September 13, 2017
The track season is over, the days are getting shorter and temperatures are gradually dropping across the United States. Cross country season is here.
The NCAA Cross Country Championship is always one of the best events on the running calendar, and the 2016 edition in Terre Haute, Indiana, was one for the ages. In the men’s race, Villanova’s Patrick Tiernan upset the unbeatable Edward Cheserek of Oregon as Northern Arizona sent coach Eric Heins out as a champion by delivering the program’s first national title. In the women’s race, Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer was the surprising champion, sprinting by Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer and Michigan’s Erin Finn in the home straight. The wildest outcome of all came in the women’s team race as No. 12 Oregon sprung a massive upset, defeating Michigan by one point, in part because Oregon’s Maggie Schmaedick (64th, 20:38.1) beat out Michigan’s Jaimie Phelan (65th, 20:38.2) by one-tenth of a second.
The 2017 edition will have a tough job surpassing that excitement, but with its enthusiastic fans and meritocratic simplicity — everyone runs the same distance, over the same course, at the same time — NCAA XC always delivers.
Below, we’ve done our best to forecast who the top teams will be at the national championships two months from now in Louisville. A lot can change between now and November 18, and while it’s usually easy to predict the top teams that have a shot at the title, places six through 15 can often be interchangeable depending on who runs well on the day. That’s what happens when you’ve got roughly two runners crossing the finish line every second in the main pack. So consider these rankings a starting point for the national title conversation; we’ll check in periodically throughout the fall and offer analysis as the season unfolds.
September 8: Meets begin to count for NCAA at-large qualifying purposes
October 13: Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, Madison, Wisconsin
October 14: Pre-National Invitational, Louisville, Kentucky
October 27-29: Conference weekend (various sites)
November 10: NCAA regional meets (various sites)
November 18: NCAA championships, Louisville, Kentucky
Note: We determined where a runner ranked among returners by taking her place in the team scoring at NCAAs in 2016 and subtracting the number of seniors/non-returners in front of her.
New additions in italics
6. NC State: Wolfpack look for second straight podium finish
2016 results: 4th NCAAs, 1st Southeast Regional, 1st ACC, 2nd Wisconsin Invitational, 2nd Notre Dame Invitational
Key returners (lose #1, #6 from NCAAs)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Dominique Clairmonte||RS FR||N/A||10:43 3200;|
|Isabel Zimmermann||FR||N/A||10:41; 2nd NBN 2-mile|
NC State ran well at every single meet last year and the season culminated with a well-deserved fourth-place finish in Terre Haute. The bulk of that group returns as Erika Kemp, the team’s top finisher at nationals, is the only significant loss. But the Wolfpack managed to win the ACC without Kemp last year (she had an off day and finished as their eighth runner) and with four women who have run 16:02 or faster for 5,000, NC State figures to be potent once again in 2017.
“We have a whole group of four that have been training together really well — Rachel Koon (25th NCAAs), of course, Alyssa Rudawsky, Ryen [Frazier] and Elly [Henes], my daughter,” said NC State head coach Laurie Henes. “They’ve been training together in that group and they really felt they made big jumps doing that last year in track season. And I think that it’s something we’re going to need to have happen in races to accomplish our goals, to have that group that’s training together, race together.”
If those four can stick together near the front of the (Wolf)pack, NC State just needs a number five, and they’ve got some options. Wesley Frazier, who has run 15:45 and was 47th at NCAAs last year, is the best option but she has battled bursitis recently and likely won’t race early in the season. But Frazier only raced at ACCs and NCAAs last year and ran well at both those meets, so there is a pathway to success in place. Henes has also liked what she’s seen from Beth Taye, who was 27th at ACCs last year as a true freshman, and redshirt freshman Dominique Clairmonte, who was 35th at NXN as a junior in 2014.
But NC State’s ceiling is highest with Wesley Frazier in the lineup. If she runs at NCAAs, this can be a podium team again. If she’s not there, the Wolfpack should still run in the top 10, but in such a competitive year, the podium may be out of reach.
5. Michigan: After coming agonizingly short of the program’s first national title, the Wolverines try to rebound
2016 results: 2nd NCAAs, 1st Great Lakes Regional, 1st Big 10, 3rd Pre Nationals, 1st Greater Louisville Classic
Key returners (lose #1 from NCAAs)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Gina Sereno||SR||17||9:07/15:49/33:17; Big 10 5k/10k champ|
|Jaimie Phelan||SR||36||4:11; NCAA 1500 champ|
|Claire Borchers||JR||95||9:56 SC|
|Audrey Belf||JR||N/A||4:22/16:21; 106th in ’15; Georgetown transfer|
Mike McGuire is as Michigan as they come. McGuire ran for the Michigan men’s team back in the 1970s under Ron Warhurst and this year will mark his 29th as women’s coach in Ann Arbor. So you’d forgive him for being frustrated about coming one point shy of Michigan’s first-ever NCAA XC title (men’s or women’s) last year in Terre Haute. But as McGuire spoke to LetsRun.com one year later from the same course as his team prepped for the John McNichols Invitational on September 9, there was no hint of negativity in his voice.
“Everything’s positive,” McGuire said. “Even that day, I don’t know…maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been doing this for so long, but it was less bittersweet for me than it was for my athletes, I think, because I just knew we gave great effort that day. I never once looked at it like we lost. Oregon was a one-point-better team than us on that day.”
Indeed, the Wolverines should be commended for running a terrific race and for setting up the closest finish in NCAA history. But that was 2016, and now it’s time to turn the page.
Michigan loses only one of the seven women who suited up in Terre Haute last November, but it’s a big one: Erin Finn. No one woman can replace Finn, last year’s individual runner-up, whose tiny frame belied her toughness and tenacity. Still, the Wolverines return five top-100 finishers, led by former triathlete Avery Evenson, who was 18th last year. Injury issues have prevented her from running anything significant on the track, and though that means she’ll be playing catchup this fall, McGuire believes Evenson can be a top-20 finisher once again.
“Relative to where she finished her fall season, she’s a work in progress but she’s healthy and she’s a gamer so I feel pretty confident in what she can do,” McGuire said.
In the meantime, Gina Sereno is a more than capable #1, as she proved on the track by running a PR of 15:49 and sweeping the Big 10 5k and 10k titles. Madeline Trevisan impressed as a freshman last year, taking 46th at NCAAs and running 34:09 on the track. Oh, and did we mention that Michigan has the NCAA 1500 champion in Jaimie Phelan?
The Wolverines have some decent depth as well with veterans Jamie Morrissey (4:17 1500), Claire Borchers (9:56 steeple), Haley Meier (4:15 1500) and Georgetown transfer Audrey Belf (106th at NCAAs in 2015).
Without Finn, this Michigan squad isn’t quite as strong at the very top, but the hope is that they’re a little better at spots #2 through #5. And after coming just short of a national title a year ago, a little improvement is all it may take to move up one more step to the top of the podium.
Talk about 2017 NCAA xc on our messageboard / fan forum: Official 2017 NCAA XC Preview Discussion Thread.