2015 Women’s XC Preview: #10 Arkansas And #9 Michigan

By LetsRun.com
September 14, 2015

The Diamond League season is over and it’s mid-September, which means it’s time for another collegiate cross-country season. While the 2015 campaign has already begun for most schools, teams can’t earn at-large points to help them qualify for NCAAs until September 25, so we’ll be rolling out our previews between now and then. Over the next two weeks, we’ll count down the top 10 men’s and women’s teams in the country and take a look at the top 10 individuals for each gender as well.

Please don’t take these rankings to whatever fictional casino is offering NCAA cross country betting odds and use them as your guide. There’s always uncertainty in preseason predictions, especially this year on the women’s side. Both Providence’s Ray Treacy and Stanford’s Chris Miltenberg admitted that there’s 15 teams who think they can finish in the top five or six at NCAAs, and since we’re only previewing 10, some schools will inevitably be left out. The difference between the #10 team in the country and say #15 is often tiny. Last year, less than 50 points separated the #9 team at NCAAs from #14 (out of 415 for #14, 2014 NCAA Cross Country Results).

These previews are intended to serve as a rough outline of where things stand at the moment; a lot can (and will) change between now and the NCAA championships on November 21 in Louisville.

Note: We determined where a runner ranked among returners by taking her place in the team scoring at NCAAs in 2014 and subtracting the number of seniors/non-returners in front of her.

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All of the previews are now up:

*#1 New Meixco and #2 Colorado
*#3 Stanford and #4 Georgetown
*#5 Oregon and #6 Iowa State
*#7 Providence and #8 Michigan State
*#9 Michigan and #10 Arkansas

10. Arkansas: Can Dominique Scott carry a team that loses four of its top five?

2014 results: 5th NCAAs, 3rd South Central Regional, 1st SEC, 2nd Wisconsin Invite

Key returners (lose #2, #3, #4, #5 from NCAAs last year)

Name Class # returner from NCAAs Credentials
Dominique Scott SR 3 4:08/8:52/15:32/32:11; NCAA 3k champ
Kelsey Schrader SO 73 66th at World XC Jr. race
Regan Ward SO 89 4:49/16:20/10:13 SC
Kaitlin Flattmann SR 9:28/16:23
Valerie Reina JR 16:30
Nikki Hiltz SO   Transfer from Oregon; 2:08/4:16; 8th in NCAA mile
Devin Clark FR 4:44/10:18/11th NXN

After losing four of their top five from a year ago to graduation, Arkansas will be relying on two things for success in 2015: the excellence of Dominique Scott, the NCAA indoor 3,000 champion, and the continued maturation of several young talents that emerged on the track last season.

Scott battled to a sixth-place finish in Terre Haute last year. Will the flatter Louisville layout favor her? Scott battled to a sixth-place finish in Terre Haute last year. Will the flatter Louisville layout favor her?

“Anybody that has a great front runner and then a lot of depth makes them a pretty potent group,” coach Lance Harter said. And though Arkansas certainly has the former, it will be the latter that determines how far the Hogs can go this year. 2014 represented the program’s first top-10 NCAA finish since 2006. Repeating that feat — and adding a third straight SEC title — would seem a fitting goal for Arkansas in 2015.

“We’d always like to be in the top 10 [at NCAAs] but realistically I think we’re a top-10 to top-15 type of team on a given day,” Harter said.

Scott, 6th last year, is the most versatile runner in the NCAA, posting the fastest 1500 (4:08.65 in July) and second-fastest 10,000 (32:11.60; only Emily Sisson, now graduated, was faster) by any woman who ran in the NCAA system last year. With NCAAs to be contested on the flat Louisville layout, and with defending champ Kate Avery foregoing her eligibility at Iona, there’s every chance that Scott, runner-up in the 5,000 and 10,000 this year at NCAA outdoors, will be kicking for the win in the final stretch.

The exact composition of the Razorbacks’ top seven behind Scott is fluid right now, but Harter has plenty of options. Freshman Devin Clark (4:44 mile/11th at NXN last year) was the team’s top runner in the 6K race at Saturday’s UC Riverside Invitational, finishing second overall in 20:39. Sophomore Regan Ward, the team’s 7th woman last fall, was one second back of Clark in fourth and brings impressive rookie PBs of 16:20 and 10:13 (steeple).

For Arkansas, the focus is always on the track (the women won NCAA indoors last year and were fourth outdoors) but that can help the cross country squad too.

“That’s kind of our M.O. — each season we get better, be it cross country to indoor to outdoor,” Harter said. “If we can take that momentum from last year’s indoor and outdoor seasons and throw it into cross country, that makes us very competitive.”

He has several women with the potential to do that, including junior Valerie Reina (daughter of men’s Arkansas legend Reuben), sophomore Kelsey Schrader (the team’s #2 returner from NCAAs), Kaitlin Flattmann (9:28/16:23) and Oregon transfers Nikki Hiltz (eighth in the NCAA indoor mile) and Therese Haiss. If one or two of them can pop off, the Hogs will contend for a top-10 spot this year.

9. Michigan: Wolverines look to rebound after injury-plagued 2014

2014 results: 18th NCAAs, 4th Great Lakes Regional, 3rd Big 10, 3rd Pre-Nats

Key returners (lose #1, #2 from NCAAs last year)

Name Class # returner from NCAAs Credentials
Anna Pasternak SR 55 16:48/10:18 SC
Jaimie Phelan SO 61 4:20/9:51
Laura Addison SR 77 4:19/9:50
Gina Sereno SO 107 9:28/16:23/34:34
Taylor Manett SR 116 9:43/16:40
Erin Finn JR 15:26/32:41 10K; 30th at NCAAs in ’13; 5th in NCAA 5k
Shannon Osika SR 4:14/9:19/16:09; 56th at NCAAs in ’13
Erika Fluehr SR   5th-year from Princeton; 9:32/16:44

Michigan began last year as the preseason #1 and held that ranking until October 21, when a third-place showing at Pre-Nats bumped them down to #4. Then the injury bug bit. First, a foot injury felled top runner Erin Finn before Big 10s. Then the Wolverines’ top finisher at Big 10s, Shannon Osika, went down before the Great Lakes Regional. A shorthanded Michigan squad limped to an 18th-place finish at NCAAs, the programs worst result since 2010.

“Obviously it was a disappointment,” head coach Mike McGuire said.

With the Wolverines’ top two runners from NCAAs last year, Brook Handler and Megan Weschler, lost to graduation, the 2015 edition doesn’t have the same firepower, but with Finn and Osika back, there’s still some talent here.

Finn was an All-American two years ago as a freshman Finn was an All-American two years ago as a freshman

So Mike McGuire, what’s the goal for your Wolverines in 2015?

“Stay healthy and get better.”

Do you have a specific place in mind at NCAAs that you’re looking for?

“Stay healthy and get better.”

Okay, then. Logically, if Michigan can follow McGuire’s first directive, the second will follow, and it begins with Finn, who rebounded from injury last fall to place fifth at NCAAs in the 5,000 in June (she was sixth in the 10,000 as a freshman). Osika, too, responded well on the track, lowering her 1500 PB by three seconds to 4:14 and placing second to Leah O’Connor over that distance at the conference meet (she qualified for NCAAs but was injured and did not run in Eugene).

Senior Anna Pasternak, the team’s top returner from NCAAs a year ago, should prove a capable #3. She was the fifth scorer on a podium team at NCAAs two years ago and ran 10:18 in the 3,000 steeplechase this spring. From there, it will be up to sophomores Gina Sereno (coming off a breakout track season) and Jaimie Phelan, seniors Laura Addison and Taylor Manett (both of whom, like Sereno and Phelan, have NCAA XC experience) and 5th-year grad student Erika Fluehr to provide the final two scoring entries for this year’s Michigan team. (The Wolverines also added twin transfers Haley and Hannah Meier from Duke, both of whom ran 4:42 or better for the mile in HS, but both will redshirt this fall).

McGuire says that Osika isn’t quite at the same level fitness-wise a year ago but is confident that she’ll come around by November. Finn, meanwhile, is already in midseason form, setting the course record at the EMU Celebration on September 5 (16:54 for 5k). If those two (and the rest of the top group) can stay healthy in 2015, Michigan will do a lot better than 18th in Louisville this year.

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