2015 Women’s XC Preview: #8 Michigan State And #7 Providence

Ray Treacy: “If this group of ladies stay healthy and get 10 weeks of great training, I have no doubt they’ll be very, very good by the time we get to the end of November.”

By LetsRun.com
September 16, 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 (377 points) from #14 (415 points — see 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.

If you missed any of our other previews, you can find them here:

*#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

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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.

8. Michigan State: The defending champs have taken some hits, but will be dangerous if they can get healthy

2014 results: 1st NCAAs, 1st Great Lakes Regional, 1st Big 10, 1st Wisconsin Invite

Key returners (lose #3, #4, #5 from NCAAs in 2014)

Name Class # returner from NCAAs Credentials
Rachele Schulist JR 3 9:01/15:36
Lindsay Clark SR 6 16:08
Ali Wiersma JR 33 16:18/34:00
Katie Landwehr SR 54 16:27/10:07 SC
Kelsie Schwartz SO   Transfer from Louisville; 16:44
Shelby Jackson JR 16:27
Allison Lunau SO 16:32
Raquel Serna SO 9:30

2014 was a dream season for coach Walt Drenth and the Spartans. Led by Rachele Schulist’s fourth-place finish, Michigan State put four women in the top 21 at NCAAs to cap an undefeated season with the program’s first national title. Schulist returns in 2015, along with #2 woman Lindsay Clark, but the squad’s 3-4-5 runners have all graduated.

MIchigan State won it all in 2014; can the Spartans get back on the podium in Louisville? Michigan State won it all in 2014; can the Spartans get back on the podium in Louisville? *2014 NCAA Photos *Banquet Photos *All-American Photos *Men’s Photos

As if replacing runners like Leah O’Connor and Julia Otwell wasn’t hard enough, two of the Spartans’ top returners, Clark and Katie Landwehr, aren’t 100% right now, which could make for a very different top seven at the squad’s first major race at the Roy Griak Invitational on September 26. Clark has been dealing with tendonitis in the back of her knee since June, while Landwehr may want to consult a voodoo expert as she appears to be cursed. In May, Landwehr, a steeplechaser, broke her clavicle while running over hurdles. As she was coming back from that injury this summer, she broke her ankle after being chased through campus by a raccoon.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Drenth said.

The uncertainty regarding Clark and Landwehr’s status — both are back to running again, but primarily on the AlterG or underwater treadmill — means that even Drenth doesn’t have a clear idea of where his team will wind up this season.

“If this team is whole, they certainly have a chance to get back in the top 10 and if everybody is running as well as they did at the end of last fall, they have a chance to be a top-five team,” Drenth said. “But heck, if people don’t come around, we could be 25th.”

Fortunately for Drenth, Schulist is healthy, giving him a very low stick to count on up front. And junior Ali Wiersma, 69th at NCAAs last year, should slot in nicely to the #2 or #3 spot. But to get back onto the podium, the Spartans will need Clark and Landwehr to be close to their old selves and hope that some runners can step up to fill the void left behind by the graduating class.

MSU has the talent on hand to make that happen, and sophomores Allison Lunau (9:32/16:32) and Raquel Serna (9:30) figure to play a key role.

“Both of them, if the fall plays out the way it should for them, they’ll make some pretty good progress and help us,” Drenth said.

Shelby Jackson, who ran in the Spartans’ top seven two years ago, should also be a factor and has been training well with Wiersma in the early part of the season.

The uncertainty surrounding his team doesn’t bother Drenth. Rather than deal with specific places, Drenth’s goal is always to get his team to run its best at the end of the season, and that goal remains unchanged in 2015, regardless of who toes the line for his squad in Louisville in November.

“We are who we are. I’m not pulling my hair out, that’s for sure.”

7. Providence: With the entire top seven back plus two-time All-American Sarah Collins, the Friars will be dangerous

2014 results: 13th NCAAs, 2nd Northeast Regional, 2nd Big East, 24th Wisconsin Invite

Key returners (return entire top seven from last year)

Name Class # returner from NCAAs Credentials
Catarina Rocha JR 14 4:49/16:25
Lauren Mullins SR 31 16:16/34:00
Katie Lembo SO 34 9:30/16:19
Brianna Ilarda SO 75 16:33/10:32 SC
Mackenzie Barry SO 103 9:58/16:57
Molly Keating SR 120 4:53
Katelyn Sischo SR 131 5:01.9:50
Sarah Collins SR 15:31/33:36, 39th in ’13, 10th in ’12
Emily Bushey JR   Transfer from Louisville; 4:27/9:37

Providence head coach Ray Treacy viewed 2014 as a rebuilding year. Coming off the program’s first national title in 18 years, the Friars were losing three of their top five, including their top finisher in Emily Sisson (7th overall). With a young, inexperienced squad, Treacy elected to sit out his top runner, Sarah Collins (a two-time All-American in XC who was 10th as a freshman in 2012).

“I deliberately decided to redshirt her last year because I didn’t think we’d be very good,” Treacy said. “I figured, ‘Okay, I’ll take my lumps with this team.’”

And for the first half of last season, he was right. The Friars finished sixth at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown on September 26 and were just 24th at the Wisconsin Invitational on October 17. But they surprised everyone by finishing second at the Northeast Regional, locking up an auto bid to NCAAs, and wound up 13th at the Big Dance despite relying on three freshmen in their top five.

Collins was 10th at NCAAs in 2012, the last time they were held in Louisville Collins was 10th at NCAAs in 2012, the last time they were held in Louisville

All seven runners from NCAAs return, in addition to Collins. Providence won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year, and Treacy knows it.

“We’ve been top-10 [at NCAAs] 19 of the last 26 years and this team is a lot better than some of those teams, I can tell you that,” Treacy said. “Our expectations are getting ourselves to the point where we feel we can be in the top six or seven and if you feel you can be there you can do anything on the day. Three years ago, when it was last in Lousiville, we went into the meet ranked #8 in the country and finished second. If this group of ladies stay healthy and get 10 weeks of great training, I have no doubt they’ll be very, very good by the time we get to the end of November.”

Collins missed eight weeks over the winter after falling down the stairs over Christmas break, so Treacy redshirted her during the track season as well. Now that she’s healthy again, she and junior Catarina Rocha (33rd last year) should form a potent 1-2 punch (they aced their first test, going 1-2 at the Nassaney Invitational on Saturday). Senior Lauren Mullins (67th a year ago) and sophomore Katie Lembo (70th) also return, and Treacy feels that Aussie Briana Ilarda, the team’s fourth woman in 2014 (153rd at NCAAs) has made a leap and will be able to run with the Mullins and Lembo this fall. If everything breaks right, the Friars could be looking at two, perhaps three All-Americans, and a team score of under 200, which would likely be enough to put them on the podium for the third time in four years.

More: Complete 2014 NCAA Cross Country Coverage
Photos: *2014 NCAA Women’s Photos *Banquet Photos *All-American Photos *Men’s Photos

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