalah and Malia Anderson took different paths to becoming cross-country runners.

Abdalah, a Slippery Rock University graduate student, and Anderson, a California University of Pennsylvania junior, will nonetheless find themselves on the same exclusive course Friday afternoon.

The pair will race as individual qualifiers in the NCAA Division II cross-country national championships at Chambers Bay outside of Seattle.

The 6,000-meter race along the Puget Sound, which includes 34 teams of seven runners and 27 individual qualifiers from across the country, is set to begin at 2:15 p.m.

“It’s very awesome. I’m so excited,” said Abdalah, a Vincentian Academy graduate. “I didn’t even know coming into this year if I was even going to be able to run cross-country, let alone be able to do well. It kind of has given me a great balance.

“I’m so happy to have the opportunity to get out there one more time and finish my cross-country career on a high note.”

Abdalah came to Slippery Rock after transferring from West Virginia, where she competed with the Mountaineers in the Big 12. After enrolling in Slippery Rock’s intensive physician assistant graduate program in 2021, however, Abdalah was unsure if her cross-country career would continue.

“When I came in I asked about running,” said Abdalah, who took a course load of 19 credits this semester. “They said with all the course work and everything you have to do, I really think it’s going to be impossible. When I started [running] I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to handle the workload.

“If I had to choose at this point with graduate school and running I would have to choose graduate school because that’s my career, but being able to do both has been a blessing for me.”

Abdalah earned her spot in the national championship meet after finishing in fifth place at the Atlantic Regional championship meet at Mansfield University nearly two weeks ago. She also qualified for the national championship meet a year ago, finishing in 83rd place — the highest finisher from the Atlantic Region.

“Marianne is awesome,” Slippery Rock assistant cross-country coach Bobby Over said. “I’d say she’s just so hardworking, very committed and determined. The way she balances grad school, running and being able to enjoy the process has been very refreshing.”

Abdalah is the second Slippery Rock runner to qualify for the national championship meet in consecutive years. Jennifer Harpp qualified to compete for a national title in 2009 and 2010.

“My goal, hopefully, if all goes well, is to get in the top 40, which is All-American,” Abdalah said. “I think that would cap off my career pretty well.”

Anderson, meanwhile, will be making her first appearance at the national championship meet.

A Greensburg Salem graduate, Anderson originally ran for one season at Georgetown in the Big East. In the 2019-20 season, she competed in the Big East Indoor Track and Field Championships, placing fifth with the Hoyas’ distance medley relay team, sixth with the 1,600 relay team and 18th in the 800-meter run.

California University of Pennsylvania junior Malia Anderson, foreground, a Greensburg Salem graduate, will race for the first time on Friday at the NCAA Division II national championships at Chambers Bay outside of Seattle. (Photo courtesy of California University of Pennsylvania athletic department)

Anderson also ran cross-country at Georgetown, setting then career-best times in the 5K in a dual meet at Mount St. Mary’s and in the 6K at the Paul Short Run at Lehigh.

“Malia is a pretty rare talent to be honest,” California cross-country coach Daniel Caulfield said. “I usually give her a hard time because I’m sarcastic, but she’s very gifted physically, and she’s competitive. When you put those two together, it’s a very rare combination.”

Since transferring to California, now PennWest California, Anderson has excelled in track and field and cross-country. She won a PSAC championship last spring in the 800-meter event and was a member of the Vulcans’ conference title-winning 1,600 meter relay team, while also turning in the second-best time at the PSAC indoor championships in the 800-meter event.

Anderson finished in eighth place at the Atlantic Regional cross-country championships earlier this month to qualify for the national title meet after placing sixth overall at the PSAC Championships. She was the team’s top runner in all six cross-country races this fall, and had five top-10 finishes. 

A standout track and field athlete and volleyball player at Greensburg Salem, Anderson’s success in cross-country has come as a surprise.

“Coming into cross-country last year was kind of a learning experience and getting a feel for it,” she said. “I didn’t expect to make it this far at all. It’s super exciting.

“Physically, I have great genes for running,” she added. “Mentally, I definitely have been working on getting more confidence every meet.”

And the sky is the limit for Anderson in her final cross-country meet this season and beyond.

“There’s never hesitation for getting the job done,” Caulfield said of Anderson. “When you have that sort of dedication and desire you eventually get somewhere. This is kind of the start of payment for all that work and that attitude.”

Anderson is also expecting to be in the mix for a strong finish to her season.

“I just want to go out there and give it my all,” she said. “I’ve obviously never been at a meet this big, so obviously I want to go out there and gain experience from it.”

Additional qualifiers

The Edinboro women’s team also qualified for the national championship meet from the Atlantic Region. Sophomore Alexa Trax, a Peters Township graduate, is the lone former WPIAL athlete on the Edinboro roster.  She finished in 49th place at the PSAC Championships.

The Fighting Scots will also be represented by its men’s cross-country team at the national championship meet. Sophomores Connor Volk-Klos, a Seneca Valley graduate, and Ian Brown, a Fox Chapel graduate, are the lone former WPIAL athletes on the Edinboro roster.

Volk-Klos finished in eighth place at the Atlantic Region event.

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at