Unlike the men, last fall was an unpredictable one for women's cross country. It truly felt like three to four teams from last year's national meet had a chance of walking away with the win if everything went their way.
In 2019, that narrative isn't too different, although the changes will be widespread.
I feel obligated to talk about the Colorado Buffaloes first after they a) won the national title last fall and b) secured the two top-tier transfers last month. The Buffs lose four of their six All-Americans (Jones, Morley, Tuttle, and Constien), but will have the opportunity to boast four potential All-Americans this fall between Tabor Scholl, Sage Hurta, Emily Venters, and Rachel McArthur. With incoming recruit Emily Covert (4th at NXN) entering the program, the Buffaloes have a very good chance at repeating.
The only uncertainty we have with Colorado is their depth. Not because the backend of their lineup is expected to be bad, but because we don't know who will fill those final spots (mainly because the rest of last year's varsity lineup was winning a national title and earning six First-Team All-American honors).
Can Colorado defend their title from last year? Absolutely. But, even with four potential All-Americans, they aren't totally safe.
When you talk about Colorado, you also need to talk about New Mexico, the powerhouse program that has dominated the NCAA rankings for the past few years. TSR has been able to confirm that the Lobos will be bringing back Ednah Kurgat who will finish up her final season of eligibility this fall. With a key low-stick staying in the lineup, Coach Franklin's squad still has a chance of bringing NCAA gold back to Albuquerque.
The problem, however, is that the Lobos lose their #3 (Charlotte Prouse) from last year's lineup which is a huge blow considering she finished 9th overall at last year's national meet. The team will also lose their fifth scorer Emily Martin who finished 55th at the 2018 championships.
We should note that rising sophomore Olivia O'Keeffe is transferring from Washington to New Mexico, so at the very least, she could fill the hole left by Martin.
Depth was a concern for New Mexico last year and it will continue to be a major roadblock for this team even if Adva Cohen and Olivia O'Keeffe show significant improvement. Still, that overwhelming firepower makes them too scary to ignore.
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What about Oregon? They were on the podium last fall, but don't expect that to be the case in 2019. The Ducks lose three All-Americans plus their #5 and #6 scorers from last year's national meet. The transfer of D2 All-American Aneta Konieczek will help keep the team afloat, but a ton of scoring in every part of last year's lineup is no longer available.
However, last year's 4th place team behind Oregon has a very different situation on their hand. Although the Michigan women lose a key veteran leader in Avery Everson, as well as Hannah Meier and Claire Borchers, this team will still be a difficult to beat.
Last year's team had a unique mix of youth and experience. Surprisingly, it was the younger women who thrived at the national meet as freshman Camilie Davre finished 29th while fellow first-year Anne Forsyth placed 46th. With a year of experience under their belts, these two women could end up leading a very underrated squad that includes rising senior Anna West and rising sophomore Jessi Larson.
But it doesn't stop there. Big Blue will also have the luxury of bringing in Ericka VanderLende (a 9:53 two miler and 16:20 5k runner) to the program. If VanderLende can replicate what Forsyth and Davre did last fall, then Colorado might not have such an easy path to the national title.
Speaking of national title threats, we haven't even mentioned BYU. The Lady Cougars bring back their ENTIRE top seven from last year's championship meet which includes All-American stars Erica Birk and Courtney Wayment. And the best part? The bottom four runners of their varsity seven from last year's team were inexperienced underclassmen.
With a year of postseason experience under their belts, the women from BYU have a chance to make some serious noise. Still, they will need to tweak a few things. They need another All-American low-stick to complement to Birk and Wayment while also having the collective backend of their lineup making notable improvements. It won't be an easy task, but last year's 7th place team could end up hoisting a trophy this fall if everything goes right for them.
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What should we expect from Stanford this year? Admittedly, the loss of Elise Cranny will be a tough pill to swallow, especially since she was such a consistently strong, elite-level low-stick for the Cardinal last year. Yet, much like BYU, the Stanford women can take solace in the fact that their team is growing another year older. Last year's lineup from Nationals included three sophomores and one freshman. That inexperienced showed on the big stage outside of then-sophomore Jessica Lawson.
And sure, bringing back of a ton of maturing scorers is a great thing. However, the real appeal lies with women like Ella Donaghu and Christina Aragon who were absent from last year's lineup. If these women are healthy, they could give Stanford the necessary push they need to compete with the nation's top programs.
Let's quickly transition to another school out west.
I don't want to spend much time on Boise State, mainly because I don't feel like we need to. They lose Alexis Fuller who was a nice option at the #3 or #4 spot of their lineup, but the Broncos are traditionally deep enough to cover losses like those.
The catch, however, is that they also lose the aforementioned All-American Emily Venters who is transferring to Colorado. Clare O'Brien is a great low-stick threat in her own right, but without another All-American caliber woman to flank Ostrander, I'm not sure I see this team finishing inside the top five at NCAA's this year.
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Catch your breath, we're only halfway done.
There is so much talent on the women's side this year that I nearly forgot about Arkansas.
The Razorback women are going to be absolutely LETHAL this year despite a miserable performance at last year's national meet. Katrina Robinson struggled a bit at NCAA's last year, (finishing 41st overall), but she looked like a legitimate threat to win the individual title at certain points during the 2018 regular season. With a phenomenal supporting cast that includes Werner, Viljoen, and Gregory, it's hard to think that Arkansas won't be in the discussion to win it all this year. They only lose Sydney Brown, meaning that most of this team will be hungry to avenge their sub-par performance from Nationals last year.
Much like Wisconsin on the men's side, I really don't know what to think about Notre Dame this year mainly because there are so many unknowns. We should assume Anna Rohrer is coming back to finish up her eligibility, right? Who will replace All-American Jessica Harris? Will it be last year's standout freshman Jacqueline Gaughan who (in all fairness) was often the #2 scorer for the Irish throughout last year?
What will have a greater impact? The growth of the two sophomores? Or the departure of the two seniors from last year's lineup?
Where does Maddy Denner fit in all of this?
Lot of questions.
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Need a sleeper pick for the podium this fall? Make sure to look at NC State. They lose a key supporting scorer in Nell Crosby, but they don't lose anyone else from last year's top seven other than her.
Still, even the departure of Crosby shouldn't be an issue.
Why? Because they now have Nevada Moreno on the squad after she transferred from Stanford earlier last year. With Moreno seemingly healthy and (hopefully?) happy, the Wolfpack could end up doing some serious damage, especially with a star ace like Elly Henes leading the way.
Of course, if we talk about NC State's roster structure, we also need to talk about Wisconsin's. The Badgers bring back a quietly strong lineup which includes key low-sticks Alicia Monson and Amy Davis. Alissa Niggemann is showing encouraging development and rising sophomore Lucinda Crouch showed flashes of promise last year after placing 21st at the BIG 10 Championships. Despite graduating Shaelyn Sorensen, the women from Madison, Wisconsin should be able to rally and hold their own this fall.
The last team I want to discuss at length is the Washington Huskies who should also enter 2019 in a very favorable position. However, they will be losing Olivia O'Keeffe who is transferring to New Mexico. Losing O'Keeffe, as well as supporting scorer Emily Hamlin, certainly doesn't help the Seattle-based squad.
Still, they'll end up returning two veterans in Rainsberger and Burdon who will be supported by a rising junior and two rising sophomores. It won't be perfect, but they'll get through this season just fine.
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Alright, a few quick side notes before I go on for any longer...
- Portland: They lose five seniors...even for an established program like Portland, I don't know how confident I feel about them rebounding in 2019.
- Oklahoma State: They'll always be in the national qualifying conversation no matter who they graduate. The Lady Pokes will be competitive this year, but how much of their success on the track can they translate to cross country?
- Penn State: The Nittany Lions lose only one woman from last year's team at Nationals...and it was their #7 woman. They didn't have a great showing at the 2018 national meet, but that was mainly due to their youth. Don't sleep on Julia Paternain or her teammates this fall.
- Michigan State: Losing Erin McDonald is not easy to overcome, especially when you consider how much scoring potency she brought to the table. That, however, is counteracted by the fact that they lose no one else. The Spartans will still be very competitive, but who will complement Annie Fuller at the top of the lineup?
- Iowa State: This will now be their second cross country season removed from the departure of Coach Andrea Grove-McDonough. With three seniors no longer in the lineup (including All-American Anne Frisbie), how will this team respond when they end up toeing the line in October and November?
- Indiana: I really want to like the Hoosiers, but they lose their top two runners and their #5 scorer. I trust that they can put together a semi-respectable lineup, but this might end up being a tough year for Indiana who will have to face BIG 10 rivals Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan likely more than once.
- Florida: After such a phenomenal breakout season last fall, it is hard to dislike Florida. They return their star low-stick in Jessica Pascoe, but they'll need some help after losing underrated scorers such as Morgan Hull and Caitlin McQuilkin-Bell. Luckily, the rest of the top seven from last year was young and will likely improve over time.