The Atlantic Coast Conference is set to battle it out on Friday in Boston at Franklin Park, host of the Battle in Beantown. With teams ranging from five different NCAA regions and four ACC teams projected to qualify for Nationals, upsets could disrupt the entire Kolas rankings.
Where We Stand Heading into the Weekend
The North Carolina State Wolfpack headline the field with a TSR #11 ranking and a projected top two finish at the Southeast Regional. NC State also enters as the 2x defending conference champion, returning their 3rd, 4th, and 5th scorers from last year in Dominique Clairmonte, Elly Henes, and Rachel Koon. Koon has not raced yet in 2018, but could return this weekend. Henes has led the Wolfpack this season at both Nuttycombe and the Pre-Nats Cardinal race where she was the top ACC finisher in both.
Clairmonte has been close behind and together, they’ve led their team to 5th in the Cardinal race and 10th in Nuttycombe. Columbia transfer Nell Crosby, Isabel Zimmerman, and Savannah Shaw have rounded out the top five at both Wisconsin meets. NC State is also awaiting a breakout performance by North Carolina prep star Nevada Moreno. NC State has currently earned three Kolas points in the TSR projections, and while they’re not projected to need them, they could earn enough points this weekend to secure a spot at Nationals even if they miss the top two at the Southeast Regional meet.
Close behind at TSR#12, the Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame will look to earn their first team title after joining the ACC, while Anna Rohrer looks to return to the top of the podium after winning the meet in 2016. Rohrer finished 17th in a competitive Pre-Nats White race, following close freshman teammate Jacqueline Gaughan. Rachel Dadamio also finished 19th in this race, creating the strongest top three in the league. In fact, that top three doesn’t even include Annie Heffernan who was 1 spot away from an All-American finish in 2016 at 41st. Heffernan won the National Catholic Invitational in early September, but has faltered at Joe Piane and Pre-Nats, falling outside their scoring five. Even after a 4th place finish in the Pre-Nats White race, TSR projects Notre Dame to have only earned 1 KOLAS point from beating Furman. While they do have wins over other projected at-large teams like Washington and Wisconsin, without wins against projected top two teams, Notre Dame is relying on either a push scenario or a favorable at-large ordering to gain points and a spot at Nationals.
An ACC championship win this weekend would help them earn a few more points as they prepare for battle in a deep Great Lakes regional.
The Syracuse women are the next team in the TSR rankings at #22 after an 8th place finish in the Pre-Nats Cardinal race, three spots and 90 points behind NC State. After losing 2017 champion Paige Stoner to graduation, this squad is missing a low-stick, but they have thrived on a strong 1-4 spread. Finding a strong 5th place runner will be key to upsetting Notre Dame or NC State. Much like the Fighting Irish, Syracuse will be relying on a good race since they have 0 Kolas points over projected top two teams, and only one point over an at-large team in Northern Arizona (a team that could easily miss the meet themselves).
Syracuse is projected to finish 2nd in the Northeast and can qualify that way, but securing a few extra KOLAS wins would definitely help their cause. Individually, Madeleine Davison and Laura Dickinson will likely lead the team, but don’t expect a top 10 finish from them. ACC 7th place finisher from last year Shannon Malone has not raced in 2018, but her return would be huge for the Orange.
The final TSR ranked team is the #24 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. After placing 12th at last year's ACC championships, Georgia Tech has to be thrilled that they are ranked. The Yellow Jackets finished a narrow 2nd at the Battle in Beantown behind South region foe Ole Miss and came in 3rd behind Penn State and Michigan State at the Penn State National Open. Senior Mary Prouty has led the team in both races and will be looking to contend for a top finish on the course where she finished 7th earlier this year (Beantown). Freshman Hana Herndon raced alongside Prouty at Penn State and could emerge as the Yellow Jacket’s star for the future. Georgia Tech defeated Syracuse at Beantown, but Friday’s race should be much closer. In terms of NCAA qualifying, Georgia Tech has secured wins over Minnesota and Syracuse, both projected to finish top two of their regions while the Yellow Jackets are also projected to finish top two in the toss-up of the South region with Ole Miss, Florida, and Georgia all contending for automatic berths. If there’s any key to a good race on Friday, it will be securing a strong 5th spot. The gap between #4 and #5 has been manageable so far, but it will need to keep closing as the season continues.
Behind the four ranked teams, there are a number of teams fighting for NCAA qualifying status. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons finished in 7th at Beantown ahead of ACC foes Syracuse and Virginia. The Demon Deacons raced to a disappointing 18th place in the Pre-Nats White Race, but Samantha Halvorsen and Meredith Smith could lead them to an upset over a few teams in Boston.
The aforementioned Virginia Cavaliers are led by freshman Abigail Green who finished 3rd at the Battle in Beantown. Expect her to challenge for a podium placing. Virginia Tech also enters the meet with a front runner in Sara Freix who qualified for the 10k in Eugene earlier this summer.
Also in the Southeast region, the Duke Blue Devils had a strong race at Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational, but will likely not challenge any of the top four teams this weekend.
Finishing a Southeast regional paragraph wouldn’t be appropriate without mentioning Dorcas Wasike and the Louisville Cardinals. Wasike is the clear favorite for the victory after winning the Louisville Classic and finishing 3rd behind only Kelati and Kurgat of New Mexico in Wisconsin for Pre-Nats. Louisville did come out of nowhere to finish 2nd at ACC's last year, but I wouldn’t expect them to finish top 10 on Friday.
The final team to worry about in the team race is Florida State. The Seminoles finished 14th in the Cardinal Race at Pre-Nats and were led by Militsa Mircheva in 19th. She and freshman Elizabeth Funderburk finished 10th and 11th at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational. Those finishes were crucial in defeating Notre Dame by one point when they met earlier this season. While I wouldn’t predict them to challenge the top two here, the Seminoles could surprise with a top three finish with a great race. Florida State has been overlooked in a tight South Region and this race could muddy the waters even more in a region with no clear favorite.
1. Dorcas Wasike (Louisville)
2. Abigail Green (Virginia)
3. Sara Freix (Virginia Tech)
4. Anna Rohrer (Notre Dame)
5. Samantha Halvorsen (Wake Forest)
6. Jacqueline Gaughan (Notre Dame)
7. Rachel Dadamio (Notre Dame)
8. Elly Henes (NC State)
9. Mary Prouty (Georgia Tech)
10. Dominique Clairmonte (NC State)
11. Madeleine Davison (Syracuse)
12. Militsa Mircheva (Florida State)
13. Elizabeth Funderbuck (Florida State)
14. Hana Herndon (Georgia Tech)
15. Laura Dickinson (Syracuse)
16. Nell Crosby (NC State)
17. Mary Malone (Syracuse)
18. Meredith Smith (Wake Forest)
19. Michaela Reinhart (Duke)
20. Annie Heffernan (Notre Dame)
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (63)
2. North Carolina State Wolfpack (84)
3. Syracuse Orange (100)
4. Florida State Seminoles (110)
5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (118)
6. Wake Forest Deacons (152)
7. Duke Blue Devils (156)
Dorcas Wasike is clearly the class of the field and she should win easily. With Virginia and Virginia Tech not in strong contention for a top team finish this year, it should give more freedom for Abigail Green and Sara Freix to break away from the Notre Dame pack. With Anna Rohrer not leading the Irish at Pre-Nats and team glory of utmost importance for them, expect her to stay packed with Gaughan and Dadamio through most of the race.
In the same fashion, expect NC State and Syracuse to stay in a pack through 4k as they attempt to split up the Notre Dame squad in an attempt to salvage as many points as they can. Syracuse could also jump up in the standings if Shannon Malone runs. She was not included in the predictions. Likewise, a breakout race from NC State’s Nevada Moreno could inspire a win from the Wolfpack.
The most intriguing battle is between Syracuse, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. With only an 18 point difference in the projection, 3rd place is truly up for grabs. Although 3rd place at a conference is important on its own, winning this battle is crucial in the NCAA qualifying process for each team. Syracuse would likely earn a Kolas win from at least one of the South region teams, a necessity since they haven’t beaten any potential top two teams yet.
Georgia Tech comes into the meet with two potential wins already and a third would likely secure an at-large bid if they can finish 3rd or 4th in the South. Florida State could benefit the most, placing them in a much better position to qualify. A Notre Dame win would also increase the Irish’s chances of qualifying on their own instead of the projected push scenario, which would secure an additional point for the Seminoles based on their performance at Joe Piane. A 5th place finish this weekend can still be avoided by each team, but I would feel much more comfortable with the extra wins.