First Thoughts: Pre-Nats (Women)

Katrina Robinson is the real deal

This Razorback freshman is really good. She came in having won the Chile Pepper Festival (largely uncontested) and was 8th at Nuttycombe. This weekend eliminated any doubt on how good she really is with her runner-up finish behind 1500 meter national champion Jessica Hull. She continues to progress at each meet and appears to be headed for a top 10 finish at Nationals if this trend continues.

Indiana just keeps getting better

Two weeks ago, the Hoosiers surprised some people by running better than expected at Nuttycombe. This week they did it again, finishing 3rd behind Arkansas and Oregon.

Katherine Receveur was 15th and there’s reason to think that she could move up at some point given how well she ran on the track. The big surprise this fall has been senior Margaret Allen. She was only 137th at NCAA's last fall, but finished 18th at Nuttycombe and now 20th this weekend. She has been vital in Indiana’s success this fall by providing another low-stick next to Receveur. In my mind, she has potential to be an All-American this fall.

The Hoosiers looked very strong through five, with all of their scorers placing within the top 55 spots. The only reason for concern is after number five, their next runner was 134th, not nearly good enough for a team looking to break into the NCAA top ten nationally. Either way, Indiana has been consistently fast this season and should challenge Michigan in the Great Lakes region.

Did New Mexico finally find a fifth?

The Lobos looked much better this time around at Wisconsin, winning the White race with 67 points, almost half of runner-up Michigan’s total. Their top three scored a combined 12 points going 1-2-9, identical to their Nuttycombe total.

The difference makers this meet were the big jumps by their fourth fifth scorers. Adva Cohen seemed much more comfortable in her second Division 1 race, finishing just behind Prouse in 14th. With this kind of performance, she appears to be ready to fill the shoes of Alice Wright and give the Lobos the best front-four in the country.

The biggest change from Nuttycombe to now is that New Mexico may have finally found a fifth. Junior Hannah Nuttall was 41st, 44 places higher than their fifth at Nuttycombe. While this race was arguably a slightly weaker field, it wasn’t 44 places weaker. Nuttall doesn’t need to be an All-American for New Mexico to win NCAA's, she just needs to be consistent presence behind their top four. Keep in mind when they won the title last fall, their final scorer placed 85th.

Michigan doesn’t mind competition

After winning their first two meets with minimal competition, the Wolverines appeared unphased this weekend and continued to pack-run their way onto the podium. They had the best 1-7 spread of any team, in either race, finishing 8th and 59th respectively.

The biggest surprise from their performance was how good their frontrunners are. Avery Evenson and Hannah Meier placed 8th and 12th, finishing around runners who were All-Americans last fall. These two are shaping up to be low-sticks which is essential if Michigan want to contend for a top five finish at NCAA's.

Is Stanford better than New Mexico?

Yes, I realize that Stanford was 3rd and that New Mexico won. Yes, I also realize New Mexico scored essentially half of what Stanford did. Yes, I think Stanford still might be better.

First, the Stanford duo of Cranny and O’Keefe ran right with Kelati and Kurgat (1-2 vs 4-5). Sure, the Lobos edged them by six points, but it’s not a deal breaker when you have to score three more runners.

Second, Stanford held out their (likely) 3-4-5 in Christina Aragon, Courtney Smith, and Ella Donaghu. Smith is a former XC All-American, Donaghu was 69th at the national meet as a freshman, and Aragon has been running with Cranny and O’Keefe this season. Jessica Lawson was Stanford’s third at Pre-Nats, finishing in 25th. Realistically, all three of those women that I just mentioned should be ahead of her (assuming they're healthy). If everything comes together for the ladies in Palo Alto, Stanford should be right there with New Mexico come November.

With a competitive Pac-12 meet coming up, it’s hard to see Stanford keeping this group out of their lineup. A full squad could provide a real challenge to New Mexico if all of their runners are healthy in the postseason.

Wisconsin’s success depends on Monson

The Badgers finished 6th at Nuttycombe in a deeper field than what we saw this past weekend. At Pre-Nats, Wisconsin was once again 6th, but finished behind three programs who are (currently) ranked behind them. The difference? Monson was 1st at Nuttycombe and 33rd at Pre-Nats.

Monson shouldn’t be expected to win every race, but if she had finished 10th at Pre-Nats, then the Badgers place 4th in the team standings and beat both Notre Dame and Washington. Monson’s performance at Nuttycombe was definitely a breakthrough race that she likely won’t replicate every week, but based on her track season she should be a top 20 runner come NCAA's.

In a loaded Great Lakes region, Wisconsin will need her to be more consistent if they want to qualify for the Big Dance. Keep in mind that they’ll be competing with Indiana (3rd in the Cardinal race), Michigan (2nd in the White race), Notre Dame (5th in the White), and Michigan State (2nd at Penn State Open). The Badgers should still qualify, but they appear to be making an already stacked region even more interesting…

The South region fell apart

This was the first year in a long time where it seemed like the South might send more than two teams to NCAA's. After this weekend, that looks a lot less likely. Three of the top four regionally ranked teams raced at Pre-Nats, and only Georgia (barely) cracked the top 10.

Ole Miss and Florida State were in the Cardinal race where they finished 12th and 14th. Ole Miss came in ranked 22nd and were beaten by three unranked teams (along with Colorado’s "B" team). Florida State was coming off a 3rd place finish at Joe Piane where they beat TSR#19 Notre Dame. They looked less than impressive this weekend and not beating any ranked teams will make it hard for them to get out of their region if they don’t manage a top two finish.

Georgia had the best performance of the three, finishing 9th in the White race. Another week has passed and All-American Samantha Drop still has yet to run, leaving doubt that she’ll race at all this season. Without her, the Bulldogs are a completely different team and are likely to struggle throughout the rest of the season.

There’s still plenty of time for these teams to rebound, but without beating ranked teams this weekend, the odds of three programs exiting this region is growing slim. Georgia Tech looked strong after placing 3rd at Penn State. They are the current team to beat in the South.

Quick Takes

Below are a few highlights from Pre-Nats that shouldn’t go unsaid, but don’t need an entire section...

● Another meet has gone by and Lilli Burdon has yet to run. Will Washington hold her out the entire year?

● Weini Kelati may be the new NCAA favorite after finishing 2nd at Nuttycombe and then dominating the White race this weekend. She won by 12 seconds and ran 30 seconds faster than the winner of the Cardinal race (Jessica Hull)

● Aubrey Roberts from Northwestern should no longer be overlooked after finishing 3rd in the Cardinal race.

● The Hasz twins of Minnesota are the new fastest-sister duo in the NCAA. Last fall, the Drop twins from Georgia were both All-Americans, but Samantha Drop has yet to race this season. Bethany Hasz was 5th and Megan Hasz was 14th in the Cardinal race.

● The former cross country superstar Anna Rohrer continues to struggle this season, finishing only 17th.

● Jessica Hull was the biggest surprise of the weekend, winning the individual title in the Cardinal race.