November 17, 2016
2015-16 was a year of near misses for Michigan’s Erin Finn. During the cross country season, Finn won the Big 10 title and entered the NCAA championships as a top-10 threat only to lose both shoes during the race.Finishing the race barefoot, she settled for a courageous 19th-place finish. Indoors, Finn ran two great races at NCAAs but they were only good for two runner-up finishes as Notre Dame star Molly Seidel bested her on both occasions — just as she did back in high school in 2011 when the two Midwesterners went 1-2 at Foot Locker nationals. Outdoors, Finn was in the best shape of her life, running 31:51 for 10,000 meters, a mark that would have put her sixth on the NCAA’s all-time list. But Finn had made the decision to redshirt to focus on the Olympic Trials, which meant that even when Seidel went down with an injury, Finn still wasn’t able to compete at NCAAs and potentially win her first NCAA title. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, Finn herself developed a stress fracture in her foot later in the season, which ruled her out of the Olympic Trials as well.
All of this would make an NCAA title particularly sweet for Finn who, would you believe it, will be celebrating her 22nd birthday on Saturday in Terre Haute. Unlike Edward Cheserek, however, Finn has already lost this season and is not a lock for the title. We break down Finn’s chances and her top competition below.
What: 2016 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships
Where: LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, Terre Haute, Indiana
When: 11 a.m. ET (women’s race); 12 p.m. ET (men’s race)
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All NCAA Regional Results * NCAA XC champs site * LRC 2016 NCAA XC Women’s Team Preview: The Unstoppable Colorado Women Will Win the 2016 NCAA Title * LRC 2016 NCAA XC Men’s Team Preview: Can Northern Arizona Send Futsum Zienasellassie and Coach Eric Heins Out on Top? * LRC 2016 NCAA XC Men’s Individual Preview: Edward Cheserek Looks To Close Out A Perfect Career at NCAA XC * All LRC 2016 NCAA XC Coverage
Erin Finn, senior, Michigan
Previous NCAA finishesPBs: 30th, 2013; 19th, 2015.
2016 results: 2nd Roy Griak, 1st Greater Louisville, 1st Pre-Nats, 1st Big 10s, 1st Great Lakes Regional
Finn took a little longer to get into her base training this summer because of the stress fracture, and she lost her first major test at Roy Griak to Boise State’s Brenna Peloquin back on September 24. But Finn has been on a roll since then and has established herself as the NCAA favorite. Take a look at her resume:
Greater Louisville Classic (10/1): 1st, 16:26 (5k). Course record. Won by 24 seconds.
Pre-Nats (10/15): 1st, 19:44. Won by 24 seconds. Fastest-ever time at Pre-Nats at Terre Haute.
Big 10s (10/30): 1st, 20:37. Won by 25 seconds. 24 seconds faster than she ran on the same course at Roy Griak five weeks earlier.
Great Lakes Regional (11/11): 1st, 19:27. Won by 8 seconds over fellow NCAA title contender Anna Rohrer of Notre Dame. 33 seconds faster than Peloquin ran to win Wisconsin Invite on same course. #2 time in course history.
Finn has the fastest 3k (9:01) and 10k (31:51) pbs in the field and only Wisconsin’s Sarah Disanza (15:20) has run faster than Finn (15:23) over 5k, though Disanza’s time is two years old and she has not demonstrated that sort of fitness recently (Finn beat her by 55 seconds at regionals). Finn also has tons of experience on the Terre Haute course: she’s raced there five times in her career, including twice already this year (in addition to her win at Pre-Nats, she won the Sycamore Invite by 45 seconds back on September 10).
“We went to Terre Haute for a reason this past weekend,” Michigan coach Mike McGuire told us the week after she won at Sycamore. “And we’re going back there again at Pre-Nats for a reason…Obviously, she wasn’t challenged but she had some observations about that course that she’ll keep to herself right now but keep in her memory bank going down the road…She likes the Terre Haute course. Some kids shun that course and some kids embrace it. Erin really embraces the challenge of the course, the history of the course, the great athletes who have run on that course in the past.”
As if that weren’t enough, Peloquin, the only woman to have beaten Finn this year, has struggled her last two races: after winning Roy Griak and Wisconsin, the Boise State sophomore was 4th at the Mountain West meet and 3rd at the West Regional. Finn has yet to race everyone in 2016 (notable New Mexico’s Alice Wright and Washington’s Amy-Eloise Neale) but her studly PRs, her knowledge of the course and her dominant form should make for a very happy birthday on Saturday.
Alice Wright, junior, New Mexico
Previous NCAA finishes: 20th, 2014; 5th, 2015.
2016 results: 2nd Notre Dame, 2nd Wisconsin, 1st Mountain West, 1st Mountain Regional
Wright is the top returner from the 2015 NCAA championships (Allie Ostrander still has eligibility but redshirted the 2016 XC season due to injury), and she’s finished no lower than second in four races this fall. Second is also where Wright finished in her last NCAA championship appearance, the outdoor 10,000, losing only to the since-graduated Dominique Scott of Arkansas. Wright, a native of Worcester, England, was only a second behind Peloquin at Wisconsin, but the two are moving in opposite directions. As Peloquin has faded, Wright has come into focus, beating Peloquin by 25 seconds at the Mountain West Conferce champs (Wright was nine seconds ahead of runner-up/teammate Calli Thackery) and dismantling the field at the Mountain Regional by 17 seconds.
Wright and Rohrer have looked to be just about even (Rohrer beat Wright at ND; Wright beat Rohrer two weeks later at Wisco), though if one of them is going to beat Finn, it’s probably Wright, for two reasons. 1. Wright beat Rohrer in their most recent race. 2. Rohrer just lost to Finn last week at regionals.
Like Wright, Finn is a strength runner, so Wright won’t have an advantage if it goes fast. But consider both women are very small and the cold (high of 43), windy forecast in store for Saturday, it won’t be in either of their interests to be the one breaking the wind.
Anna Rohrer, sophomore, Notre Dame
Previous NCAA finishes: 6th, 2015. 9:11/15:32.
2016 results: 1st Notre Dame, 3rd Wisconsin, 1st ACCs, 2nd Great Lakes Regional
Rohrer finished just one spot behind Wright at NCAAs last year and she’s run faster than the Brit on the track (15:32 vs. 15:45). She also looked great in winning ACCs by 25 seconds and though she’s never raced on the Terre Haute course while in college, Rohrer ran there several times while piling up Indiana state titles at Mishawaka High School.
Plus, the “Foot Locker curse” no longer exists thanks to the win last year yb Rohrer’s ND teammate Molly Seidel (no xc eligibility). Regardless, Rohrer would have been a good candidate to erase it herself. A two-time FL champ in high school (she won as a sophomore in 2012 and again as a senior in 2014 after getting hurt as a junior), Rohrer is a big-time talent and she’s found success immediately as a collegian; if it weren’t for Ostrander, Rohrer’s 6th-place finish last year would have been the best by a freshman since 2009.
Rohrer lost to Finn by eight seconds at regionals last week, and the question is: how much does that matter? Both women were well clear of the field (Rohrer finished 22 seconds ahead of third place) and running very fast — Rohrer ran 19:35 (which was 20 seconds faster than the winning time at the Wisconsin Invite on the same course in October), and only one other region saw anyone run faster than 19:54. With an individual berth to nationals secure, only Rohrer knows how much she let up at the end (if at all). 19:27 is very fast, and Finn could wind up regretting running that quickly just eight days before NCAAs. Or the time may have been a sign of just how fit Finn is right now. It’s impossible to assign definitive meaning to the Great Lakes result until we see how NCAAs unfolds, but right now we’re going with the traditional takeaway: the better woman won.
Amy-Eloise Neale, junior, Washington
Previous NCAA finishes: 121st, 2014.
2016 results: 3rd Washington Invite, 4th Wisconsin Invite, 1st Pac-12s, 1st West Regional
Neale was only 4th at Wisconsin, but since then she’s claimed two impressive wins, defeating a deep field to claim the Pac-12 title and running away with the West Regional last week in a quick 19:27 (the course was fast, but she won by 13 seconds). Neale suffered a tibial stress fracture after her freshman year at UW and it took her a long time to get back to working out at a high level. But she found a groove during outdoor track, and as her coach Greg Metcalf explained to us last month, she’s been on a roll ever since. She doesn’t have the credentials of Finn or Wright, or even Rohrer, but she was an NCAA finalist at 1500 meters in June. If she stays on her current trajectory, who knows who good she can be?
Erin Clark, senior, Colorado
Previous NCAA finishes: 97th, 2013; 31st, 2014; 11th, 2015.
PBs: 4:22/9:08/15:54/9:48 SC.
2016 results: 1st Rocky Mountain Shootout, 2nd Pre-Nats, 2nd Pac-12s, 7th Mountain Regional
The leader of the nation’s No. 1 team, Clark scored for Colorado as a true freshman in 2013 and was CU’s top finisher at NCAAs in each of the past two years. The 7th at regionals doesn’t worry us considering she ran with a clump of teammates, but she was edged out by Neale at Pac-12s (by 0.4 of a second) and lost big (24 secs) to Finn at Pre-Nats. Clark is just one of three women to break 20:00 on CU’s home course (Kara Goucher and Jenny Simpson are the others) and she did win Pre-Nats last year. But it would be a big surprise if she were to claim the individual title in Terre Haute.
Brenna Peloquin, sophomore, Boise State
Previous NCAA finishes: 9th, 2015.
2016 results: 1st Roy Griak, 1st Wisconsin, 4th Mountain West, 3rd West Regional
Peloquin was the hot early pick, as she is the only woman to defeat Finn this season (at Roy Griak) and won the regular season’s most competitive race, the Wisconsin Invitational. But since then, she has been beaten at conference and regionals, and neither of those races were particularly close. She was 25 seconds behind Wright at the Mountain West meet and 15 seconds behind Neale at the West Regional. The good news for Peloquin? She went from 9th in her conference and 4th at regionals to 9th at NCAAs last year. The bad news is that Finn is running so well right now that even if Peloquin returns to her early-season form, it may not be enough to secure victory in Terre Haute.
Karissa Schweizer of Missouri, who was 3rd in the 5,000 at NCAAs in June, has racked up wins at the Commodore Classic, Chile Pepper, SECs and the Midwest Regional, though she was only 4th at Pre-Nats. Central Florida’s Anne-Marie Blaney hasn’t lost since finishing second at the Big Wave Invitational, though considering that that race came all the way back on September 3 and she had to travel a minimum of 13 hours to get there from Orlando since the race is in Hawaii, we’ll give her a pass. (P.S. We wouldn’t mind covering that race next season!) Blaney has never broken 16:00 for 5k, however, so she’s definitely a long shot. Wisconsin’s Sarah Disanza was 2nd two years ago, but she’s missed most of the past two years with injuries and was only 12th at the Great Lakes Regional. Stanford’s Elise Cranny was the NCAA runner-up at 1500 meters and won the Stanford Invite on October 1, but she hasn’t raced since with a foot injury. Cranny will race on Saturday, but Cardinal coach Elizabeth DeBole said that a good day for her would be in the 50-70 range given the training she’s missed.
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So please enter than and vote in our poll below. Then come back and follow the action live on on our world famous fan forum / messagebaord on Saturday.
1. Finn. She’s been crushing everyone since Roy Griak, and it would be a perfect ending if the senior could win NCAAs on her birthday.
2. Wright. The top returner from 2015 has been even better in 2016.
3. Rohrer. Only a sophomore, she may well win an NCAA XC title one day, but she’ll have to wait for now.