Updated: Jan 13
The Furman women come into the 2019 cross country season with a “go big or go home” mindset with four of their projected top five scorers being seniors. After returning all seven of their runners from NCAA's last fall, the Paladins will bring back an experienced group that will be ready to break into the top 10 at the national meet after a 23rd place finish last fall.
Outside of the regional and national meets, the Paladins had a relatively low-key schedule last fall compared to other top-tier programs. They only raced at two larger regular season meets (Pre-Nationals and Joe Piane) where they showed out on both occasions.
In 2019, their schedule looks somewhat similar in terms of meet prestige with the Oregon Invitational and the Nuttycombe Invite now on their racing calendar. While they do have a few smaller meets mixed in, these two competitions will provide key opportunities for Furman to prove that they are among the best in the NCAA.
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The Paladins will once again be led by returning All-American Savannah Carnahan. Last fall, the Furman ace had a tremendous finish to her season, finishing 20th at NCAA's a year after missing All-American by six places. Carnahan was a consistent low-card for the Paladins throughout last year, finishing in the top 10 at every other race. This fall, she should be looking for a top 10 finish at NCAA's, as well as winning a couple races along the way. If she is able to grab a victory at a bigger meet, she will cement herself as a top-tier force in the NCAA.
Behind Carnahan, the Paladins have a pair of women who could be on the cusp of All-American status this fall. Emma Grace Hurley finished 51st at NCAA's last year and was Furman’s #2 runner for almost the entire season. Hurley was very consistent in 2018 and her strong finish to the season indicates that she could be on her way to a top 40 finish come November.
That leads us into Gabrielle Jennings who showed flashes of exciting potential last fall. She is a personal sleeper pick for All-American status this fall.
Jennings was only 141st at Nationals last year, but that race was nowhere near where she had been during the rest of the season. Jennings opened up her 2018 cross country season with a huge 7th place run at Joe Piane, finishing just behind Aubrey Roberts of Northwestern. At Pre-Nats, she finished 28th overall and carried her hot-streak into the regional meet where she placed 16th.
We also can't forget that Jennings is coming off of a 9th place finish in the steeplechase at the Outdoor National Championships. While some may consider her a long shot for All-American status, it wouldn’t be that crazy of a possibility when you look at her overall resume.
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Behind those three, the Paladins have a handful of women who could find themselves in Furman's top five. Riley Burr appears to have the #4 spot on lockdown after finishing 24th at the Joe Piane Invite and 28th at the Southeast Regional Championships. She had a poor showing at Nationals, but much like Jennings, that race doesn't reflect her actual talent level.
As for the #5 spot, any number of Paladins could fill that final position including Kristlin Gear or Emma Kuntz. Both of these women were members of the NCAA squad from 2018 and should come into this season with added experience which could prove to be beneficial as we near November.
Kuntz was a freshman last fall and that should consequently indicate substantial improvements in her second season of collegiate cross country competition.
Gear, on the other hand, was only a sophomore and could follow a similar trend. Just like her teammate Gabrielle Jennings, she had a breakout spring track season in the steeplechase, running a personal best of 9:52. She has a ton of potential coming into the fall of 2019 and could be a major breakout scorer.
One name that we haven't mentioned yet is Lauren Peterson. The incoming freshman from Rosemount, Minnesota is coming off of three state titles on the track this past spring and should be a huge addition for this Furman team moving forward. Peterson earned two individual titles at the Minnesota state meet, winning both the 1600 and 3200 meters, as well as running on Rosemount’s 4x400 state-record setting relay team.
Her performances on the track may be impressive, but Peterson is arguably just as good as on the cross country course. In 2016, Peterson finished 25th at Footlocker Nationals and was then 30th at Nike Cross Nationals (NXN). In 2017, she came back to NXN where finished 36th overall.
In short, she could be an immediate impact scorer on what is already a very good squad.
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This fall, the Furman women will be relying on strong up-front performances and a number of key supporting scorers to help vault this team to the next level. Consistency is a legitimate concern and it's not guaranteed that everyone will be able to translate their success from the track onto the grass.
Still, this is clearly one of the better squads in the nation and a team that we feel extremely confident about. This will likely be the Paladins best chance to finish in the top 10 at NCAA's for the next few years and if everyone runs to their potential, there is a very good chance that comes to fruition.