2015 USA XC Championships Women’s Preview: With Big Names Absent, Title is There For The Taking

By Jonathan Gault
February 5, 2015

The American men stole the show at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships with their second-place team finish. It was a terrific performance, and represented the U.S. men’s highest finish since 1984. The American women’s fourth-place finish garnered less attention, perhaps because we are used to them performing well at World Cross. The men may have had the highest high, but if you look at the past five championships, it’s not debatable who has been the more successful team.

Year U.S. men U.S. women
2013 2nd 4th
2011 9th 3rd
2010 9th 3rd
2009 8th 5th
2008 7th 4th

Before 2013, you have to go back to the short race at the 2003 World Championships to find the last time a U.S. men’s team finished higher than a U.S. women’s team. The last time it happened in the long race was 2001. Over the past five editions of the championships, the American women have proven themselves to be a medal threat, so Saturday’s U.S. XC Championships in Boulder certainly bear monitoring. That being said, this year the US women are without many of their top performers (more on that below) so a medal would SHOCK us at Worlds.

Here are the details about the event, followed by a breakdown of the field. Remember, the top six runners qualify for Team USA at the 2015 World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China.

What: 2015 USATF Cross Country Championships

Where: Flatirons Golf Course, Boulder, Colorado

When: Saturday, February 7 (all times MT; for ET, add two hours)
Junior women (6K): 10:55 a.m.
Junior men (8K): 11:30 a.m.
Open women (8K): 12:15 p.m.
Open men (12K): 1:00 p.m.

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All four races will be shown live online at USATF.TV. The broadcast begins at 10:50 a.m. MT.

Anyone who will be in Boulder on Saturday should also plan on attending the afterparty at Absinthe House, hosted by Sara and Steve Slattery. The event starts at 7 p.m.; for more details, click here.

Meet website * USATF site * Entries * Prize money * 2014 results

Wish You Were Here

The biggest absence in Boulder will be Shalane Flanagan. She wasn’t expected to run, so it’s not a surprise, but Flanagan has been the key to the most successful U.S. performances in recent years. She took the individual bronze at World XC in 2011 and finished 12th in 2010; both times, she was the top American finisher and both times, the U.S. won team bronze. It’s not that the U.S. can’t run well without Flanagan, but having her (or another stud like Molly Huddle) on the squad raises the ceiling of the team’s performance.

Another big name who won’t be competing is 2013 NCAA XC champion Abbey D’Agostino, who had been focusing on this race since turning pro last summer. Abbey is dealing with sacroiliac joint pain according to a text from her coach Mark Coogan. It’s the latest setback in what has been a disappointing start to the 22-year-old’s professional career. D’Agostino won seven NCAA titles while at Dartmouth, but she was upset in her final college race last June. D’Agostino didn’t look like herself in that race, and after signing with New Balance a few days later, she called it a season, choosing not to run USAs or any European races.

In the eight months since then, D’Agostino has raced precisely twice. She took fourth at the Mayor’s Cup cross country race in Boston in October finishing 12 seconds back of winner Rachel Hannah (16:36 to 16:48). Then, on January 3, D’Agostino ran 9:00.78 for 3,000 in a mixed race at Boston University (she was four seconds back of New Balance teammate Liz Costello). D’Agostino missed some training in the fall with a hip injury and her current SI joint pain could be related. This is troubling news for D’Agostino, but Coogan is probably right to hold her out and risk further aggravating the injury during an 8K XC race.

asd Spence was the U.S.’s top finisher in the most recent World Championships, placing 13th in Bydgoszcz in 2013

Returning Team Members

Only two of the six women who ran for the U.S. at the last World XC Championships in Poland will be on the line in Boulder on Saturday: Neely Spence Gracey and Mattie Suver. Spence doesn’t appear to be in the same kind of shape the last time she made the team. Spence ran very well in the second half of 2012, taking second at the U.S. 5k road champs, finished fifth at the Tufts Health Plan 10k for Women and set a pb of 32:16 at the Zatopek 10,000 in Australia in December. She carried that momentum into 2013 with a fifth-place finish at USA XC and a 13th-place finish at Worlds. Last year, Spence was just 16th at the U.S. 5k road champs (16:17) and was 19th at the Tufts 10k (33:15). Then at the U.S. Club Cross Country Championships in December, she was just 14th. Perhaps she can summon a big effort on Saturday, but it will be a lot tougher for her to make the team this time around.

Suver fared even worse than Spence at the Tufts 10k (23rd in 33:28) and Club Cross (17th)  but she is in decent shape, running 71:51 for seventh at the U.S. Half Marathon Champs on January 18 in Houston. As a Colorado-based runner, Suver also shouldn’t have any problems with the altitude on Saturday; she was third in last year’s championships in Boulder and is the top returner in this year’s field.

asdf Nelson was second in Houston last month; she’ll come back and try to make the U.S. cross team on Saturday

Top Runners from U.S. Half Marathon Championships

Half of the top 10 from last month’s U.S. Half Marathon Champs will run in Boulder on Saturday: Brianne Nelson (2nd, 70:16), Sara Hall (4th, 70:50), Juliet Bottorff (6th, 71:30), Suver (7th, 71:51) and Alisha Williams (10th, 72:12). All six will be in with a shot at the team this weekend.

The best bets among them figure to be Nelson and Hall. Nelson has a good shot mainly because she ran so well in Houston. She was second, 30 seconds ahead of third in a quick time of 70:16. The worry with her is that the 8k distance might be a little short; All-Athletics.com lists no results for her at races shorter than 10k, but hey an 8k at altitude runs more like a 10k anyway. Hall is the only former USA XC champion in the field, winning the race in 2012.

Former NCAA 10,000 champion Bottorff (Duke), 24, excelled with a 71:30 debut in Houston. She was never higher than 21st at NCAA XC, but the 8k race distance should help Bottorff, who is much more of a 10k/half marathon type than a 5k runner. I already talked about Suver above; that leaves Williams, who was fifth at USA XC last year (third returner) and fourth at Club Nationals. Her 10th in Houston was a solid finish and, like Suver, she’s based in Colorado, which could giver her a leg up on the competition.

The Rest of the Field, Listed In Descending Order of Their Chances of Making the Team

  • Laura Thweatt enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2014, lopping over 30 seconds off her 5,000 pb to run 15:04.98 at Stanford (#4 in U.S. last year). She won Club Cross by 10 seconds in December and the Boulder Winter Classic XC race by 1:08 last weekend. Plus she’s Boulder-based and attended Colorado. As a result, she seems like a lock to make the team.
  • Katie Mackey is known for her 1500 speed (third at USAs last year) but she also beat Thweatt in that 5,000 at Stanford to finish at #3 on the U.S. list in 2014 (15:05.74). XC might be a challenge for her, but she is one of the most talented women in the field. Mackey ran 4:36.22 for the mile at altitude two weeks ago in Albuquerque; Brie Felnagle, who will also run in Boulder, was right behind her at 4:36.37.
  • Liz Costello ran 9:42 for two miles last weekend, taking sixth at the Armory Track Invitational in New York; she also ran 8:56 for 3,000 earlier in January. Costello, who has been training with coach Mark Coogan in Boulder this month, will be prepared for the altitude and she has experience at these championships as she was third in 2012
  • Kellyn Taylor was fourth last year (second returner) but she ran a marathon (Houston) just three weeks ago. Her performance in Houston was good (2:28:40), but it’s very difficult to turn it around and run a solid cross country race so quickly.
  • The B.A.A. won Club Nationals in December, and along with Bottorff (already mentioned), Sarah Pagano (6th at Club Cross) and Elaina Balouris (10th) will be representing them in Boulder. The runners-up, Boulder Running Company, also has several runners participating, including Williams, Nelson, Suver and Rochelle Kanuho (7th at Club Cross, 6th at USA XC last year).
  • Triathlete Sarah True (wife of Ben True) is also entered. She was fourth in the triathlon at the 2012 Olympics.
  • Update (Thursday night): One woman I failed to mention initially was Boise State’s Emma Bates, who was second and third at the last two NCAA XC Championships. Bates has outdoor eligibility but no indoors, so she’s focusing on USA XC this winter. She finished sixth overall (second U.S. finisher, behind Nelson) at the Great Edinburgh XCountry and has a very good chance to make the team on Saturday.

LRC Prediction: Thweatt FTW.

More: Discuss this race in our running fan forum: This Sat 2/7: USA XC Champs? Ritz vs Derrick vs True – Official Thread.

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