Updated: Jan 13
No one seems to be talking about the Columbia Lions this fall...and that may be a mistake. Even though they lose they key front-runners, there are plenty of women who can step up and lead this team to similar success that we saw from them last year.
During the 2018 season, the Lions posted strong results, finishing in the top three as a team at five of their seven races. Columbia’s season began at the Iona Meet of Champions where they placed 2nd as a team and had a 21 second spread through five scorers. Two weeks later, the team headed to Wisconsin for the Nuttycombe Invitational and took 11th overall in a field that was loaded with top-tier competition. Once again, that tight spread became extremely useful.
The Lions had runners place 43rd (Hays), 47th (Gregoire), 49th (Kokes), 68th (Wasserman), and 81st (Kogan) in the team scoring. That top three was arguably the most condensed trio of scorers at the meet, and kept Columbia's team score extremely stable.
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Fast forward to the Princeton XC Invite, and not much had changed. The Villanova women were simply too front-heavy to defeat, but the 4-5-6 finish of Gregoire, Kokes, and Hays kept things close from a scoring perspective. The Lions would settle for a runner-up finish, but were likely able to take pride in their impressive pack-running.
Their regular season performances were strong, but it was the Ivy League Championships where we saw the Lions dominate their competition and win by 34 points. Columbia was led by seniors Erin Gregorie and Libby Kokes in the top four, but Katie Wasserman (now a junior) added extra depth for the team and finished 11th in what was a breakout race for her.
In a year where two other Ivy League women's team went to Nationals (Princeton and Dartmouth), the overwhelmingly strong performance from Columbia may not have been appreciated enough.
The NCAA Northeast Regional Championships was only more of the same for the Lions. They easily ran away with the team title after scoring a low 41 points, 47 points ahead of Dartmouth.
The National Championships ended Columbia's season. An 18th place finish was likely not what the Lions had envisioned, but when you consider that only one of their women (Kokes) had finished in the top 100 (50th) then it's hard to be upset at being among the top 20 teams.
It will be hard for the team to replace the low-sticks of Gregorie and Kokes, but Hays, Wasserman, Abigail McLaughin, and Serena Tripodi all have experience at the national level.
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Hays, a sophomore in 2018, began to show herself as a top runner for Columbia. The rising junior led the team at Nuttycombe with a 43rd place finish and finished 6th at the Princeton Invite alongside two Columbia seniors. She struggled a bit at the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships where she was the team’s #5, but she rebounded well and was the second runner across the line for Columbia at the NCAA XC Championship, finishing 101st overall.
Hays has the potential to be just as good as Gregoire and Kokes in 2019, but it was her performances on the track this past spring that leads us to believe that she will be even better than what we saw from Gregoire and Kokes last fall. Hays earned Second Team All-American honors on the outdoor oval with a 12th place finish in the 5k at Nationals which followed her PR of 16:06. If she returns to the grass with that same kind of drive, she will be a major factor in Columbia returning to the championship.
Wasserman, primarily a middle distance runner during the track season, posted personal bests during the indoor and outdoor track seasons in the mile and 1500, respectively. Her speed benefits the Lions on the grass because she is someone who will come up quick on the backend of races. Wasserman was the team’s #4 runner at the NCAA XC Championships, but should find herself higher up this year if she can stick onto Hays.
McLaughlin, Columbia’s #5 at the 2018 NCAA XC Championship, ran a solid 10k during the 2019 outdoor track season. She was timed at 34:05 and this should carry over well to the cross country course. For Columbia to finish higher than 18th at the NCAA Championships, McLaughlin will need to help keep the time spread from #1 to #5 as small as possible. Based off of last year, that shouldn't be a major issue.
On paper, these three women have the opportunity and potential to make up for the scoring potency that will be lost by Kokes and Gregoire. Luckily, their close finishes last fall and breakout track seasons tells us that they are more than capable of doing just that.
Incoming freshman Lauren Grela will look to make an immediate impact for the Lions. Grela comes to Columbia with a 17:34 5k cross country personal best and placed 4th at the Massachusetts State XC Meet. With a time like this, Grela could become an immediate scorer for the Lions. She will have a few opportunities early in the season to gain some experience before the Ivy League Championships and NCAA Northeast Regional Championships.
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To qualify for the NCAA XC Championships in 2019, the women mentioned above will need to finish close to one another in big meets to keep their 1-5 spread as small as possible. Last year’s team showed they know how to keep a small spread leading up to Nationals and we expect that to be the case this fall.
At the Nuttycombe Invite, there was a 27-second spread. At the Ivy League XC Championships, there was a 32-second spread. At the NCAA Northeast Regional, there was a 31-second spread. But at the NCAA XC Championship, their spread was 1:03 which ultimately hurt their placing.
The concerns for this group are obvious. The loss of two consistent low-sticks and uncertainty in regards to their depth is what has us placing Columbia at #22 in our rankings. Although the improvements we saw from them on the track were encouraging, last year's supporting scorers need to translate that success to the grass.
Columbia has the potential to find themselves in the top half of the NCAA at the National Championships this fall. The women will need to fill the spots left by the graduating seniors, but with the way the rest of the roster raced last year and during the track seasons, it is possible for them to thrive in 2019.