November 16, 2016
Twelve months ago, at the NCAA championships in Louisville, the Colorado women lost to just one team: the Lobos of New Mexico, aka the greatest women’s NCAA cross country team ever assembled. Since then, the Buffaloes have destroyed all comers, romping through the competition at Pre-Nats, Pac-12s and the Mountain Regional. All that remains is for the squad that Mark Wetmore said back in August could be his best ever to finish the job in Terre Haute on Saturday and claim the program’s third women’s NCAA title.
We fully expect that to happen. Read on and we’ll tell you why.
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)
How To Watch: In person ($10 admission). The 2016 NCAA Cross Country Championships will also be streamed online by Flotrack ($). Flotrack subscriptions cost $149.99 per year (recurring) or $19.99 per month (recurring) but there may be a free 7-day trial if you haven’t signed up before.
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The Colorado Juggernaut
Unlike the men’s team race at NCAAs, one team stands above the rest on the women’s side, and that team is Colorado. We ranked the Buffs No. 1 in our season preview back in September, and they’ve done nothing to change our mind this season. As expected, Erin Clark and Kaitlyn Benner, both top-20 finishers at NCAAs a year ago, have combined to form a formidable 1-2 punch. But unlike last year, where those two ran 1-2 for CU at every meet that mattered, they’ve got company. At Pac-12s, running against then-No. 2 Washington, then-No. 5 Oregon and four other teams then ranked in the top 25 (including current No. 4 Stanford), the Buffs scored just 33 points, going 2-3-4-9-15 with their #6/#7 runners crossing in 16th and 17th. Remove Colorado’s top two and they still win easily. Remove Colorado’s top three and Washington just edges them out, 64-68. And remember, Washington crushed the competition at Wisconsin and was ranked No. 2 in the country at the time. At Regionals, CU put all five scorers ahead of New Mexico’s Calli Thackery, who was 15th at NCAAs last year and has run 15:37 on the track. Their #6 was just 0.6 of a second behind Thackery.
“They’re running really really well,” said Stanford coach Elizabeth DeBole, whose squad faced Colorado at both Pre-Nats and Pac-12s. “They just look great. I don’t know that anyone is going to come close to them [at NCAAs].”
Clark (2nd Pre-Nats and Pac-12s) and Benner (4th Pac-12s, 16th NCAAs in ’15) are going to be up there, it’s just a question of how many other Buffs join them as All-Americans. Montana transfer Makena Morley, a four-time Foot Locker finalist in high school, was the team’s top finisher at regionals. Mackenzie Caldwell, who ran 16:15 last spring, finished just over a second behind, but was actually the fourth Buff across the line as she and Morley sandwiched Clark and Benner. Redshirt freshman Tabor Scholl was five seconds further behind. And we haven’t even mentioned sophomore Dani Jones, a 4:13 1500 runner who was 3rd at Pac-12s.
Perhaps the scariest thing about Colorado is that we still haven’t seen them at their best. They crushed No. 6 New Mexico at regionals, 35-109, yet Colorado’s top four runners crossed the line together. They won’t score 49, as New Mexico did last season, but they have the potential to post an extremely low score in Terre Haute; Colorado’s last title team, in 2004, scored 63 points, and that’s within the realm of possibility if everything breaks right. But even on a bad day, Colorado is so deep that it’s hard to imagine anyone beating them (again, their #6 at regionals was 3rd at Pac-12s).
So how does this year’s CU squad stack up against the 2004 edition? Take a look.
|Year||Meet #1||Meet #2||Conference||Regionals|
|2004||Rocky Mt. Shootout, 1st (16 points)||Pre-Nats, 1st (94 points)||Big 12s, 1st (25 points)||Mountain Regional, 1st (32 points)|
|2016||Rocky Mt. Shootout, 1st (15 points)||Pre-Nats, 1st (93 points)||Pac-12s, 1st (33 points)||Mountain Regional, 1st (35 points)|
Personnel (2004 team listed with PBs at the time of NCAAs)
|#1||Renee Metivier (4:45mi/9:12/15:49)||Erin Clark (15:54/9:48 SC)|
|#2||Liza Pascuito (4:51 1600m/10:37 3200m)||Kaitlyn Benner (9:09/15:56)|
|#3||Christine Bolf (9:46/16:26/34:13)||Dani Jones (4:13)|
|#4||Sara Slattery (16:27)||Makena Morley (4:50 1600/10:16 3200)|
|#5||Natalie Florence (9:29/16:10/33:40/10:28 SC)||Mackenzie Caldwell (16:15/33:52)|
There’s not much between the two squads on paper. Right now, we still have to give the edge to the 2004 edition as it’s really hard to score 63 points at NCAAs. But that could change after Saturday. One thing’s for sure: this year’s edition is certainly stronger at the #6 and #7 spots.
In all likelihood, Colorado isn’t losing, but this is sports, which means that nothing is a given. Here are the schools that could step up should CU falter:
Washington (1st Wisconsin, 2nd Pac-12s, 2nd West Regional)
Why they have a shot: The Huskies won Wisconsin convincingly, putting all seven finishers in the top 50 while Isobel Batt-Doyle won the B race (her time would have put her 64th in the championship race). UW also has two studs up front in Amy-Eloise Neale (4th Wisco, 1st Pac-12s, 1st West Regional) and Charlotte Prouse (5th Wisco, 6th Pac-12s, 10th West Regional). Washington’s run at Wisconsin was special, about equal to Colorado’s run at Pre-Nats (UW scored 124 at Wisco, Colorado scored 93 against a weaker field at Pre-Nats). If Washington can put Neale and Prouse in the top 10 at NCAAs and the rest of the squad improves slightly from Wisconsin, they’ve got a chance.
Why they won’t win: Colorado and Washington raced each other three weeks ago at Pac-12s, and the results weren’t pretty (CU won, 33-74). Washington lost again last week at regionals, 71-88 to Stanford. Are they really going to go from losing to Stanford to beating Colorado in the span of eight days?
NC State (2nd Wisconsin, 1st ACCs, 1st Southeast Regional)
Why they have a shot: NC State is No. 2 in the coaches’ poll and coming off dominant victories at ACCs (53 points) and the Southeast Regional (53 points). They’ve got a solid No. 1 in Erika Kemp (7th Wisconsin, 2nd regionals) and enviable depth behind her in Rachel Koon (18th Wisconsin, 4th ACCs), Alyssa Rudawsky (24th Wisconsin) and the Frazier sisters, Wesley (9:01 3k, 10th ACCs) and Ryen (10th regionals).
Why they won’t win: NC State has enough talent that they can make up for bad days from their top runners (Kemp was their 8th woman at ACCs and they still won handily) but they’re not as consistent as Colorado and to beat Colorado, their studs have to run like studs. Megan Moye had the #2 1500 time in the entire NCAA last spring (4:11.91) but she was their #7 at ACCs and didn’t even run regionals due to a hip injury. NC State coach Laurie Henes said that she intends to run Moye at NCAAs, but that she won’t know until later in the week whether she’s healthy enough to do so. Wesley Frazier has run a grand total of one race since January. Frazier will run NCAAs as well but Henes rested her at regionals — “Wesley was really behind going into the fall and she’s better served training through [regionals],” Henes said.
That’s actually been the case for several women on the Wolfpack team.
“One of the things we wanted was to go into NCAAs with almost everyone healthy and ready to go and we feel fortunate to do that,” Henes said. “Neither Wesley nor Ryen nor Elly (Henes, NC State’s #5 at regionals and Laurie’s daughter) had a full summer. But we’ve talked about it all year that this is where we’re at and we’re just going to try to get better every race. This is about as good a position we could have hoped for going into the season with this group other than Megan’s issue.”
It’s admirable — and a testament to the squad’s depth — that NC State has been able to run as well as it has with a shifting scoring lineup, and this is still a podium team. But to challenge Colorado, they need to be firing on all cylinders at NCAAs, and based on this year’s results, that’s unlikely. There are just too many question marks. Next year is more realistic as their entire top five at ACCs were non-seniors. However, a bunch of the other contending teams are young as well.
Providence (3rd Wisconsin, 1st Big Easts, 1st Northeast Regional)
Why they have a shot: Ray Treacy is one of the best women’s coaches out there, and Providence has finished on the podium at NCAAs in three of the past four years. Treacy has also said that he prefers the rolling Terre Haute course (where the Friars won it all in 2013) to the flat Louisville layout. No. 3 Providence was just four points behind NC State at Wisconsin and won titles at the Big East champs and the Northeast Regional.
Why they won’t win: A full-strength Providence team would have had a chance to topple Colorado, but 2015 All-American Catarina Rocha is redshirting and Sam Jones, 34th at NCAAs last year, was just 32nd at Big Easts and didn’t even run regionals. Plus, the Friars’ margins of victory (36-49 over No. 18 Villanova at Big Easts, 50-71 over No. 17 Harvard at regionals) were smaller than Colorado’s even though they faced far weaker competition.
Stanford (6th Pre-Nats, 3rd Pac-12s, 1st West Regional)
Why they have a shot: Stanford is heavily reliant on freshmen, but those freshmen are all incredibly talented and have been improving rapidly. Most recently, Stanford defeated Washington to win the West Regional, with true frosh Fiona O’Keeffe (4th NXN in ’13 and ’14), Christina Aragon (4:08 1500, bronze at World U20 champs) and Ella Donaghu (2nd NXN, 4:14 1500) all scoring for the Cardinal. Plus NCAA 1500 runner-up Elise Cranny (12th NCAA XC in ’14) will be returning for nationals. If they can keep improving, watch out.
Why they won’t win: Cranny hasn’t raced since October 1 due to a foot injury and only began working out again on solid ground last week. Given where she’s at with the injury, Stanford coach Elizabeth DeBole said that she’d be happy with a top-70 finish from Cranny on Saturday; for Stanford to have a prayer at beating Colorado, she needs to be much higher up than that. DeBole, as we mentioned earlier, doesn’t believe anyone can beat Colorado the way they’re running right now and said her goal for her team is a top-10 finish. Stanford should be very good in the years to come, but if they’re going to beat Colorado, it won’t be until 2017.
LRC Prediction: We’re holding off on our official prediction until we do a podcast from Terre Haute on the morning of the championship but no one is beating Colorado.
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