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Colorado With 6 Back Tough To Bet Against

by Jeff Hollobaugh

Colorado w xc trophy

Looking to the crystal ball at the far side of the season can be a frustrating exercise of “what ifs”. If everyone comes back in shape… if they stay healthy…if track breakthroughs carry over to cross country… if the cross country gods smile upon the team, and so on.

Yet that’s what makes the NCAA cross country season so much fun, despite the relatively few high-level matchups we see from now until conferences and regionals. It’s a guarantee that we’ll tune in at full attention when we finally get a chance to see who is really ready when we get to Louisville’s Sawyer State Park on November 18.

The ordering here is from week 2 of the NCAA Coaches Poll, courtesy of the USTCCCA.

1. Colorado—Everybody seems to love the Buffaloes as the favorite event even though other teams have arguably better track credentials on their lineups. However, Mark Wetmore's ability to shape them into a dangerous cross team is unquestioned. The team is experienced: Dani Jones, Kaitlyn Benner, Mackenzie Caldwell, Sage Hurta. Tabor Scholl and Makena Morley were all at the Big Dance last year and placed in the top 50. Plus Madie Boreman, NCAA steeple runner-up, comes back from redshirt for her first XC season.

2. Oregon—The defending champions—call it “luck” if you like, but more accurately the Ducks pulled off the right race at exactly the right time when other teams couldn't. With three of the top 5 gone, Oregon has had to do a reset. Katie Rainsberger, who was 4th last year, returns, as does Alli Cash (14th). Incoming soph transfer Judy Pendergast (15:52) should figure, as well as another transfer, Carmela Cardama Baez (73rd for Florida State). Plus JUCO runner-up Susan Ejore from Kenya is also on the squad.

3. New Mexico—Last year's 7th-placers, the Lobos are hoping for a repeat of their '15 title. Alice Wright, the only returnee from that championship team (when she placed 5th), should be team leader. She'll be joined by a strong back-up (Alex Buck and '14 All-America Elizabeth Weiler) and some brilliant new talent: Liberty transfer Ednah Kurgat (12th in '15, 15:26.00 at Stanford last spring), Washington transfer Charlotte Prouse (9:44.62st), frosh Weini Kelati (the '15 Foot Locker champ) and Aussie Sophie Eckel (16:08.09).

4. Michigan—Runner-up by a point last year, Mike McGuire's Wolverines return five who made the top 100 last year: Avery Evenson (18th), Gina Sereno (30th, Big 10 5K/10K champ), Maddy Trevisan (46th), Jaimie Phelan (65th, NCAA 1500 champ) and Jamie Morrissey (90th). Haley Meier (4:15.65) and transfer Audrey Belf (16:16.40) should also make an impact.

5. Stanford—If everyone on the roster is healthy, the Cardinal could be a monstrous contender. Ran a light squad in their first invite that included Fiona O'Keeffe (5th in NCAA 5000), Vanessa Fraser (7th in USATF 5000), Abbie McNulty (34:33.98) and Ella Donaghu (4:14.11). So far no word on the health and plans for Christina Aragon (4:08.71), Elise Cranny (4:09.54/15:49.27), Hanna DeBalsi (a one-time Foot Locker runner-up) and transfer Courtney Smith (32:08.32). The potential depth of the squad is incredible once you throw in frosh Nevada Mareno (twice in the top 3 at Foot Locker) along with Julia Maxwell (16:18.05), Jessica Lawson (16:38.54) and Foot Locker finalists Julia Heymach and Jordan Oakes.

6. NC State—The Wolfpack, after finishing 4th in '16, returns three top-100 returnees in Rachel Koon (25th), Wesley Frazier (47th) and Alyssa Rudawsky (84th). Ryen Frazer (115th) and Elly Henes (159th) are also back. The best new recruit on board is Ireland's Izzy Carron (17:14.44).

7. Providence—After losing 2 of their top 7, the Friars still look solid. Returning this year is All America Caterina Rocha who was 39th in ’15. Bri Ilardaa (15:46.13) will be key after top 8 finishes in both the indoor 5000 and the steeplechase outdoors. Another big wheel is Millie Paladino, who ran 4:12.54 last spring. Abbey Wheeler (16:10.70) and Katie Lembo (16:11.53) will create helpful depth. A pair of solid recruits come in to help: Hannah Bennison placed 23rd at the World Junior XC for Canada, and Maria Coffin is a Foot Locker finalist.

8. San Francisco—After last year’s 6th place finish, the Dons’ international squad remains a potent national force. It helps to be led by Charlotte Taylor, the reigning NCAA 10,000 champ. Also spiking up will be Weronika Pyzik (15:59.00 and 6th in the Euro Juniors for Poland), Swede Isabelle Brauer (33:44.11), German Tatyana Schulte (16:13.86) and 9:45.69 steepler Marie Bouchard from France. Plus Lizzie Bird is a grad transfer from Princeton who placed 58th last year. And German frosh Lea Meyer has a 9:33.60 PR at 3000.

9. Penn State—After placing 18th last year, Penn State only lost #5, which means the Nittany Lions are primed to improve their standing. Returnees include Elizabeth Chikotas (15th), Jillian Hunsberger (36th), Greta Lindsley (140th) and Kathryn Munks (177th, 34:05.28). Another crucial name is Tessa Barrett (15:28.99), who didn't finish last year. Add redshirt frosh Danae Rivers, who was 3rd in the NCAA Indoor mile and has a 4:16.33 PR at 1500, and you have the building blocks of a solid team.

=10. Arkansas—Only 19th last year, a young Arkansas squad had a great track season and looks ready to show that improvement over hill and dale. Top returnee Taylor Werner was 16th last year. Other returnees include Devin Clark (118th, AJR-holder in the steeple), Nikki Hiltz (154th, but was runner-up in the NCAA 1500), Abby Gray (168th), and Therese Haiss. New recruits Lauren Gregory and Ashton Endsley were both in the top 10 at NXN last year.

=10. Notre Dame—Anna Rohrer led the team to an 11th-place finish last year by finishing 3rd. With two more years of eligibility remaining, Rohrer and Annie Heffernan (41st) can spark some promising finishes ahead. Rachel DaDamio (16:21.23; sat out all track season), Lexi Pelletier (33:59.73), Jessica Harris (4:11.67) and Sydney Foreman (16:45.49) all return. Frosh Anna Sophia Keller should contribute.

Others To Watch: Boise State, BYU, Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Mississippi, Villanova, Washington, Wisconsin.

September 20, 2017

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