Updated: Jan 13
The Wisconsin Badgers return a very solid squad for the upcoming cross country season, making them a team to watch for the podium in 2019.
The 4th place finisher from last year's championship meet, Alicia Monson, is back and brings with her Amy Davis, Alissa Niggemann, and Lucinda Crouch. Both Davis and Monson are a great duo up front for the Badgers and Niggemann had a breakout track season in the steeplechase this past spring. With a strong core of incoming freshmen joining the program, and a rising talent in Lucinda Crouch, the Badgers could be a team that ends up winning the BIG 10 title this fall.
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Wisconsin played host to the 2018 NCAA Championships last fall and the Badgers used that to their advantage, racing on the course three times before the national meet.
At the Badger Classic (the first meet of the season) the women easily ran away with the victory. Monson began her breakout year by winning the race while the rest of their scoring five all placed within the top 10. However, their time spread of 1:44 was something that needed to be addressed in future meets.
The second run in Madison, Wisconsin was the Nuttycombe Invitational. In a stunning upset performance, Monson took the win on her home course to lead the Badgers to a 6th place finish against some of the best programs in the nation. Davis and Sorensen crossed the line as the second and third Badgers on the day, finishing 25th and 27th, respectively. Niggemann and Crouch finished side-by-side in 69th and 70th, giving the Badgers a very respectable scoring five.
The gaps within their top five weren't ideal, but there wasn't a whole lot to be upset about. Overall, it was a very strong team performance.
Two weeks later, the Wisconsin women toed the line for Pre-Nats, a race also on their home course. However, the Badgers took a different approach compared to how they raced at Nuttycombe. The women packed up and only had a 26 second time spread between their top five. While some teams were caught off-guard by Wisconsin’s race plan, it gave the host team a chance to work on their pack running while conserving their best efforts for the postseason.
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After cruising through Pre-Nats, Wisconsin's real focus shifted to the BIG 10 Championships which was stacked with top-tier programs such as Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State, and an up-and-coming Penn State squad.
When all was said and done, the Badgers would end up finishing in between those four teams for a 3rd place finish. Once again, Monson secured the individual title while Amy Davis snagged a key 13th place finish. With Crouch and Sorensen finishing 21st and 22nd, respectively, Wisconsin wasn't far off from Michigan or Michigan State through four scorers. However, Niggemann had an unfortunate off-day, finishing 33rd overall and leaving far too big of a gap for the team to catch their conference rivals.
The NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships followed the same storyline for Wisconsin. Monson won the race by seven seconds while the same four scorers closed out the scoring behind her. The team automatically qualified for NCAA’s after finishing 2nd in the region.
Once they were at NCAA's, Wisconsin made the most of their opportunity by finishing 10th overall. Monson was the top scorer that we expected her to be after she placed 4th overall. Unfortunately, the team failed to give her another All-American low-stick to complement her scoring potency. Still, the Badgers had their other four women all finish inside the top 100 in the team standings.
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The women from Madison, Wisconsin will be hungry for more this year as they return four of their top five (and six of their top seven). Monson, Davis, Niggemann, and Crouch have all proven to be capable scorers who can bring consistency to the lineup. Given what we saw from each of these women on the track, they should all be better than they were last year (well, outside of Monson who literally can't get any better from a scoring standpoint other than her performance at NCAA's).
After a monster 2018 cross country season, Monson continued her stellar year by winning the 5k at the indoor national meet. Her 2019 outdoor track season did not go as smoothly due to a presumed injury, so hopefully she has had a strong summer of running in preparation for the upcoming fall.
Davis is back for her final season and placed 67th at the NCAA XC Championship last fall. She had a great outdoor track season that resulted in two personal bests, one in the 1500 and the other in the 10K (an event that she eventually became an All-American in). Don't sleep on the idea of Davis finishing inside the top 40 at Nationals come November.
Outside of the team's top two we have Niggemann who earned Second-Team All-American honors this past track season when she finished 11th in the steeplechase at NCAA's. She broke the 10 minute barrier in the prelims and showed that she is ready to take on some of the nation’s best athletes on the grass. Much like Davis, we expect Niggemann to make a significant leap in fitness this fall. She is far better than some people may realize.
Lucinda Crouch, who was only a freshman last fall, should be a very key name to watch. She held her own on a very good Wisconsin team last year, giving the squad scoring stability in the second half of their lineup for most of the season. She ran 10:17 for the steeplechase this past spring and should naturally improve in her second year of collegiate experience.
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On paper, Wisconsin has a very strong top four that could make some serious noise in 2019. However, the final scoring spot is a little unclear given the gaps that we saw last fall. Luckily, a very good recruiting class could fix that...
An incoming freshman who could make an immediate impact for the Badgers is Alexa Westley from New Jersey. Westley has run 10:15 for 3200 meters and 16:34 for 5000 meters. In 2018 at the Nike Cross Northeast Regional Championships, Westley won the race and then went on to finish 33rd at the Nike Cross Nationals. Although she will be young, Westley has the ability to score for Wisconsin right off the bat.
The same goes for Sarah Shulze, the California native who was runner-up at her cross country state meet while also boasting a 3200 PR of 10:18. Her championship experience at NXN, combined with a three-mile personal best of 16:12 (roughly 16:55 5k conversion) makes her yet another potential scorer for the Wisconsin women this fall.
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Recently, Wisconsin named Mackenzie Wartenberger the new head coach for the women’s cross country program after former coach Jill Miller left to take a position at Northwestern.
Wartenberger is coming from the University of Utah where she coached All-American’s Grayson Murphy and Sarah Feeny. The Utah women made their first team appearances at the NCAA XC Championships in 2015 and 2016 under Wartenberger’s guidance while also developing them into the #25 ranked team in this year's rankings. With her resume, Wartenberger will be an excellent addition for a Wisconsin program that needs to develop their younger talents (something that Wartenberger is known for).
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No matter what happens at Wisconsin, their history of success is too great to ignore. Monson will contend for the individual title once again and it is quite possible for her to win it all after a very successful 2018 campaign. The next four women will need to finish closer to Monson in larger invitationals, but that will come with time throughout the season as the women find their groove.
Above all, the Badgers are a top 10 team year-in and year-out.
And in 2019? Well, that will be no different.