Updated: Apr 8
Recruit rankings data has been manually collected by TSR contributors from multiple, reliable sources. Transfers and foreign recruits who are not expected to have four years of eligibility are excluded from these rankings. Order of rankings was decided by all TSR contributors.
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The initial publication of this article erroneously omitted Peyton Witt and Samantha Tran.
We have since updated the article to include these recruits.
At first glance, one might suspect that the Michigan women could struggle coming into the 2019 cross country season. They lose some of their best athletes in Avery Evenson, Claire Borchers, and Hannah Meier, all of whom were scorers at some point last fall. Evenson was the top Wolverine at BIG 10's, finishing 3rd overall while Meier was close behind in 11th. At NCAA's, the Wolverines surprised quite a few people when they beat out the likes of Stanford and Boise State for the fourth and final podium spot. Evenson was an All-American, finishing in 38th.
That story, however, only paints half the picture. On the other side of their roster, Michigan is full of young talent and they only appear to be getting stronger. The top Wolverine at last year's national meet? Camille Davre, a redshirt freshman. Their top runner at the Great Lakes regional? Anne Forsyth, the 3rd place finisher behind NCAA stars Alicia Monson and Anna Rohrer. Other returners include Anna West, a former All-American while at Baylor, and Alice Hill, a budding star in the steeplechase.
In short - the Wolverines have plenty of depth.
While the loss of some of their big names could still sting, that blow will be softened by the talented recruiting class coming to Ann Arbor this fall. The biggest name in that group is Ericka VanderLende of Rockford, Michigan. Her resume is absolutely loaded, most recently winning the Brooks PR two-mile race after finishing 5th a year ago.
VanderLende has been unstoppable on the track over the past two years, claiming three state titles around the oval and earning two runner-up finishes. In a single state meet from earlier this year, she won the 1600 meters, 3200 meters, and secured a silver medal in the 800. Talk about dominance...
Looking at results, Michigan appears to be stronger in cross country than they are on the track and the same may be true for Ericka VanderLende. The incoming freshman has won back-to-back state titles in cross country and finished 8th at the prestigious Nike Cross National Championships this past fall. At Foot Locker, she was 25th, but finished 10th at the same meet in 2017. If those results tell us anything, it's that she can not only compete, but thrive in large championship fields. That's something Michigan will need as they continue to battle through a loaded BIG 10 conference.
But enough about finishes, let's talk about times. The fastest 5k that VanderLende has ever run during cross country is 16:43...but that's not even her PR. The Michigan superstar ran 16:20 for 5000 meters on the track earlier this year. The catch? She ran that time in early February, assumedly on an indoor track (yes, you read that correctly). There are a handful of decently talented high school boys who couldn't even do that.
VanderLende's ability to compete with top runners could go a long way when you look at the competitive racing schedules that Michigan goes through. It would be shocking if VanderLende does not appear in Michigan’s lineup this fall. If she can follow a similar trajectory to Davre or Forsyth, it wouldn’t be surprising if VanderLende was an All-American in 2019.
When you add in personal bests of 4:41 and 9:53 (3200, not 3k), VanderLende alone puts this recruiting class well within our Top 10 rankings. The firepower she brings to the table is essentially unmatched for graduating seniors.
Not far behind VanderLende is another Michigan local - Amber Gall. More middle-distance focused, Gall is coming off two state titles on the track in both the 800 meters and 1600 meters (different division than VanderLende). She owns personal bests of 2:09 and 4:49 for the distances and has really found her form during her senior year. Her two state titles from earlier this year were her second and third individual wins on the track after winning the state title in the 800 back in 2017. Gall was also on the Shepherd 4x800 relay that won the state title back in 2017. Not only that, but she has shown plenty of potential on the grass as well. Given her recent improvement, it might be safe to say that Gall has a uniquely high ceiling.
It’s not often that 800 meter runners excel in cross country, but Gall has shown promise with her runner-up finish at the Michigan State XC meet (Division 3) this past fall. She competed at the 2017 Foot Locker Midwest regional meet as well, finishing in 28th place. Although she was 18 places out of qualifying, the Midwest is one of the strongest regions in the country and her performance was very strong for someone who typically runs a distance that is 4200 meters shorter. It would not be surprising if the coaching at Michigan can take her speed and transition her into a major force on the cross country course as well.
The Wolverines will also be bringing in at least two more strong recruits in Colleen Megerle of New Jersey and Lauren Fulcher of Troy, Michigan. Megerle has run 2:15 and 5:03 while Fulcher boasts a personal best of 2:14 over 800 meters. These two middle distance standouts will take some time to develop, but they will be extremely valuable for a program that needs extra speed in a distance-dominated program.
Moving back up to the longer distances we have Peyton Witt and Samantha Tran. The two incoming freshmen will continue to add some extremely valuable depth when it comes to cross country. Witt owns a 3200 PR of 10:36 while Tran owns a time of 10:41. Both of these women are sub-five minute milers, and could contribute to what looks to be one of the more promising young cores in the NCAA.
One interesting thing to note with Michigan’s recruiting class is that many of these athletes are local products. VanderLende, Gall, Witt, and Tran are all from Michigan, as are Borchers, Evenson, Forsyth, Hill, Meier, and Olivia Theis (Davre is from Wisconsin which we'll consider as “local”).
While there is no definitive measure, it would be challenging to find another team in the country that relies this heavily on local runners and finds this much success in doing so. Based on the program and the credentials these women bring with them, expect the Wolverines to be fully prepared to defend their 2018 BIG 10 XC title (and more) during the upcoming year.