September 18, 2018
Cross country is back, and the 2018 season promises to be a historic one.
In the team competition, a pair of teams are chasing dynasty status: the Northern Arizona men will be trying to become the first team to win three straight titles since Arkansas from 1998-2000, while the New Mexico women will be gunning for their third title in four years.
Individually, the big story on the men’s side is whether the American drought can end: no U.S. man has won the NCAA individual title since Oregon’s Galen Rupp did it 10 years ago. Northern Arizona’s Tyler Day and Stanford’s Grant Fisher — both top-five finishers a year ago — will look to end that streak. Wisconsin’s Morgan McDonald will be looking to end a drought of his own: no man has won the NCAA title on his home course since Indiana’s Bob Kennedy in 1992, but the Aussie will have a chance this fall as the NCAA championships will be staged at the Zimmer Course for the first time.
That course is another reason to be excited for the season. From 2004-2017, only two cities (Terre Haute and Louisville) hosted NCAAs. But over the next four years, four cities will host, beginning with Madison on November 17 (Terre Haute, Stillwater, Okla., and Tallahassee will follow in 2019, 2020, and 2021). Start planning those itineraries.
For the fifth year in a row, we’re counting down the top 10 men’s and women’s teams in America. These aren’t meant as definitive predictions — there are too many variables to accurately forecast the results of a race two months from now — but consider this a starting point for the national title conversation.
September 7: Meets begin to count for NCAA at-large qualifying purposes
September 28: Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, Madison, Wisconsin
October 13: Pre-National Invitational, Madison, Wisconsin
October 26-28: Conference weekend (various sites)
November 9: NCAA regional meets (various sites)
November 17: NCAA championships, Madison, Wisconsin
Previous women’s previews: #10 Arkansas & #9 Villanova
Note: We determined where a runner ranked among returners by taking his place in the team scoring at NCAAs in 2017 and subtracting the number of seniors/non-returners in front of her.
New additions in italics
8. Wisconsin: Look for the Badgers to improve upon last year’s 10th-place finish
2017 results: 10th NCAAs, 3rd Great Lakes Regional, 3rd Big 10, 9th Wisconsin Invitational
Key returners (lose #1 from NCAAs)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Alissa Niggemann||JR||70||16:45/10:13 steeple|
|Rachel Fleddermann||SR||144||10:20 3k|
Wisconsin has finished in the top 10 twice in the past four years, earning 10th in 2014 and finishing in the same spot a year ago in Louisville. The Badger women haven’t finished higher than that since making the podium with a 4th-place finish in 2006. But with a strong, veteran-laden roster, this group looks like a strong bet to return to the top 10 — and perhaps challenge for the podium — when they host NCAAs in Madison in November.
Sarah Disanza, the team’s top runner at NCAAs last fall, is gone, but the rest of the top seven returns and should be even better than they were a year ago. Amy Davis (55th in 2017) is the top returner, and she followed up her strong run at NCAAs with a 30-second PR of 15:44 in the 5k indoors, ultimately placing 11th at NCAA indoors. Davis did not race outdoors, but if she can recapture her indoor form this fall, she should be an All-American. The same goes for Alicia Monson, who, like Davis, broke out on the track in 2018. Monson entered the year with a 16:04 pb, but ran a PR of 15:38 at the NCAA West prelims and finished 18th at NCAAs.
At the NCAAs, two great women can be enough to get into the top 10 as long as there is half-decent depth behind them, and the Badgers have a solid #3 in Shaelyn Sorenson (59th last year) and another potential top-100 finisher in Alissa Niggemann (131st last year). If Wisconsin can find a fifth runner — the options include Erin Wagner and Rachel Fleddermann, both of whom ran at NCAAs last year, and freshman Hannah Reale (33rd at NXN) — the Badgers should be a top-10 team once again in 2018.
After publication, Wisconsin coach Jill Miller did respond to LetsRun.com’s interview request, but we did not talk to her in time for this story.
7. Michigan: With three 6th-year seniors & some talented newcomers, the Wolverines should make some noise
2017 results: 9th NCAAs, 1st Great Lakes Regional, 1st Big 10, 5th Pre-Nats
Key returners (lose #1, #2, #7 from NCAAs)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Anna West||JR||20||Baylor transfer; 9:16/16:01|
|Claire Borchers||SR||50||4:39 mile/9:48 steeple; 4th NCAA steeple|
|Avery Evenson||SR||86||9:26/16:34; 18th at ’16 NCAA XC|
|Alice Hill||RS FR||N/A||4:24/9:57 steeple; 7th in World U20 steeple|
|Camille Davre||RS FR||N/A||4:46 1600|
The Michigan women have become a fixture in the top 10, with five appearances in the last six seasons, and the Wolverines look to be a good bet to make it six in seven this fall. Michigan loses its top two finishers from NCAAs last fall in Jamie Morrissey and Gina Sereno, but adds transfer Anna West, who placed 40th at NCAAs in 2017.
Head coach Mike McGuire says that as of now, “we’re going to be pretty interchangeable” — a difference from the recent past, where you could pencil in Erin Finn as the team’s #1 runner at every meet. But he likes the depth on his team and believes several runners are capable of running at a new level this fall to step up and fill the shoes of women like Morrissey, Sereno, and Finn.
Both Claire Borchers (98th) and Haley Meier (145th) ran for Michigan at NCAA XC last year but should finish higher in 2018 after breakout track seasons: Borchers dropped her steeple PR from 9:56 to 9:48 and finished 4th at NCAAs, while Meier, now a sixth-year senior, made it to NCAAs in the 1500. McGuire says another sixth-year senior, triathlete Avery Evenson, has been training well this summer and should be closer to her 2016 form (where she finished 18th at NCAAs) than her 2017 form (157th).
McGuire brought in two stars in his most recent recruiting class in Olivia Theis (3rd at Foot Lockers) and Anne Forsyth (5th at ’16 Foot Lockers, 10:08 3200 pb) but says they will both redshirt. Instead, the Wolverines will receive a boost from two women who redshirted last year: Alice Hill and Camille Davre. Hill ran 9:57 to finish 7th in the World U20 steeple final in July and McGuire says she is on a “different level” compared to this time last year, a statement backed up by her result at the Michigan Open on August 31 (18:36 last year, 17:40 this year). Davre, meanwhile, won the Michigan Open this year.
If everyone can stay healthy, the Wolverines have an excellent chance to claim a third straight Big 10 title and finish in the top 10 at nationals once again in 2018.
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