2015 NCAA XC: Women’s Individual Top 10 Preview: Who takes over for Kate Avery?

By LetsRun.com
September 24, 2015

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been previewing the top men’s and women’s teams for the 2015 NCAA cross country season, with the New Mexico women and the Colorado men earning the #1 spots. Now it’s time to take a look at who the top individuals might be when the NCAA Championships are held in Louisville on November 21.

This isn’t an easy article to write as we’re effectively trying to forecast the results of a race that will be held two months from now. So consider this our best guess about what will happen as of right now.

An already murky women’s individual picture grew even less clear last week with the news that defending champion Kate Avery of Iona will not return to defend her crown. Then on Tuesday, Iowa State announced that last year’s seventh-placer Crystal Nelson won’t be back either after it was discovered she has a heart condition. That means over half of last year’s top 10 won’t be running in 2015. We do our best to sort out the top returners below.

In case you missed any of our team previews, here it is:

Women’s previews: #10 Arkansas and #9 Michigan#8 Providence and #7 Michigan State * #6 Iowa State and #5 Oregon * #4 Georgetown and #3 Stanford * #2 Colorado and #1 New Mexico

Men’s previews: #10 Virginia, #9 Ole Miss, #8 Iona and #7 Oklahoma State * #6 Oregon, #5 Villanova, #4 Wisconsin and #3 Syracuse * #2 Stanford and #1 Colorado

Men’s individual preview

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Honorable mentions
As we mentioned above, these lists are incredibly hard to compile as someone good is always going to be left out. We try to rectify that below. Here, in no particular order, are some of the women who just missed the cut in our top 10 but who could still be major factors in Louisville.
  • Chelsea Blaase, senior, Tennessee — The toughest omission from our top 10, Blaase was extremely consistent last year (10th at NCAA XC, 4th in indoor 5k, 6th in outdoor 10k) but her ceiling isn’t quite as high as the women in the top 10.
  • Lindsay Clark, senior, Michigan State — Clark just missed out on the top 10 last year, finishing 11th, but she’s battled tendonitis in her knee since June and is not 100% right now.
  • Emily Stites, senior, William & Mary — Stites battled injuries last fall but still finished 36th at NCAAs. But she owns PBs of 15:43 and 32:41 and was 3rd in the 10k at NCAA outdoors.
  • Jillian Forsey, junior, West Virginia — Forsey was 14th in 2014, but she’s been banged up this year and did not get a great summer of training as a result. If healthy, she’s a runner to watch.
  • Anna Rohrer, freshman, Notre Dame — It’s been three years since a freshman placed in the top 10 at NCAAs, but if anyone can end that streak, it’s Rohrer. Just the fifth woman to win two Foot Locker crowns (2012 and 2014), Rohrer is a massive talent. She opened her 2015 campaign with a comfortable 12-second victory at the National Catholic Championships on September 18.
  • Kelsey Santisteban, senior, California — 10th in 2013, Santisteban didn’t race last fall for the Golden Bears.
  • Sarah Collins, senior, Providence — A two-time cross country All-American, Collins was 10th back in 2012, the last time NCAAs were held in Louisville.

The Top 10

10. Courtney Frerichs, senior, New Mexico

Previous NCAA finishes: 13th (2014), 38th (2013)

Track credentials: 5th in NCAA indoor 5,000; 2nd in outdoor steeplechase; 7th at USAs in steeple; has run 15:47 for 5,000; 9:31 steeple PB is #4 all-time in NCAA

Just when you thought Frerichs hit a new peak in 2014-15, she went out and did something even more spectacular. Frerichs was 7th at Roy Griak last fall, but she ran the B race at Pre-Nats, making her something of an unknown quantity heading into the postseason. By the end of November, however, there was no doubt as to Frerichs’ ability as she followed up a win at the Midwest Regional with a 13th-place showing in Terre Haute.

Frerichs raced sparingly indoors, but again came up big at NCAAs by finishing 5th in the 5,000. But the best was yet to come. Frerichs won the steeple at both the Stanford Invitational and Payton Jordan, running 9:32.12 to defeat Colleen Quigley in the latter and become the third-fastest collegian ever. Though Quigley got her revenge a month later at NCAAs, winning the race and knocking Frerichs down to #4 on the all-time list, Frerichs still managed to PR, beating defending champ Leah O’Connor in the process.

After transferring from UMKC to New Mexico over the summer, the senior will have plenty of women to run with in workouts, which could push her to be even better this fall. It will take a lot to top last year’s performance, but if there’s one thing Frerichs has shown, it’s that she’s always capable of something extra.

9. Elise Cranny, sophomore, Stanford

Previous NCAA finishes: 12th (2014)

Track credentials: 2nd in NCAA indoor 3,000; anchored Stanford DMR to 2nd-place finish at NCAA indoors; 10th at NCAA outdoors in 1500; PBs of 5th in NCAA outdoor 5,000; PBs of 4:10 and 8:58

Cranny was 12th at NCAAs in '14, the best finish by a freshman last year Cranny was 12th at NCAAs in ’14, the best finish by a freshman last year

Cranny’s rookie cross country and indoor seasons were phenomenal, as one might expect from an athlete coming off a fourth-place finish at World Juniors in the 1500 meters. She immediately stepped in as the top runner on a young Cardinal squad, finishing 12th at NCAAs in cross country, and were it not for Dominique Scott, she’d have been a two-time champion at NCAA indoors (Scott beat her in the 3,000 and on the anchor leg of the DMR). Though Cranny struggled (for her) outdoors, she still made it to the NCAA 1500 final — not a bad achievement for a true freshman.

Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg believes that Cranny slowed outdoors (her 4:14.05 1500 SB was over three seconds slower than what she ran in high school) because she didn’t get much of a break between World Juniors and starting her freshman year in Palo Alto. Pushing a young athlete hard for almost two years straight almost inevitably leads to burnout, and Cranny was a victim of that last spring. The good news is that Cranny should be well-rested entering 2015-16 (she hasn’t raced since NCAAs on June 13) and she has two top-notch training partners in Aisling Cuffe (injured last fall) and Vanessa Fraser (who broke out by running 15:54 this spring).

As with Cuffe, Miltenberg wants Cranny to be at her best in June/July, which means that she may take a while to get up to full speed in cross country. But few runners in the country are more talented than Cranny, and it won’t take much of a jump from last year to land her in the top 10.

8. Erin Finn, junior, Michigan

Previous NCAA finishes: 30th (2013)

Track credentials: 5th in NCAA outdoor 5,000; PBs of 15:26 and 32:41

Before last season we picked Finn to finish 5th at NCAAs, and she was running well for the first half of 2014 (2nd in Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown, 4th at Pre-Nats) before an injury ended her season before Big 10s. Though she redshirted indoors, Finn returned with a vengeance outdoors, repeating as Big 10 10,000 champ and finishing 5th in the 5,000 at NCAA outdoors (of the women who beat Finn in that race, only Dominique Scott returns this fall).

Finn is a brave runner unafraid to push the pace, and her PRs (15:26/32:41), both of which she ran as a true freshman, portend tremendous future success. Finn has already won her first two races of the 2015 season (the EMU Celebration on September 5 and the Commodore Classic on Saturday) and is clearly motivated to carry that success all the way through November this time around.

7. Rhianwedd Price, junior, Mississippi State

Previous NCAA finishes: 24th (2014)

Track credentials: NCAA outdoor 1500 champion; 4th in 1500 at Euro U-23 champs; PBs of 2:04 and 4:09

Prices 1500 win was one of the most exciting races at NCAAs Price’s 1500 win was one of the most exciting races at NCAAs

Price had a good cross country season last year (24th at NCAAs), but she is a mid-d runner by nature and that’s where she really impressed in 2015, reeling in defending champion Shelby Houlihan of Arizona State to win a memorable 1500 at outdoor NCAAs in a PB of 4:09.56. Few expected the Wales native, who entered the year with a 4:16 PB, to finish the season as NCAA champion, but she’s made tremendous progress in two years in Starkville and that should continue this fall with her first top-10 showing in cross country.

If Price were a men’s runner, we’d be more hesitant to pick her in the top 10 but considering the women’s race at NCAAs is only 6,000 meters — and that Price ran well in Terre Haute last fall — she’s got a great chance to move up in 2015. Also watch out for her twin sister, Ffion, who will be joining Rhianwedd at MSU this year. At NCAA outdoors last year, Rhianwedd told us that Ffion was always the faster twin until Rhianwedd came to the U.S.

6. Molly Seidel, senior, Notre Dame

Previous NCAA finishes: 19th (2014), 171st (2013), 217th (2012)

Track credentials: NCAA outdoor 10,000 champion; 6th in NCAA indoor 5,000; PBs of 15:48/33:18

Through two years at Notre Dame, it was looking like Seidel, the 2011 Foot Locker champion, was going to be a bust. Though she ran 16:05 on the track as a freshman, she regressed as a sophomore, finishing 171st at NCAAs in cross country and failing to break 16:30 on the track.

But the Wisconsin native responded with a stellar junior year, earning All-American honors in all three seasons, capped with an NCAA 10,000 title in June in one of the craziest races of the year. Now she enters the 2015 cross country season as one of the nation’s top runners. Seidel’s PBs don’t blow you away, but she’s tough, strong and one of only three active collegians to own an NCAA title (Price and Arkansas’ Dominique Scott are the others). Seidel may not break the Foot Locker curse (no girls HS Foot Locker champ has ever won NCAA XC cross), but she should be top-10 in Louisville.

5. Rachele Schulist, junior, Michigan State

Previous NCAA finishes: 4th (2014), 50th (2013)

Track credentials: 9th in NCAA indoor 3,000, 14th in NCAA outdoor 5,000; PBs of 9:01 and 15:36

Schulist wasn’t quite the same force on the track in 2015 as she was in cross country last fall, but it was always going to be tough to top her stellar XC campaign. Schulist’s 2014 XC finishes were a study in consistency — 5th at Roy Griak, 2nd at Wisconsin, 3rd at Big 10s, 2nd at the Great Lakes Regional — and she capped the year by running her best race at NCAAs, finishing fourth overall to lead Michigan State to its first-ever women’s XC crown.

Even though Schulist would have liked to done better than 9th (in the indoor 3,000) and 14th (in the outdoor 5,000) at NCAAs on the track, her times plummeted significantly (from 9:06 and 16:01 in ’14 to 9:01 and 15:36 in ’15), suggesting she could be even better this fall.

There will be pressure on Schulist to carry a Spartans team considering MSU lost several top runners to graduation and key returners Lindsay Clark and Katie Landwehr aren’t yet 100 percent. But that pressure doesn’t seem so great when you’ve already been the #1 runner on a title team; Schulist looked good in running to a comfortable season-opening victory at Saturday’s Spartan Invitational.  Expect another stellar year from the lanky junior in 2015.

4. Aisling Cuffe, senior, Stanford

Previous NCAA finishes: 4th (2013), 21st (2012), 74th (2011)

Track credentials: 2nd at 2014 NCAA indoor/outdoor 5,000; 4th at 2014 USAs (5,000); 15:11 5,000 PR is #3 all-time in NCAA

Cuffe took fourth at NCAAs in 2013 Cuffe took fourth at NCAAs in 2013

Because her season debut at the Fresno State Invite on September 11 was her first race in over a year (Stanford used the race as a tempo run, with Cuffe placing ninth in smoky conditions), it’s easy to forget just how good Cuffe was in 2014. We’re here to make sure you remember. We ranked Cuffe #2 in our 2014 preview, and for good reason. That spring, Cuffe became the #3 collegiate performer ever over 5,000 meters (15:11.13) and finished second at NCAAs and fourth at USAs over that distance. She also displayed impressive speed, anchoring Stanford to a pair of second-place finishes in the Penn Relays 4×1500 and DMR.

Disaster struck that fall in the form of a stress fracture, and Cardinal coach Chris Miltenberg decided to redshirt Cuffe for all three seasons in order to make her comeback as smooth as possible. Assuming Cuffe can back at the level she was at in 2013-14 (she was fourth at NCAA XC that year), she’ll be in the mix at NCAAs in November. It may take a while — Miltenberg’s top priority is for Cuffe to run well all the way through next year’s Olympic Trials in July — but she should be near the front when it counts.

This is also Cuffe’s last chance to break the Foot Locker curse — no female Foot Locker champion has ever won an individual NCAA XC title. With such a deep field, Cuffe has her work cut out for her, but with by far the best 5,000 PB in the NCAA (she’s nine seconds up on #2 Sarah Disanza), Cuffe has a fighting chance, especially on the flat Louisville layout.

3. Rhona Auckland, junior, New Mexico

Previous NCAA finishes: N/A

Credentials: 19th at 2015 World XC (sr. race); 2015 Euro U-23 10,000 runner-up; 2014 Euro U-23 XC champ; PBs of 15:27 (5,000) and 32:22 (10,000)

Auckland may be new to the NCAA system, but the 22-year-old Scot should step in and contend for the NCAA title immediately in 2015. She ran PBs of 15:27 and 32:22 on the track this summer, and while her long season (it didn’t conclude until July 25) may mean that it takes Auckland a little longer than most to get back into peak fitness this fall, when she’s at full strength she’s extremely dangerous.

The scariest thing about Auckland is that she’s even better at cross country than she is on the track. She was 7th at the Euro U-23 XC champs in 2013 before taking gold in the same race last year. In March, in the senior race at the World Cross Country Championships, Auckland finished 19th, better than every runner on an American team that included Sara Hall and Laura Thweatt.

Though we’ve yet to see how Auckland will adapt to the American lifestyle or coach Joe Franklin‘s system, expect a big year in 2015. Franklin has a long track record of success with British runners, and given the talent on the top-ranked Lobos’ roster, Auckland won’t hurt for training partners either. Women’s collegiate running is strong enough at the top that Auckland will have competition for the individual title, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her win it all in Louisville.

2. Sarah Disanza, junior, Wisconsin

Previous NCAA finishes: 2nd (2014), 104th (2013)

Track credentials: 3rd in 5,000 at 2014 NCAA indoors; 15:20 5,000 PB

Disanza is the top returner from a year ago Disanza is the top returner from a year ago

There are a few question marks surrounding Disanza entering the 2015 cross country season, but the track record of the top returner from the year before is very good at NCAA XC. Take a look at the last four years:

Year Top returner from year before Place
2014 Emma Bates (2nd) 3rd
2013 Abbey D’Agostino (2nd) 1st
2012 Jordan Hasay (2nd) 3rd
2011 Sheila Reid (1st) 1st

Though Disanza’s runner-up finish in 2014 came as a shock at the time, she proved it was no fluke with her third-place showing at NCAA indoors in the 5,000 — a result she achieved despite logging just two weeks of serious mileage prior to the race.  When healthy, the Wisconsin junior has shown herself to be one of the most talented runners in the NCAA.

And that’s the major concern when it comes to Disanza. An Achilles injury over winter break severely limited her training for most of the 2015 indoor season; injury also caused her to redshirt outdoors. But Disanza told the USTFCCCA earlier this month that “my fitness is even better than it ever had been before” and if that’s the case, the rest of the NCAA should be on high alert. 15:20 as a 19-year-old is seriously impressive. As long as she can stay healthy, Disanza doesn’t need to improve much from last year to be standing on top of the podium in Louisville this fall.

1. Dominique Scott, senior, Arkansas

Previous NCAA finishes: 6th (2014), 28th (2013), 140th (2011)

Track credentials: 2015 NCAA indoor 3,000 champ; anchored winning DMR at NCAA indoors in 2014 and 2015;  2nd at NCAA outdoor 5,000 and 10,000; PBs of 4:08, 8:52, 15:32 and 32:11

Scott’s speed (her 4:08 1500 PB is tops among NCAA runners) and strength (so is her 32:11 10,000 pb) mean that she can win any kind of race, an extremely valuable tool to have in one’s toolkit. The last two years, Iona’s Kate Avery broke the lead pack apart with early surges; the two years before that were both tactical, with the race coming down to the final 100 meters each time.

Scott won her first NCAA individual title in March Scott won her first NCAA individual title in March

It’s hard to find a weakness with Scott. She ran well at all three NCAA championships last year and earned a 3+ second PB in her only track race this summer, running 4:08.65 for 1500 in Lignano, Italy, on July 7. Perhaps it was a minor disappointment for Scott not to come away with an NCAA title outdoors this spring, but it depends on how you look at it. Scott hadn’t run the 10,000 seriously prior to this spring, and with Arkansas wanting to maximize team points and the 1500/5,000 double logistically impossible, she ran the 5,000 and 10,000 at NCAAs. She didn’t quite have the strength to hang with Seidel in the 10,000; two days later, on tired legs, she was blown away by a terrific performance by Emily Sisson in the 5,000. But Scott couldn’t have done much more for her team, recording runner-up finishes in both events, neither of which may have been her best chance for a victory (she beat NCAA 1500 champ Rhianwedd Price by almost three seconds in the SEC 1500 final).

Scott’s range and consistency make her extremely tough to beat. If she can carry over her track form to cross country, she could end 2015 by becoming Arkansas’ first-ever women’s XC champion.

Discuss the individuals at NCAAs on our fan forum: MB: What is your Early Season Individual NCAA Top 15

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