One of the deepest regions this fall, the Great Lakes features loads of talent for both teams and individuals. The region includes five teams in the top 15 and seven women in the top 50, including TSR#2 Alicia Monson of Wisconsin.
In the team competition, the Michigan Wolverines are the clear favorites after winning three of four meets this fall, including BIG 10's where they topped three of the ranked Great Lakes teams. Avery Evenson has been the top Wolverine this fall and the addition of freshman Anne Forsyth at BIG 10's added even more depth to the squad. Forsyth looks to be one of the best freshman this season after her 8th place finish at BIG 10's in her cross country debut.
The Wolverines strength this fall has been the depth of their top seven. They do not have the same top talent of teams like Oregon or New Mexico, but they have had an incredible 1-5 spread all season. At most, this gap has been 50 seconds (Pre-Nats) and they have averaged an astonishing 31 seconds over four competitions. The only ranked team from outside the BIG 10 is Notre Dame, but Michigan has already beaten them at Pre-Nats and likely will roll through Great Lakes without much trouble.
Fittingly, “The Great Lakes State” (Michigan) is home to the two best teams in the Great Lakes region. The Michigan State Spartans are coming off a runner-up finish at BIG 10's and are the favorites in a tight race for the second automatic qualifying spot.
Maggie Farrell and Erin McDonald have been a strong 1-2 for the Spartans this season. At BIG 10's, they were the only teammates besides Evenson and Forsyth to finish in the top eight and will be looking to repeat that performance at regionals. Possibly the most impressive takeaway from BIG 10's was how close the fifth and sixth Spartans finished. The pair finished 27th and 29th and both were ahead of every team’s fifth runner (except Michigan). Similar to the Wolverines, the Spartans rely heavily on the depth of their squad which should benefit them at regionals.
Unlike other regions, the Great Lakes features more team depth than individual talent, so the benefit of low-sticks only goes so far. Being able to win the head-to-head battles for the 3-4-5 runners will be where the race is won and lost at this meet. Luckily, for teams like Michigan and Michigan State, they have shown that depth is their strong suit. While it helps to have talent up-front (which the Spartans do), their depth should put them ahead of the other ranked teams who will be close on their heels.
One team looking for revenge after BIG 10's will be the Wisconsin Badgers. They finished only 14 points behind Michigan State and that was with a rough day for Alissa Niggemann. It is hard to say how good Wisconsin really is as they have been somewhat inconsistent this season. At Nuttycombe, both Lucinda Crouch and Niggemann finished well behind the third Badger, and then at Pre-Nats, Alicia Monson tempoed the race to finish 33rd when she would have been top five otherwise. Based on performances this season, Wisconsin should be right with Michigan State if everyone performs to their potential, but thus far, this has not happened in the same race.
Monson is the favorite for the individual title while Shaelyn Sorensen and Amy Davis should be the second and third Badgers behind her. If Crouch and Niggemann both run to their potential, Wisconsin should be in the mix with Michigan and Michigan State. Otherwise, expect them to finish around 3rd and 4th.
Indiana will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing finish at BIG 10's. Katherine Receveur and Margaret Allen have been a strong duo up-front, finishing 6th and 9th respectively at the conference meet. After them, the Hoosiers fell off hard.
Indiana’s next runner was 28th, at minimum five places behind the fourth runner of the top four teams. At Nuttycombe and Pre-Nats (both much deeper fields), the Hoosiers kept the 2-3 gap to at most 28 seconds. In a smaller BIG 10 field, this gap was 31 seconds. Given the majority of the Great Lakes competition will be identical to BIG 10's, the 3-4-5 Hoosiers will need to close this gap for the team to challenge for 2nd.
Realistically, Indiana will only need a top five finish to qualify for NCAA's after a series of strong performances this season. However, placing within the top three would give them added momentum going into Nationals.
One name to keep an eye out for is Sarah Schmitt. She was the third Hoosier at Nuttycombe, but has since been absent from the lineup. If she comes back, she could help bridge the 2-3 gap for Indiana. However, given that she has not raced since September, it seems unlikely that she will reappear at regionals.
The only ranked team from outside the BIG 10 is Notre Dame. The Irish have been consistently improving all season and despite the absence of Annie Heffernan, the team comes into the regional meet ranked TSR#12.
Per usual, Anna Rohrer is the team’s number one runner, but two of her teammates are close behind. Freshman phenom Jacqueline Gaughan has been huge for Notre Dame this fall, finishing in their top three at every competition thus far. She was their top runner at Pre-Nats and finished as their third at ACC's, right behind teammate Rachel DaDamio. Speaking of DaDamio, she has been the other Irish runner near the front this fall. Between ACC's and Pre-Nats, Notre Dame's top three have been under 19 seconds apart and in the top 20 at both meets.
Notre Dame’s biggest issue this season has been their lack of a fifth runner. At ACC's, their fifth was 24 places off their fourth, and the ACC is not particularly deep from a team perspective. The top Great Lakes teams all have solid depth and Notre Dame will have a hard time challenging them if they cannot close their 4-5 gap.
Unless of these five ranked teams completely tank, they should all be headed to NCAA's. Due to all of these teams qualifying, the individual race could have women finishing between 10th and 20th and still qualifying for NCAA's.
As far as the individual title, Alicia Monson is the clear favorite after winning three meets this season. Her only “loss” was when she ran Pre-Nats as a workout, but otherwise she has remained unbeaten. At the first big meet of the season, Monson took down reigning NCAA champion Ednah Kurgat and current TSR#1 Weini Kelati. At BIG 10's, Monson easily ran away from Aubrey Roberts over the last kilometer, showing that she can win regardless of if the race starts quick or turns into a sit-and-kick battle. It is hard to see anyone beating Monson as she has already defeated everyone in the field at some point this season (with the exception of Anna Rohrer).
Rohrer technically beat Monson at Pre-Nats, but that was the race Monson used as a workout. Sure, Rohrer has been one of the nation's best runners in previous years, but this season she has not looked quite the same and likely would not have beat Monson in a competitive scenario. That, however, is not to say that Rohrer has performed poorly this season. In fact, she has been near the front of all of her races, most recently finishing 3rd at ACC's. In 2016, Rohrer finished 3rd at NCAA's, placing 1st or 2nd at every meet leading up to Nationals. However, in 2015, she had similar results to this fall before eventually placing runner-up at regionals and 6th at NCAA's. Rohrer is too talented to count out (especially given her history), but unless she really puts things together, beating Monson likely will not happen.
Avery Evenson has been near the front of every race this fall, but has not ever truly been in contention for a win. At BIG 10's she was 3rd, but was 14 seconds out of 2nd and did not go with Roberts and Monson when they broke open the race. While Evenson has a string off good performances this fall, she seems to race with Michigan’s team performance ahead of her own. Racing risky could put her up with Monson and Rohrer, but if she deems it too dangerous, she’ll likely run within her limits to pull the Wolverines to the team title.
While it is hard to see anyone besides Monson or Rohrer winning, there are quite a few other women who should be close behind. Maggie Farrell and Erin McDonald of Michigan State have been contending for wins all season and will be running with the knowledge that the Spartans are heavily relying on them. Rohrer’s teammate Jacqueline Gaughan has beaten her once this season and will surely be in the mix from the gun. Of course, the Hoosier duo of Katherine Receveur and Margaret Allen will also make their presence felt. Both have been running strong all fall and Indiana will need great runs from them with the uncertainty surrounding their other runners.
All of these women should be somewhere near the front of the race, but the craziest part might be that none of them will likely take the individual qualifying spots. Remember that individual qualifiers must not be on a qualifying team AND finish in the top 25 overall. With how strong the top teams in the region are, there is no guarantee four women will make it individually. So who has the best chance?
Athena Walsh of Toledo looks to be the best runner not on any of the top teams. Her most impressive finish this season came at the Bradley Pink Classic where she finished 2nd behind Iowa State star Callie Logue. She has won three smaller Ohio meets this fall and is coming off a runner-up finish at the MAC Championships. Last fall she was 17th at this meet and if she can better that this year, she should be on her way to NCAA's.
Rachel Walny of Bowling Green comes into this meet with very similar credentials to Walsh. Walny finished 3rd at both the MAC championships and the Bradley Pink Classic. She was also only two places behind Walsh at this meet last year, finishing in 19th. Walny had a great race earlier this fall at the Louisville Classic where she finished 6th right behind Michigan’s Avery Evenson. If she runs similar to that performance on Friday, she should also grab a national qualifier.
Emily Stoodley is the number one runner on Ohio State and could be looking for a qualifying spot after a solid run at BIG 10's where she finished 25th. Last fall, she was 30th at this meet and would have to improve at least five places if she hopes to qualify this year. She has looked solid in 2018 with a 45th place finish at Pre-Nats, but it will be a tall order to break into the top 25 in a region that is deeper than BIG 10's (when you add in Notre Dame).
Natalie Cizmas was only 40th here last fall, but appears to be much improved this year. The Eastern Michigan senior is coming off a win at the MAC Championships and also owns a 20th place finish at Pre-Nats from October. In that race, she finished just two places behind Anna Rohrer and if she can be anywhere near her this Friday, she should be in good position to qualify for Nationals.
1. Michigan Wolverines
2. Wisconsin Badgers
3. Michigan State Spartans
4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
5. Indiana Hoosiers
1. Alicia Monson (Wisconsin)
2. Katherine Receveur (Indiana)
3. Anna Rohrer (Notre Dame)
4. Maggie Farrell (Michigan State)
5. Natalie Cizmas (Eastern Michigan)
6. Avery Evenson (Michigan)
7. Anne Forsyth (Michigan)
8. Margaret Allen (Indiana)
9. Jacqueline Gaughan (Notre Dame)
10. Amy Davis (Wisconsin)