TSR's 2020 Rankings Update #1: D2 XC Top 10 Teams (Women)

Written by John Cusick + Eric Baranoski

The Stride Report has opted to only rank teams that have competed this season (i.e. results are posted on TFRRS). We will not be doing "mid-season" individual rankings for the altered 2020 season, although we may opt to do season-ending individual rankings. That is still TBD.

10. Walsh Cavaliers

Walsh is the first of three G-MAC teams that find themselves in our Top 10 rankings for this very odd cross country season. A large reason why is because of senior Alexa Leppelmeier. She’s raced twice this season and both times has finished in the top three.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a whole lot of consistency behind her. Alyssa Viscounte was second for the team at the Hillsdale Invitational and then fell to fourth for the team at the Cedarville Open. Karissa Sonneberger was the number five scorer at the Hillsdale Invitational and jumped all the way to the number two runner at Cedarville.

The good news is that this team (probably) still has their best performances ahead of them. When the Cavaliers all run their best races on the same day, they could end up being the strong G-MAC challengers that we thought they could be coming into this season.

9. Lee (Tenn.) Flames

Lee’s biggest performance of the season came at the Louisville Classic where they finished runner-up as a team. They were led by Celine Ritter who covered the 5k course in a time of 17:40 and ran away from Malone’s Mackenna Curtis-Collins and Taylor University's Sarah Harden to take home the individual title.

The loss of Chloe Flora has left this team without a dynamic scorer alongside Ritter, forcing the Flames to rely on underclassmen to try and figure out their scoring duties on the fly. So far, three of Lee's five scorers in each race for the Flames have been either sophomores or freshmen.

At the very least, this is a team with a bright future and they have done enough to stay competitive so far this season.

8. Illinois-Springfield Prairie Stars

The women from Illinois-Springfield have seen a very successful beginning to their altered 2020 cross country season. Beginning at the GLVC Pod 2 meet, they finished with a team score of 15 points as Taryn Christy and Gloria Esarco finished 45 seconds ahead of the field (which was basically just their teammates).

Fast forward two weeks later (to this past weekend) and this women's team didn’t disappoint at the GLVC East Divisional meet. Christy and Esarco finished 3rd and 4th overall while freshman Sydney Huffman was a pleasant surprise as she finished 5th. Their final two scorers placing 13th and 20th in the team scoring was ultimately what held the Prairie Stars back from the overall win, but they still took down U-Indy and were four points away from a strong Southern Indiana squad.

They'll need to adjust the backend of their scoring group moving forward, but in these smaller fields, this lineup structure is proving to be plenty effective.

7. Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles

The team that has continued its success in 2020 is Southern Indiana. On the heels of a breakout season, Jennifer Comastri continues to be majorly successful. She has finished 2nd in both of her races this season (both behind Lauren Bailey) and has paced this USI team to two wins, putting them at the top of the GLVC early in the season.

Stepping up behind Comastri is a plethora of underclassmen such Aubrey Swart, McKenna Cavanaugh and Allison Morphew who all finished inside the top-10 over the weekend at the GLVC East Divisional meet which was enough to give the Screaming Eagles a four point win over Illinois-Springfield.

We were worried about the depth of this team behind Comastri at the beginning of this season, but they have erased most of those early-season doubts so far.

6. Metro State Roadrunners

The Roadrunners have become one of the better teams in the country since Alden Gruidel’s improvement over the last four years...and this year she has some help. Erin Norton, formerly at Western Colorado, now gives this Metro State team a wicked 1-2 punch.

At the Colorado Springs XC Open a few weeks ago, it was Gruidel and Norton putting an eight second gap on the UCCS women. Three weeks later, it was Norton who paced the team as she finished 2nd at the Colorado Mesa Maverick Invitational just ahead of Stephanie Cotter and others. Gruidel was 6th in that race, resulting in a 3rd place team finish, just 10 points behind Western Colorado.

The 3-4-5 runners from Metro State finished just 16 seconds apart from each other, placing 16-19-21 in the team scoring and giving the Roadrunners a compact and reliable (enough) group of backend scorers. Given the low-stick prowess of their top two, this team might find themselves in a very good position to take down some talented teams later in the season.

5. Cedarville Yellow Jackets

Another G-MAC team in our Top 10 bodes well for the conference as a whole. The team from Ohio most recently won the Blue race at the Louisville Classic, beating the likes of Lee (Tenn.) and Taylor University. The combination of Rachel Sweeney, Alayna Ackley, Remington Hobson and Naomi Herman overwhelmed the field in Kentucky and secured the overall win by 27 points over a respectable Lee (Tenn.) team.

With one more race on the docket, the Yellow Jackets will run their first 6k since September at Tiffin for the G-MAC Championships two weeks from now. At that meet, they will be looking to upend the defending champs from Hillsdale with better than expected depth.

4. UC-Colorado Springs Mountain Lions

Just missing a perfect score at the West Texas Buffalo Stampede meet, the Mountain Lions brought the heat this past weekend. Hannah Ellis is looking like the main front-runner for UCCS as she has taken the top spot on the team at each of UCCS' three meets thus far.

Playing the role of the supporting cast is freshman Kate Hedlund and juniors Layla Almasri and Molly Weir. At all three of their meets, UCCS has had the luxury of packing up and having their way with the competition.

As the season draws to a close, this women's team will face far more challenging teams (specifically at the RMAC Championships), but their performances (so far) have been very encouraging.

3. Hillsdale Chargers

Comfortably winning the Hillsdale Invitational as well as the Tiffleberg Invite, the Chargers have quietly put together a solid shortened season which has been highlighted by a win over Cedarville (TSR #5) in mid-September.

Maryssa Depies (a senior) and Sophia Maeda (a junior) have led Hillsdale in both outings. Providing depth are Christina Sawyer, Claire McNally, Meg Scheske and Gwynne Riley.

Together, this group is proving to be the well-rounded cross country squad that we thought they could be. They are posting results which suggests that they will win the G-MAC Championships later this month.

2. Western Colorado Mountaineers

The trio of Bailey Sharon, Katie Doucette and Alexia Thiros led the way for the Mountaineers at the Maverick Invitational (placing 4th, 5th and 7th, respectively) as they finished runner-up to Adams State by 23 points.

Racing against the Adams State women gives us more clarity on the pecking order in the RMAC, but it was nice to see the women of Western Colorado show some scoring potency at the top of this race. Admittedly, their depth will need to improve, but we saw great depth from them last year at the NCAA Championships, so we know that they are capable of closing that gap.

1. Adams State Grizzlies

The Grizzlies opened their 2020 cross country season this past Saturday by winning their first meet against RMAC foes Western State, MSU-Denver, Colorado Mesa and Westminster (Utah).

Redshirt sophomore Brianna Robles led the way for a team that is used to superstar Stephanie Cotter being the first one across the line. Instead, Cotter settled for 3rd overall in what was a somewhat surprising result.

After Robles and Cotters, Adams State put six women in the top 11 to overwhelm the trio from Western State. As it turns out, the Grizzlies have managed to reload from last year's 31 point win at NCAA's after all. The supporting cast of Sarah Wills (8th), Nicole Lawrence (9th) and Reina Paredes (10th) and Morgan Hykes (11th) didn't show any signs of summer rust against some talented programs.