Joe Piane Preview (Women)

Here we go! The Joe Piane Invitational, hosted by Notre Dame, is by far one of the most stacked races that I have seen so far this season. On the women’s side, 11 of the 24 teams competing are ranked in the coaches poll and there are countless individuals who could sweep in and take the crown.

I’m not saying that other meets this season are to be disregarded. However, the 2019 Joe Piane Invitational is the place to be this weekend.

The Team Race

Attending Teams: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Boston College, Bradley, Colorado, Colorado State, Florida State, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, NC State, New Mexico, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Purdue, Southern Utah, Utah, Utah Valley, Washington, Weber State, Wisconsin.

Wow. With numerous top-ranked teams heading to South Bend this weekend, the Joe Piane Blue Race will not disappoint. Colorado and New Mexico are highlighting this race as two of the three favorites vying for NCAA dominance this season. The Buffaloes and Lobos have not raced since late August/early September, so we will finally be able to see what these teams are made of after some tough training blocks.

Colorado last competed at the Wyoming Invite and placed 2nd to Colorado State. Holly Bent and Annie Hill led the team with their 1-2 finish. Colorado would’ve won the meet if Sage Hurta and Tabor Scholl had raced in uniform, but remember, this was just a chance for Coach Wetmore to see what type of shape his athletes were in and where their training needed to go before the big meets. That wasn't necessarily a race they were trying to win...

Colorado should see Hurta and Scholl in uniform this weekend, as well as star transfers Emily Venters and Rachel McArthur. We also can't forget about true freshman Emily Covert, a top recruit for Colorado. Covert, Venters, and McArthur could be what the Buffaloes need this fall after graduating a handful of All-american individuals from last year's NCAA title team. This will be our first look into what kind of impact they could potentially have on this group.

New Mexico, however, won’t make it easy for Colorado this weekend. The Lobos return Weini Kelati, Ednah Kurgat, and Adva Cohen after a strong 2018 campaign. Cohen will not be racing this weekend since she recently competed in Doha at the World Track Championships.

Kelati is the favorite for the individual NCAA title this fall and will look to prove that this weekend, for she is not one to hold back in these types of races. Meanwhile, Kurgat will be on somewhat of a “redemption tour” this fall after not having a stellar outdoor track season.

The only question surrounding New Mexico is their depth. With Adva Cohen out of the lineup, the Lobos will need to rely on their back end scorers to keep them competitive. That could leave them vulnerable to an upset if they aren't able to fill the gaps.

Washington is another team to keep an eye on this weekend. At the John McNichols Invite, the Huskies placed 3rd overall and were led by freshman Melany Smart’s 5th place finish. Washington had a 45 second time spread among their top five scorers at that meet. Much like New Mexico, they'll need to have the bottom half of their varsity lineup minimize that time spread on Friday. Luckily, they still haven't debuted their newest weapon: Haley Herberg. The Oklahoma transfer could make things very interesting for the Huskies this weekend if she runs.

Between Smart, Herberg, and veterans Katie Rainsberger and Lilli Burdon, it's tough to see the Washington women struggling at this meet. They have all of the right pieces to do something special come Friday afternoon.

And how about NC State? They have yet to race their full roster this fall, but that hasn’t stopped Elly Henes and Kelsey Chmiel. The Wolfpack duo finished 1-2 at the Adidas XC Challenge a few weeks ago and were closely followed by unattached teammates Julia Zachgo and Samantha Bush. If Zachgo and Bush race this weekend in uniform, big things could happen for the Wolfpack. NC State would also benefit from the addition of Dominique Clairmonte and Nevada Mareno back in their lineup. There is a lot of potential upside for this team and they could easily sneak up on other top programs.

The Badgers of Wisconsin have not raced their top athletes this fall, specifically Alicia Monson, Amy Davis, and Alissa Niggemann. Joe Piane should see the return of these top ladies as the Badgers will finally get the chance to compete against some of the best in the nation. With veteran scorers up front and a handful of exciting young recruits supporting the second half of their lineup, the Lady Badgers could have the perfect formula for an upset win if everything goes right for them.

Notre Dame will be racing on their home course this weekend and will be led by distance stars Anna Rohrer and Jacqueline Gaughan. Rohrer and Gaughan are both very capable of finishing inside the top 15 on Friday and will try to lead their team to a top five finish in a deep field. Maddy Denner will likely be a very solid scoring option at the #3 spot, but the back end of this lineup is what leaves us with questions.

Ole Miss does not necessarily have one standout leader, but rather a strong pack that moves well together. Clio Ozanne-Jaques should be using Joe Piane as her season debut and could validate herself as the low-stick we think she can be. The Rebels could be a surprise team this weekend if their depth doesn't get buried in such a large field.

Other teams to watch include: Iowa State, Florida State, North Carolina, Utah, and Indiana

The Individual Race

Guess who’s back?

That’s right, Weini Kelati is back.

The last time Kelati toed the line against collegiate competition, she won her first national title on the track in the 10,000 meters. Kelati will be after her first cross country title this fall after placing 2nd at the national meet last year. She is not afraid to take the race out fast and throw in surges to break her competition before taking off late in the race. Kelati is the favorite this weekend and her accolades speak for themselves.

Kelati’s teammate Ednah Kurgat is another runner who we can expect to be near the front of the race. Kurgat was the cross country national champion in 2017 and is surely trying to repeat that performance this fall. Kurgat has the potential to win, but she needs to prove that after a rough finish to her outdoor track season.

Anna Rohrer is back for her final season with Notre Dame and will start her 2019 campaign on her home course which could give her an advantage. Rohrer placed 3rd at this meet last fall and will look to take the crown for the Fighting Irish this weekend in what is undoubtedly a stronger field than we saw last year. She placed 6th in the 10k at the NCAA Outdoor Championships this past spring and after a strong summer of training, Rohrer should be ready to take on one more fall of competition.

Alicia Monson of Wisconsin had an amazing fall and winter during the 2018-2019 academic year, throwing down monster times and headlining major meets/invitationals. Her 4th place finish at NCAA's in 2018 has everyone wondering what she will do in 2019. As long as Monson is healthy, the Wisconsin ace could be in a position to contend for the national title a month and a half from now. The match-up we see between her and the New Mexico duo this weekend could be a preview of what we see in November.

NC State’s Elly Henes is another runner to keep an eye on in South Bend. Henes easily won the Adidas XC Challenge by 11 seconds earlier this season and is coming off of an outdoor track season where she ran a new personal best of 15:31 for 5000 meters (unattached). Henes is one of the most underrated women's distance runners in the country and she'll have a chance to prove that she is just as good as anyone else tomorrow afternoon.

The Colorado trio of Sage Hurta and Tabor Scholl are two runners that you need to pay special attention to. Hurta and Scholl raced unattached at their first meet, but should be in uniform this weekend to bring key scoring potency to the Buffaloes' lineup. Hurta recently enjoyed a track season where she competed unattached and ran PR's from the 800 to the 5k. She will most likely be the one to fill the missing spot left by Dani Jones.

As for Scholl, she had a breakout season last fall which resulted in a 15th place finish at NCAA's. Scholl was on fire during the track seasons, running personal best after personal best. She will look to translate her recent success to the grass in (what should be) her season debut at Notre Dame.

Of course, if we're going to mention established veteran stars, then we can't forget to talk about Katie Rainsberger. The Washington senior finished 8th at the John McNichols Invite and should do extremely well in tomorrow's race. She often thrives in the postseason, so a larger field like this shouldn't rattle the experienced distance standout.

Rainsberger's teammate Melany Smart broke onto the scene at the John McNichols Invite two weeks ago, establishing herself as the new face of UW distance running for the next few years. She will be joined by fellow freshman Kelsey Chmiel of NC State, someone who many believe could be the missing piece that puts the Wolfpack on the podium this fall. In a field crowded with veterans, these two young stars have the potential to make things exciting with electric performances.

Those are the runners who we will be watching this weekend, but there are still plenty of other women to watch, including: Cailie Logue (Iowa State), Bailey Hertenstein (Indiana), Lilli Burdon (Washington), Alison Pray (SUU), Emily Venters (Colorado), Emily Covert (Colorado), Rachel McArthur (Colorado), Dominique Clairmonte (NC State), and Lexi Thompson (Weber State).

Grab your popcorn, this is going to be fun.