August 27, 2014
The 2014 NCAA cross country season kicks off next month and over the next two weeks, LetsRun.com will be previewing what to expect this fall. We’re counting down the top 10 teams in America, two at a time, starting with the men. Then we’ll move on to the women and finish up with previews of the individual races at NCAAs this fall. A lot can change between now and November 22 in Terre Haute — who thought Kennedy Kithuka would lose his title to a freshman last year? — so these rankings aren’t set in stone. Consider them refreshers on where each team is at entering the season and a rough guideline of what to expect his fall.
Note: We determined where a runner ranked among returners by taking her place at NCAAs in 2013 and subtracting the number of seniors in front of her. We believe that Megan Patrignelli (listed as a senior in ’13) will return in 2014. Sara Sutherland (Texas) will run as a grad student at Colorado. Waverly Neer (Columbia) and Brianna Nerud (Syracuse) have transferred to Oregon. If you know of any other transfers or seniors returning in 2014, please let us know.
2013 results: 11th NCAAs, 2nd West Regional, 5th Pac-12, 9th Pre-Nats
Key returners, new additions in italics (lose #2 finisher from NCAAs last year)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Claudia Saunders||JR||136||4:22/2:02 800|
|Elise Cranny||FR||2nd NXN; 4:10 1500 (#3 all-time US HS, would have ranked #1 NCAA); 4th at World Juniors 1500|
|Anna Laman||FR||4:13; World Junior finalist|
|Claire Howlett||FR||16:28/10:20 3200|
|Clare Flanagan||FR||4:48 1600/10:20 2 mile|
Given the fact that the Stanford women have four national titles in the last 11 years, Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg knows that it’s odd he was pleased with an 11th-place finish at NCAAs last year. But given what had played out in 2013 prior to regionals — a 9th-place finish at Pre-Nats despite having the second and fourth place finishers and a 5th-place performance at Pac-12s — finishing second in a tough West region and taking 11th at NCAAs wasn’t too bad.
“I’m really proud of what they accomplished,” Miltenberg says.
The Cardinal loses its number two runner from last year, Jessica Tonn, who was 16th at NCAAs, but this will still be a very strong team. It helps a great deal that the Cardinal have a superstar up front in Aisling Cuffe, who was 4th last year and ran 15:11 on the track to make her the third-fastest in NCAA history over 5000. Cuffe has a great chance to score one team point since the two returners ahead of her — Emma Bates of Boise State and Kate Avery of Iona — qualified individually last fall.
Aside from Cuffe, Stanford will rely on the best recruiting class in the country to contribute right away, led by the nation’s top recruit, Elise Cranny. Cranny ran 4:10 for 1500 last year and finished 4th in the 1500 at World Juniors last month. Let’s put that in perspective for you. 4:10 would have led the NCAA last year.
Cranny is not the only World Junior finalist that will be wearing red this fall as Australia’s Anna Laman, who has run 4:13, also signed with the Cardinal. Because of their long track seasons — remember, the World Junior final was on July 27 — Miltenberg won’t race Cranny or Laman until the Wisconsin Invitational in the middle of October, or perhaps even Pac-12s on October 31. Claire Howlett and Clare Flanagan, both of whom have run 10:20, also have a chance to score for the Cardinal this year.
The returning cast includes NCAA scorers Cami Chapus (4:17), Megan Lacy (16:34) and Rebecca Mehra (4:17). Miltenberg was particularly impressed by Mehra’s growth on the track last year, going from 4:31 as a freshman to 4:17 and just missing out on the NCAA final as a sophomore. She should move up considerably from 160th last year.
With the depth on the women’s side, Stanford will find it difficult to compete for the national title, but if the freshmen can run beyond their years, it could surprise some people in 2014.
“Our women are a little different from our men because other than Aisling, we’re so young,” Miltenberg says. “Our women will be very under the radar; I don’t think people think we’ll be good, but we think we’ll be very good. We ran our best two races in November last year and if we do that again, we can be knocking on the door of the podium.”
2013 results: 14th NCAAs, 3rd West Regional, 4th Pac-12, 5th Pre-Nats
Key returners, new additions in italics (return entire top seven from NCAAs)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Sarah Baxter||FR||2-time NXN champ (3rd in ’13); 10:06 3200|
|Brianna Nerud||SO||4:24/16:43/10:00 SC|
After losing its top three runners from its 2012 title team, the Ducks took a step backward in 2013 and were 14th at NCAAs, their lowest finish since they failed to qualify in 2006. The good news for Oregon is their entire top seven returns this fall and the outlook ranges from good to very good depending on the performance of several big additions.
The nation’s top recruit last year not named Elise Cranny was Sarah Baxter and Baxter is now a Duck. Baxter comes to Oregon after enjoying a spectacular high school career during which she lost a grand total of one high school cross country race in four years (and zero 3200s) and won two NXN individual crowns. Freshman women often make the transition to collegiate cross country quicker than men and there’s a good chance that Baxter will be one of the top runners on the team — if not the country — this fall.
But Baxter is just one of many new XC faces for the Ducks. Oregon’s XC team will be a lot better in 2014 as they have a slew of transfers helping the cause. In some ways, the rest of the NCAA has become a feeder program for Oregon. In XC and track, athletes don’t have to sit a year when they transfer (assuming they get released from their initial school) and with its tradition and support of XC and track, its Nike cachet and easy transfer standards, Oregon is consistently bringing in transfers and Ivy League grad students. Not all rival coaches are thrilled with becoming a feeder to Oregon, however.
“They raid other schools,” said a college coach on condition of anonymity. “Most schools just have a recruiting period, Oregon also has a free agent period,” added the coach, who thought Oregon made an effort to go after athletes when there is a coaching change as that’s when athletes are most likely to leave their initial school and the initial school is unlikely to put up much of a fight.
Of course Oregon isn’t the only program that benefits from transfers and grad students. Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg believes it’s a growing trend among top tier schools, and you need only look at LRC’s men’s top five for evidence. #2 Stanford (Maksim Korolev), #3 Northern Arizona (Tyler Byrne) and #5 Oklahoma State (Vegard Olstad) will all be counting on new additions from other schools to play big roles for them this season. And #1 Colorado (Jake Hurysz) and #4 Oregon (Eric Jenkins) also have important runners that transferred earlier in their careers. So our entire top five is benefiting from transfers.
“We’re catching up to football and basketball with the transfer market,” Miltenberg said. “It didn’t used to be a big part of our sport, but if you look at cross country, the transfer market is a big part of our sport and we got one this year [in Korolev]. I think that is something that has changed a lot over the past few years.”
The big addition to Oregon this year is indeed someone coming to Oregon after a coaching change. Columbia coach Willy Wood left his program for greener pastures this summer as did runner Waverly Neer. Neer, who was 219th last year but went on to run 15:37 and finish 10th in the NCAA 5k last spring, is a likely All-American addition for the Ducks.
Oregon will also gain the services of Connecticut transfer Julia Zrinyi, who along with Lindsay Crevoiserat transferred to Oregon after a coaching change at UConn in 2013. (Other 2013 transfers to Oregon after coaching changes included 13:18 man Eric Jenkins (Northeastern) and 2:02 800 runner Samantha Murphy (Illinois)). Zrinyi redshirted last year but ran 4:16 and qualified for NCAAs in the 1500 as a freshman in 2013. Crevoiserat is also a big talent, with a 15:58 5k PR and a 42nd-place finish at NCAA XC in 2012. She was way back in 234th at NCAAs last fall but has All-American potential. Finally there’s Syracuse transfer Brianna Nerud (no coaching change), who has an impressive 10:00 PR in the 3,000 steeplechase.
And remember, the Ducks already have a cadre of strong returning talent as well, as Annie Leblanc, Megan Patrignelli and Maggie Schmaedick all finished in the top 81 last year. Add in Molly Grabill and Abbey Leonardi and the Ducks have five of the top 100 returners from a year ago.
On paper, Oregon has enough talent to contend for the national championship, but that will require Neer and Baxter to fit in seamlessly and Neer and Crevoiserat to overcome rough finishes to last season. If that happens, the Ducks will be closer to their 1st-place finish in 2012 than their 14th-place finish in 2013. Since it’s August and we can’t project exactly what will occur, it makes sense to stick them in between those two spots at #7.