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UW May Face Wild Challenge In Exciting Women's Line-up

Women's NCAA Cross Country Championship Preview and Predictions

by: LetsRun.com's Emory Mort
November 19, 2009

Coach Greg Metcalfe's University of Washington cross country team were the talk of the NCAA women's running circle last year as two talented freshmen led the Huskies to an undefeated season capped with a dominating championship performance. This year the Huskies return virtually all of their top runners but other programs - led by head coach Gina Procaccio's Villanova Wildcats and Vin Lananna's Oregon Ducks - have positioned themselves to upend the reigning team champions.

In 2008 Christine Babcock (Irvine, CA) and Kendra Schaaf (Craven, Saskatchewan, CAN) finished tremendous freshmen seasons for Washington by placing 5th and 9th in the team competition at the NCAA Championships. The Huskies won the team title with 79 points, coming only seven seconds away from finishing their entire 7-woman line-up before the third runner of Oregon (results).  The Ducks, led by returning senior Nicole Blood (Saratoga, NY), finished a distant but admirable 2nd-place.

As expected, Washington have continued their string of undefeated team meets since 2008 by winning the Pre-NCAA meet, PAC-10 and NCAA West Regional titles in 2009 (Pre-NCAA results). They have won everything there is to be won.

Despite Washington's dominant 2008 and an unblemished record in 2009, there are many who think this year's NCAA women's team competition will be decided by a much narrower margin. One reason is the continued strength of the Oregon Duck program. Oregon graduated three seniors out of their top-5 from 2008, but have found a new star and new energy in freshman Jordan Hasay (Arroyo Grande, CA). The Ducks almost upended the Huskies at the PAC-10 meet at USC three weeks ago with secondary school legends Blood and Hasay leading the way to coming up only seven points short of UW.

The Oregon threat to Washington appeared significant until the West Regional where despite great races from Hasay and Blood, Babcock brought Washington's top-5 home with her 10th-place finish to secure a 1, 3, 4, 7, 10 win for the Huskies (results). Final score: Washington 25, Oregon 66. For us that signaled the end of Oregon's NCAA team title momentum.

The Unforseen Challenger - Villanova
Like the rise of the Washington women in 2008, the rise of the Villanova women in 2009 has been swift and dominant. Led by Sheila Reid (Newmarket, Ontario, CAN) and Amanda Marino (Jackson, NJ), Villanova won the very competitive Dellinger Invitationa, Panorama Farms Invitational (UVA), Big East and Mid-Atlantic NCAA Regional championships. Not only have they won the meets but they have smashed nationally-touted programs in the team standings. Teams like national #3 Princeton, #4 Oregon, #11 Penn State, #7 West Virginia, #15 Georgetown, #12 Syracuse at times struggled to get a single runner finished by the time Villanova's 5th-place woman was crossing the finish line.

Some evidence of just how good Villanova have been this season:

  • National #3 Princeton finished 1-5 at the Heptagonal (Ivy) Championships on conference championship weekend. Two weeks later Princeton #1 and All-American Liz Costello would have been the #5 runner for Villanova at the Mid-Atlantic Regional.
  • Penn State won the Big Ten team and individual title led by USA World Championship team member Bridget Franek. The Big Ten qualified seven conference teams to the NCAA meet. At the Mid-Atlantic Regional, Penn State's 2nd runner was 1 spot ahead of Villanova's 7th runner.
  • The Big East Conference of which Villanova is a member will send six teams to NCAAs and Villanova's 5th runner at conference was 12th in the overall standings.
  • Oregon is certainly a podium contender in Terre Haute and Villanova put five across the line before the Ducks' 3rd at the Dellinger Invite early in the season.
  • Despite racing the toughest schedule in the country against Oregon, Princeton, UVA, Syracuse, Georgetown, Penn State and West Virginia (all top-15 teams), during no race this season has any team's 3rd runner finished in Villanova's top-5.

Villanova vs. Washington Stats
As we see it, the women's team championship in Terre Haute is set up to be a slug-fest between the mighty western champion Washington and the surprising eastern force Villanova. To our delight, the teams have not raced in 2009. At the one junction where they might have met mid-season, Washington ran Pre-NCAAs while Villanova ran at UVA. We dug into the results a bit to find some interesting points of comparison between the two dominant programs of 2009.

UW Regional Top-5 Runner

Year

Previous NCAA XC Championship Finish (Team Scoring)

Kendra Schaaf

SO

9th ('08)

Christine Babcock

SO

5th ('08)

Marie Lawrence

JR

19th ('08)

Katie Follett

SR

20th ('08)

Kailey Campbell

JR

 ~120th ('08 Pre-NCAAs)

Table 1. University of Washington's top runners and their previous finishes at the NCAA Championships (cumulative score: ~173)

Stat 1: Returning runners. Washington (Table 1.) has an enormous advantage in this category. Their top-5 returners are all proven NCAA All-Americans in cross-country or track. Their 5th-best runner at regionals was their reserve last year but ran a 4:38 full mile on the track and scored 51st at Pre-NCAAs in '08, projecting to about a 120th finish at nationals. Their other four runners are NCAA top-20 team scorers. Before we even look at another team, we know Washington has the advantage in this category.

Villanova (Table 2.) has a top-5 that coming into the season nobody in the country would have expected to be this good based on previous cross country results. While Washington's team score based on previous NCAA finishes is a projected 173, Villanova's team score based on previous NCAA championship performances is a projected 484. Somehow Villanova have improved dramatically and are one more big performance away from winning a national championship.

Villanova Top-5 Regional Runners

Year

Previous NCAA XC Championship Finish (Team Scoring)

Sheila Reid

SO

148th ('07)

Amanda Marino

JR

27th ('08)

Bogdana Mimic

SO

53rd ('08)

Alison Smith

JR

73rd ('08)

Kaitlyn Tallman

SR

183rd ('08)

Table 2. Villanova's top runners and their previous finishes at the NCAA Championships (cumulative score: 484)

Despite Villanova's outstanding improvements in 2009, based on 2008 results we'd have to say the huge, undeniable advantage go to the Washington Huskies.

Stat 2: Can we come up with a statistic that gives an advantage to Villanova? Yes, actually all it takes is an analysis of what has gone on this season. In 2009 Washington and Villanova have not squared off but they have both run against top competition at several meets. We decided to look at their last meet as the most important measuring stick for the current fitness and capability of the team.

We thought about comparing their performance against a common, strong opponent such as Oregon. Villanova halved Oregon's score early in the season at the Dellinger Invite (22-41). Washington narrowly defeated Oregon at PAC-10s but absolutely crushed them at Pre-NCAAs (59-169) and the West Regional. So the "Oregon Oracle" only told us that 'Nova and 'U-Dub' are simply way better than Oregon on most days.

Team

Individual Placing At Regional

Competition

Advantage

Washington

1, 3, 4, 7, 10

#4 Oregon, #10 Stanford, #17 Arizona St, #28 Arizona

Villanova Wildcats

Villanova

1, 2, 5, 6, 9

#3 Princeton, #7 WVU, #11 Penn State, #15 GTown
Table 3. Husky and Wildcat 2009 NCAA Regional performance comparison. Advantage: 'Nova

Looking at regional results (Table 3) again showed how close Washington and Villanova seem to be in 2009. Washington put five in the top-10 in a competitive region. Villanova put five in the top-9 in a region that perhaps is even more competitive than the West given there are five of the nation's top-15 ranked teams in the Mid-Atlantic including podium contenders Princeton and West Virginia and Big Ten champions Penn State.

Because the Mid-Atlantic region is tougher on paper than the West AND Villanova still put five in the top-9 (and seven in the top-15), we give the "Recent Results" advantage, shockingly, to Villanova.

Team '08 Pre-NCAA '08 NCAA '09 Pre-NCAA '09 Results vs. 'Nova Analysis, Advantage
Washington 36 79, 1st 59   Teams typically score twice as many points at NCAAs as Pre-NCAAs. If that stat holds true expect Washington and Villanova to score about 120 for the win.
Advantage: Not enough data.
Villanova 126 248, 6th N/A  
Princeton 89 220, 5th 126 crushed
Oregon N/A 131, 2nd 169 crushed
Syracuse 375 658, 28th 196 crushed
Table 4. A desperate attempt to compare Washington and Villanova that doesn't really say too much.

Third Stat: using 2008 to predict 2009. Being LetsRun.com we of course need to find a tie-breaking stat and make a bold prediction. We apologize, but there is no secret stat that gives the nod to one team or the other. A look at Table 4 shows the 2008 scores of five teams at Pre-NCAAs and NCAAs, as well as the 2009 scores from Pre-NCAAs.

The results? Well we see that in 2008 most teams that ran at Pre-NCAAs scored about double the points at actual NCAAs (in some cases a little more, in some cases a little less). Since Villanova did not run Pre-NCAAs in 2009, we are left to guess what they would have scored. Our guess is about 60 points based on how they crushed Princeton (126), Oregon (169) and Syracuse (196) during the season. Washington scored 59 at Pre-NCAAs in 2009. In 2008 They scored 36. So perhaps they are worse in 2009 than they were in 2008. It looks like NCAAs this year will be won in between 100 and 120 points by either UW or 'Nova, but the stats above don't really offer a clear picture.

Evidence Recap:
Stat 1: Last season - Huge advantage Washington
Stat 2: Last race - Slight advantage Villanova
Stat 3: Comparing a whole bunch of stuff that happened in a vain attempt to predict the future - Ineffective

LetsRun.com Team Title Prediction: University of Washington will win. The main reason: 2008. 2009 has been close, but 2008 was not close. History usually repeats itself fairly well, and it's a stretch to bet Villanova for the win after they were beaten so handily in 2008. We know many of you will root for the underdog and that's what's great about having such a strong Villanova team to challenge Washington.

LRC Team Predictions

1. Washington

2. Villanova

3. Florida

4. Oregon

5. Colorado

6. Florida State

7. Princeton

8. Penn State

9. West Virginia

10. Texas Tech

The Best of the Rest
We see four legitimate podium contenders other than the obvious top-2. Four teams make the podium so two of these teams are going to miss out on a trophy but deserve recognition for outstanding talent and performances this year. First, Jenny Barringer, Allie McLaughlin and Colorado. The super-senior and the freshman led Colorado to a win at Pre-NCAAs and the Mountain Regional but they lost to Texas Tech at Big XIIs. Mark Wetmore's teams often perform when it counts - at the NCAA meet. Next come the aforementioned Oregon Ducks. Then we go to the state of Florida where the girls from Tallahasee (and the Netherlands and Kenya) are going to be tough. Coach Karen Harvey has junior Susan Kuijken ready to roll and a good back-up duo in Pilar McShine and Pasca Cheruiyot. The 'Noles rested Kuijken at the regional meet and had the rest of the team run a tempo run and still auto qualified for nationals.

Florida Gators - Surprise Contender?
The state of Florida may get two teams to the podium, and Florida is our dark-horse team champion pick. Rebecca Lowe and Charlotte Browning have been tearing things up for the Gators. They went 1-2 at SECs and 1-2 at the South regional. Florida's #5 runner at Pre-NCAAs was ahead of Washington's #5. Florida was 30 points behind Washington (59-89) at Pre-NCAAs and have been running well against weaker competition. The interesting thing about NCAAs is that if one runner in a team's top-5 has a terrible day, it will sink the entire team's ship. If something like that happens to both Washington and Villanova, Florida could be a surprise champion after placing 17th last year.

Princeton, West Virginia, Stanford, Texas Tech and Penn State make up that next tier of teams that likely will fall between 5th and 10th place.

Individual Race - Barringer Vs. Kuijken
The 2008, '07 and '06 individual titles were nabbed by perhaps the most dominant woman in NCAA distance running history, former Texas Tech Lady Raider Sally Kipyego. It's time for a new champion. Thanks to a dream-like 2009 track and cross-country season, most pundits expect Colorado's Jenny Barringer to win. Barringer has had such an incredible year that we won't continue to write about her accolades. Rather than regurgitate all of her incredible accomplishments, we'll hopefully inspire you by reminding the reader that before 2009 Barringer had never won a Big 12 title in any event thanks to Kipyego. After 2009 Barringer will be a several-time NCAA champion, sub-4:00 1500m runner and NCAA and USA senior national record-holder in more than one event.

Event

Susan Kuijken

Sally Kipyego

Jenny Barringer

Best

800m

2:02

2:08

2:02

Kuijken

1500m

4:06

4:08

3:59

Barringer

3000m

8:56

8:48

8:42

Barringer

5000m

16:20

15:09

15:01

Barringer

Table 5. Comparison of PRs of Susan Kuijken, Sally Kipyego and Jenny Barringer.

The big question is can another runner such as international competitor Susan Kuijken keep up with Barringer? Kuijken is best known in NCAA circles as the 2009 NCAA 1500m champion and the 2008 NCAA cross-country runner-up to Sally Kipyego. To the Dutch she's known as their nation's best runner. At Pre-NCAAs, Kuijken raced Barringer but actually slowed up during the race to run with her teammates. So to compare the two brightest stars we'll compare their track credentials along with the times of 3-time NCAA champ Kipyego (see Table 5.).

Kuijken's PR's (2:02, 4:05, 8:56, 16:20) are better than Kipyego's at shorter distances (2:08, 4:08, 8:48, 15:09) whose times at all distances are slower than Barringer's (2:02, 3:59, 8:42, 15:01). Both Barringer and Kipyego are far stronger at 5000m than Kuijken on the track but Kuijken doesn't run the 5000m very much (her last track 5000m was from back in 2006). Kuijken is just a tiny bit better PR-wise at 800m (0.3 seconds) than Barringer and seized on this fact in a Dutch interview. She says she wants to hang on and hang on and then kick down Barringer using superior speed at the finish. If this scenario occurs it will be great but Barringer in the past has been on a higher level than Kuijken.

You may roast us for ignoring the other top competitors but we're not ignoring them. Hasay is a 4:14 1500m runner, Illinois' Angela Bizzarri is a 15:33 5000m runner. Schaaf is a 4:18, 15:52 runner, and Lowe's and Reid's PRs are similar to Schaaf's. Kuijken - and only Kuiijken - is in that rare sub-9:00, sub-2:03 club that one needs to be in to hope to challenge Barringer who is someday going to break 15:00 for 5000m and perhaps 9:00 for the steeplechase.

Other Top Individuals
We've already mentioned the top runners from many schools. Expect to see those runners in the top-25 and earning All-American certificates. The other individual contenders hail from all corners of the country. US #3 finisher at 5000m last year Angela Bizzarri of Illinois will be there, as will Arkansas transfer and Southeast region champion Catherine White of UVA. Minnesota's Megan Duwell hopes to "Du-well" again after a great season. Silje Fjortoft of Norway and SMU won the south central region while Cecily Lemmon-Lew is a top runner from BYU. Look out for NCAA 10,000m record-holder Lisa Koll of Iowa State and Michigan's Kaitlyn Peale. We haven't yet mentioned Alex Kosinski of Oregon nor Stephanie Wilson of Santa Clara. With all those names you ought to be able to win our prediction contest no problem!

LRC Individual Predictions
1. Jenny Barringer, Colorado
2. Susan Kuijken, Florida State
3. Angela Bizzarri, Illinois
4. Sheila Reid, Villanova
5. Kendra Schaaf, Washington
6. Jordan Hasay, Oregon
7. Bridget Franek, Penn State
8. Rebecca Lowe, Florida
9. Megan Duwell, Minnesota
10. Amanda Marino, Villanova
11. Cecily Lemmon-Lew, BYU (we couldn't pick just 10!)

To vote in the LetsRun.com prediction contest where you pick your top-10 individuals and teams, click here.
To see national rankings, click here.

Enjoy the race on Monday live on Versus!

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