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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
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
Some evidence of just how good Villanova have been this season:
Villanova vs. Washington Stats
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Best of the Rest
Florida Gators - Surprise Contender?
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 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
LRC Individual Predictions
Enjoy the race on Monday live on Versus!