November 19, 2016
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Talk about crazy, exciting and big upset finishes.
Both the women’s team title and women’s individual title at the 2016 NCAA Cross Country Championships featured huge upsets that were decided by the narrowest of margins this morning on a cold, windy Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.
In the individual battle, Notre Dame sophomore Anna Rohrer, the 2012 and 2014 Foot Locker champion, did her very best to become the first sophomore to win the NCAA title since Sally Kipyego 10 years ago. Rohrer broke free of the lead pack that included pre-race favorite Erin Finn of Michigan in the final kilometer and led entering the final straightaway. However, Finn hadn’t given up, and some 50 seconds before the finish line, she caught up to Rohrer and moved into the lead.
However, SEC champion Karissa Schweizer of Missouri, who was third in the 5000 outdoors in June, but didn’t even qualify for last year’s NCAA cross country championships, was closing best of all. Schweizer was probably still 20 meters back when Finn caught Rohrer, but she more than made up for it as she passed Finn in the final 50 meters and went on to win by 2.6 seconds to become the most unexpected NCAA women’s cross country champion since Angela Bizzarri in 2009.
“I’m really shocked. I knew if I put myself in the top 5 that anything could happen,” said Schweizer after the race. “I was a little far back (at the end of the race), but I saw what was going on. I saw that was Anna coming back to me and saw that Erin was close so I just kicked it into another gear and I couldn’t feel my legs but it worked.”
— NCAA Track & Field (@NCAATrackField) November 19, 2016
With three different leaders in the final 400, the individual battle was certainly exciting, but the team battle ended up being even closer. The NCAA didn’t release the women’s team results until nearly an hour after the race because they didn’t want to make the same mistake they did in 2012 when they incorrectly announced Providence as the women’s team champ (Oregon won that year). In the end, in the biggest upset in NCAA women’s cross country history (or at least since records started being kept 21 seasons ago), 12th-ranked Oregon held on and won the team title by just 1 point over #5 Michigan (125 to 126). Heavy favorite and #1-ranked Colorado ended up third at 134. Prior to today, over the last 21 years no team had ever won an NCAA team title – men’s or women’s – without being ranked at least #4 heading into the NCAA championships.
The team battle also was the closest in women’s NCAA XC history as never before had a women’s NCAA DI XC meet been decided by a single point. Nine previous NCAA women’s championships had been decided by fewer than 10 points, including three meets by two points (1986, 1987 and 1997) but today was the first meet decided by just one (on the men’s side, the team battle was decided by one point in 1970 and 2001).
The 12th-ranked Ducks, who were only 4th at the Pac-12 meet and hadn’t won a meet since their season-opening win at home in September, won by running aggressively early on. Ducks coach Maurica Powell told her women to get out in good position, but to stay relaxed. When she saw her women on the course early, she knew they had accomplished part one, but part two was a question mark.
“At 2k, they were in really good position and it was like, clearly they’re going to go big or go home here. They’re either going to steal it or they’re going to BLOW UP spectacularly.”
Oregon had the lead at all three of the intermediate splits. At the third and final intermediate split (4.7 k), the Ducks had a 116 to 145 lead over Michigan with Colorado third at 160. Both Michigan and Colorado closed well, but in the end Oregon, after a long delay, was the winner thanks to the fact that #5 runner Maggie Schmaedick was able to hold off Michigan’s Jaimie Phelan by .1 of a second as Schmaedick ended up 64th and Phelan 65th as shown by this great Michael Scott photo:
— Michael Scott (@urimiscott) November 19, 2016
Had Michigan won, Phelan would have gone down in history as a huge Wolverine hero as her final 1.3 km was incredible. At 4.7km, Phelan was in just 101st place. Over the final 1.3 km, she passed 36 people to almost give Michigan the victory but she ended up needing to pass 37.
Note: If Erin Finn had won the individual title instead of finishing second, Michigan would not have won the team title. They would have been tied with Oregon in points, but lost on the tiebreaker (comparing each team’s runners head to head, ie #1 vs #1, #2 vs #2, etc).
Heavy favorite Colorado, who destroyed Oregon at Pac-12s (33 to 88) by putting four in before Oregon had even two across the line, ended up just third because their #1 runner all season long (except for regionals), senior Erin Clark, had a poor race. Clark, who was 11th last year and was 2nd at both Pac 12s and Pre-Nats this year, ended up as the Buffaloes’ 7th runner in 133rd (105th in the team scoring). Had the Eugene, OR high school product Clark finished 30th overall (24th in the team score), the Buffaloes would have won the title.
Missouri coach Marc Burns wanted Schweizer to put herself “in position to beat somebody on paper that you aren’t supposed to beat”
“I thought she could be in the top 5. Literally, our goal was to be top 10 and just give herself a chance to be top 10 somewhere. We just talked about being in position to beat somebody that on paper you aren’t supposed to beat,” said Burns who is in third year at Missouri after a four-year stint at Bradley. “She doesn’t like to put that type of pressure (on herself). She didn’t want to think about having a chance to win. I don’t think she even thought she had a chance to win honestly – like she didn’t even want to talk about being in the top 5. That’s why we were like let’s just focus on the top 10 and give yourself a chance.”
Schweizer clearly gave herself a chance as according to Burns she was “relaxed” and “was really smart early.” At the end, it came to a kick and he said “she’s obviously got wheels.”
(Editor’s note: Schweizer has pbs of 4:17 for 1500 pb, 9:17 for 3k and 15:58 for 5k)
Burns was about 300 meters from the finish however and didn’t see Schweizer take the lead. He had to call his wife on the phone to see who won.
Talk about an upset. Schweizer didn’t even make NCAAs last year (25th at the regional) and was 155th at NCAAs in 2014.
Kudos to the Missouri SID staff for giving Schweizer’s win a splash page on the MUTigers.com website.
Erin Finn: “If it had just been Anna, I would have gotten the title today. But it wasn’t just Anna.”
Rohrer was the first to make a move and had the lead going into the final straightaway, but Finn chose to remain patient as she knew she couldn’t maintain that pace all the way to the finish line. When Finn did move, with about 300 meters to go, it was decisive, and she succeeded in dropping Rohrer. As she closed in on the finish, Finn continued to check on Rohrer to her left but had no idea that Schweizer, who had been dropped well before that, was coming on like a freight train to her right on the inside. Ultimately though, it didn’t make a difference whether Finn knew she was there or not: Finn was totally spent and tying up during the final 100.
“This is probably the hardest I’ve ever raced,” Finn said. “I’ve really never finished a race where I was just struggling to stay up.”
Finn has now finished second in her last three NCAA championship appearances dating back to indoors, but she’s not licked yet and has big goals come for the track season.
“I’ve made more progress in training than I ever have. I’m going to keep being a contender for the title. It’s going to be my time someday…that 15-minute barrier better watch out in track!”
Maurica Powell: “125 points blows my mind. I thought on a great day we’d break 200, barely.”
Oregon was only fourth at the Pac-12 Championships and Ducks coach Maurica Powell knew going in that she didn’t have the roster to win that race. But she was confident that she had three women in Katie Rainsberger, Alli Cash and Georgetown transfer Samantha Nadel who could finish very high up at NCAAs, so she elected to make nationals the focus, training hard for six weeks until they began to taper a week and a half ago.
“We thought we could sneak in and get a trophy today,” Powell said. “We thought we could sneak in and break 200 points. But I don’t even know where we were picked. I told the girls to turn off all their social media and not look at a ranking, not look at a list…125 points blows my mind. I thought on a great day we’d break 200 barely.”
Rainsberger, the 2015 NXN champ, was the nation’s top recruit last year and delivered a huge run up front for the Ducks. Cash (who didn’t run a step in July or August due to injury) and Nadel were both big talents, but the question this fall was could they stay healthy? They did, and the results were phenomenal.
But to pull off a massive upset such as this one, all five scorers need to hit it out of the park and that’s exactly what happened. Take a look at the meet-by-meet finishers of Oregon’s top five today:
|Name||UW Invite||Pre-Nats||Pac-12s||West Regional||NCAAs|
It took around half an hour for the results to come in after the race concluded, and Powell knew it was going to be close. She was standing next to Michigan coach Mike McGuire, and both of them had come up with the same raw score before removing individuals: 164.
Powell knew better than to get ahead of herself however. When Oregon won its last title four years ago, she was told that the Ducks had won, only to be told again that Providence won before the results finally settled with Oregon on top.
“I wasn’t about to tell them anything until I had some idea that we’d actually won…The last thing I told them before the gun went off [today] was, ‘It’s been so fun this fall, I love all of you and I’ll see you on the other side.’ And then I walked into the tent and said, ‘Hey, we’re on the other side guys and we just won by a point.’”
Post-race with Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer
Rohrer said she was feeling good at 5k and knew that to win, she had to make her move then rather than allowing it to come down to a kick. She didn’t have enough today, but the sophomore has now finished 6th and 3rd in two NCAA XC appearances and will have two more chances to win the title before she graduates.
Overachievers and Underachievers
The national rankings didn’t do nearly as good job of predicting what would happen in the women’s race as the men’s race as there were a slew of schools that finished way higher or lower than their rankings.
Overachievers – Teams that finished 5 or more spots higher than their ranking
+18 BYU (finished 10th, ranked 28th)
+15 E. Michigan (finished 9th, ranked 24th)
+14 Michigan St (finished 8th, ranked 22nd)
+11 Oregon (finished 1st, ranked 12th)
+11 Wisconsin (finished 14th, ranked 25th)
+7 Utah (finished 20th, ranked 27th)
+5 Penn (finished 24th, ranked 29th)
Underachievers – Teams that finished 5 or more spots worse than their ranking
-13 Iowa State (Finished 29th, ranked 16th)
-10 Providence (finished 13th, ranked 3rd)
-10 Penn State (finished 18th, ranked 8th)
-10 Arkansas (finished 19th, ranked 9th)
-9 Harvard (finished 26th, ranked 17th)
-8 Portland (finished 22nd, ranked 14th)
-5 Washington (finished 12th, ranked 7th)
-5 Air Force (finished 25th, ranked 20th)