A classic article series that we like to do at The Stride Report is called "Gauging Impact" where we evaluate how transfers could impact both their new and old teams. However, just for a few names today, we're adding a bit of a twist...
Hannah Steelman: Bigger Gain for NC State or Bigger Hurdle for Stanford?
In this instance, you would usually expect us to ask whether or not Steelman's transfer was a bigger gain for NC State or a greater loss for the Wofford women. However, it seems safe to say that the NC State women got the most out of the Steelman transfer.
But one topic that has been far more difficult to agree upon this offseason has been figuring out which women's team is the national title favorite for the upcoming cross country season: Stanford or NC State?
So instead of comparing Steelman's old team with her new team, we opted to change our line of questioning. Does Steelman's transfer to NC State help the Wolfpack's national title chances more than it hurts the Cardinal's national title chances? Or vice versa? Let's take a look...
First off, we understand that the prospects for a 2020 cross country season this fall don't look great, but let's just pretend that everything is totally normal and that competition will go on as planned.
Both Stanford and NC State lose key low-sticks from the 2019 cross country season. The Wolfpack will be without Elly Henes while Stanford will no longer have Fiona O'Keeffe.
Stanford, however, already has key experienced low-stick replacements in Ella Donaghu and Jessica Lawson while NC State has a less experienced (but accomplished) returner in Kelsey Chmiel and an unproven (but extremely promising) incoming freshman in Katelyn Tuohy.
When you compared NC State to Stanford, it's fair to suggest that the Wolfpack absolutely needed a veteran like Steelman to run alongside a very young group. Not only does she offer incredible value from a scoring perspective, but she simply adds stability and consistency to the top of this lineup that wasn't guaranteed to be there in March.
Stanford still has the necessary low-sticks to match whatever NC State's best runners throw at them. However, bringing in someone like Steelman -- who seemingly holds less uncertainty than some of these younger runners -- is exactly what the Wolfpack needed after losing a critical scoring piece like Elly Henes.
Final Verdict: Bigger Gain for NC State
Aubrey Roberts: Bigger Gain for Stanford or Bigger Hurdle for NC State?
Hannah Steelman's decision to join the NC State women earlier this year sent shockwaves throughout the rest of the NCAA. The Wolfpack were already bringing in an elite recruiting class, but were now adding a true low-stick to their team as well.
Many fans of the sport quickly declared that the women from Raleigh, North Carolina were the preseason title favorites (and understandably so). However, that narrative was challenged once Stanford announced the addition of graduate transfer Aubrey Roberts.
The former Northwestern runner owns a personal best of 15:32 for 5000 meters (indoors) and finished 18th at the 2018 NCAA XC Championships almost two years ago. After she was rumored to be battling/managing injuries throughout the 2019-2020 academic calendar, Roberts ultimately decided to take her talents to Palo Alto in an effort to finish her eligibility.
The decision to join the Cardinal gives us a lot to unpack. The Stanford women already have two elite front-runners on their team (Donaghu and Lawson), but Roberts feels like an ideal replacement for Fiona O'Keeffe -- Stanford's top runner in 2019 who finished in 27th place at the national meet last fall despite dealing with a back injury.
Roberts perfectly bridges the gap between Stanford's elite top two and the rest of their lineup which is scattered with fringe All-American talents such as Jordan Oakes, Abi Archer, Julia Heymach and incoming freshman Zofia Dudek.
Simply put, Roberts feels like the missing piece of the puzzle who gives Stanford a complete varsity lineup that is balanced with firepower and depth.
If Roberts is healthy and eventually reaches her prime once again (which is easier said than done), then the women of NC State could theoretically run into issues. Even with Hannah Steelman, Katelyn Tuohy and Kelsey Chmiel on their squad, there is a reality where Stanford puts three women ahead of NC State's top scorer.
In that instance, depth and a good time-spread become wildly important for NC State.
There is likely an argument where Stanford could have won the cross country national title without Roberts. However, her introduction to the program seemingly makes the new low-sticks for NC State less potent in a side-by-side comparison of the two lineups.
Final Verdict: Bigger Hurdle for NC State
Isaac Harding: Bigger Gain for GVSU or Bigger Loss for Michigan?
When it comes to cross country, the Michigan men have been headlined by the likes of Devin Meyrer and Jack Aho -- two All-Americans who helped Big Blue finish 7th as a team at the national meet last fall.
However, one of the more underrated members of that squad was Isaac Harding who finished 44th at the 2019 NCAA XC Championships and owns a personal best of 14:07 for 5000 meters.
It is important to note that Harding's departure from Michigan wasn't exactly a surprise for the men from Ann Arbor. The soon-to-be Laker opted to take his talents to Grand Valley State since Michigan did not offer his desired graduate program (Physical Therapy).
Harding was an extremely underrated piece for Michigan last year. He acted as a consistent middle-lineup scorer who bridged the gap between the team's top two and the rest of their top seven during the postseason. He was nearly an All-American last year and likely could have contested for a top-40 finish in November.
In an alternate world where Michigan offered the graduate program that Harding was looking for, it feels safe to say that he could have given Michigan plenty of reliable scoring consistency, veteran experience and low-stick potential. That, however, is no longer the case. Instead, Michigan will need to find a suitable top seven replacement if they want to contend for a top-four team finish at the National Championships (whether that be this year or in 2021).
Despite the tough (but expected) loss for Michigan, the gain for Grand Valley State is massive. As soon as the 2019 D2 NCAA XC Championships ended last fall, it became clear that the men of Colorado Mines were going to be the easy favorites to take home the national title yet again in 2020.
However, Grand Valley State has made some significant additions since then. Enael Woldemichael -- who finished 6th at the 2018 cross country national meet -- returned to action this past winter after an extended hiatus and was nationally competitive throughout the 2020 indoor track season. The Lakers also brought in Colin DeYoung, the 2018 NAIA cross country national champion who owns a personal best of 14:13 for 5000 meters.
When you pair Harding with those two men and a plethora of top returners from last year's team (which includes three All-Americans), it becomes increasingly more difficult to say that Colorado Mines is the preseason favorite with absolute certainty.
Harding gives GVSU over-the-top scoring potency and a likely All-American who could even contend for a top-10 finish at the D2 National Championships. The Orediggers of Colorado Mines have plenty of depth, but GVSU may have the necessary firepower to contend for NCAA gold.