We are aware that certain conferences and universities will not be competing this fall due to ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19. However, for the sake of content, we have constructed these rankings as if a regular cross country season will happen.
Last year, only a late-season injury to Fiona O’Keeffe dampened the national title hopes of Stanford. Coming up 27 points short of NCAA gold last fall, the Cardinal women would have entered a theoretical 2020 national meet hungrier than almost any other team in the country.
This team brings back all but O’Keeffe from last fall, but they have added star transfer Aubrey Roberts in her place, along with a quietly loaded recruiting class which features Foot Locker national champion, Zofia Dudek.
While there are/were plenty of other strong teams expected to enter this 2020 cross country season, the extensive experience and top-tier firepower of Stanford was enough to give them our TSR #1 spot in our preseason rankings.
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O’Keeffe was expected to be the team leader during 2019, but when she got injured heading into the regional meet, pressure shifted to the shoulders of juniors Ella Donaghu and Jessica Lawson. That pair had already surpassed expectations for the year, continually closing the gap on O’Keeffe with each race.
Donaghu (TSR #3) and Lawson (TSR #4) both started the year strong, finishing in the top-15 at both the John McNichols Invitational and Nuttycombe Invitational. However, their real breakout performances came a couple weeks later when the Stanford trio swept the first three spots at the PAC-12 Championships, taking down names such as Katie Rainsberger, Melany Smart and Sage Hurta in the process.
When O’Keeffe sat out of the regional meet, Donaghu and Lawson continued to win and took home the first two spots yet again. The pair stepped up big at the NCAA XC Championships and finished 8th and 11th respectively, to lead the Cardinal to a 3rd place team finish.
Donaghu and Lawson continued to show their prowess on the indoor track and were set to compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships prior to their cancellation. The pair would have been the third and fourth returners from the 2019 NCAA XC Championships this fall and would have provided immense firepower for the Cardinal in 2020.
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One name set to join the women from Palo Alto is Northwestern graduate transfer Aubrey Roberts (TSR #19) -- a major piece of the puzzle who has made this theoretical title battle between Stanford and NC State far more interesting.
When talking about Roberts, we have to travel all the way back to the fall of 2018. She was a major force on the cross country course and ended her 2018 season with a clutch 18th place finish at the NCAA XC Championships -- her first All-American honors in college.
Not wanting to waste any opportunities, Roberts then turned around and ran a 5k personal best of 15:32 at the BU Season Opener the following December. She would go on to finish 10th in the event at the NCAA Indoor Championships that winter.
Since then, Roberts has struggled a bit with injury which kept her out of cross country competition last fall. The former Northwestern runner attempted to return for the indoor track season, running a 16:07 (5k) in her first race back, but would ultimately fail to qualify for the (eventually cancelled) indoor national meet.
With extended time to focus on recovery and a comeback, Roberts would have had an excellent opportunity to enter this fall fit and healthy. The graduate senior has the potential to run with Donaghu and Lawson, and under the tutelage of the Stanford staff, we could have theoretically seen three Cardinal runners in the top-10 at NCAA's.
Gosh, that's a lot of scoring of potency...
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Behind these three, the next few spots would have likely been some permutation of Jordan Oakes, Abi Archer, Julia Heymach, Christina Aragon and Stanford's newest recruits. Since Aragon and the current freshmen on this team are such unique cases, we’ll come back to them later in this article.
Oakes, Archer and Heymach rotated orders throughout last fall to fill the second-half of this varsity lineup, but all made substantial progress during the season and on the indoor track.
Heymach (TSR #48) and Archer (only a freshman last fall) had one of their biggest showings of the season at the West Regional Championships in 2019 as they finished 12th and 19th, each improving a handful of places from the PAC-12 Championships two weeks prior.
As for Oakes, it's crazy to think that last year's 8th place finisher from the PAC-12 Championships could have only been the fourth of fifth scorer for this team. However, that just shows you how good the top-end of this projected lineup was expected to be.
At the NCAA XC Championships, we saw Archer finish 51st and Heymach in 63rd, immediately vaulting themselves into All-American consideration this fall. Oakes was only 95th, but it seems like she could have done far more given her conference meet performance.
All three of these women could have been All-Americans this season, especially Heymach who dropped some outstanding personal bests this past winter, including a time of 4:33 in the mile.
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Now let’s circle back to Christina Aragon.
Until the spring of 2018, Aragon was one of the best young runners in the NCAA, earning numerous All-American honors on every surface. She was 38th at the NCAA XC Championships in her freshman season and would go on to earn top-10 finishes in numerous track events, both indoors and outdoors. Her last full cross country season was in 2017 where she finished 67th at NCAA's.
She debuted at the San Francisco Invitational in 2018 where she and teammates Elise Cranny and Fiona O’Keeffe cruised to a group victory. That was the last time we would see Aragon run cross country until the PAC-12 Championships last fall.
It’s hard to find a bigger wildcard in the NCAA. Aragon has the potential to be an All-American or just not race at all. Luckily for the Cardinal, their roster is so deep they don't necessarily need to rely on Aragon and in-turn, can let her find her groove.
At worst, Aragon does not make the team roster for the postseason competition. At best, she is one of the top runners in the NCAA and gives the Cardinal even more firepower.
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On a roster that already has four proven All-Americans and potentially one or two new ones, there seems to be no more room for talent...right?
Enter Zofia Dudek, the reigning Foot Locker national champion, U20 European 3k champion, and 5th place finisher at the U20 European XC Championships. Dudek was one of the top-ranked recruits in the Class of 2019 and her championship experience in cross country bodes well for her transition to the NCAA.
Similar to Aragon, Dudek benefits from having no immediate pressure to perform and will have plenty of upperclassmen to show her the ropes. With how strong Stanford already is, there’s no guarantee that this team would have even run her attached this fall.
Keeping that in mind, Dudek is certainly good enough to be an All-American in her first season and will bring loads of talent to this roster, be it this fall or next.
Not to be overshadowed by her fellow recruit, Lucy Jenks might have just as much potential. In her first cross country season, Jenks won a Massachusetts state title in only her third race and would go on to qualify for NXN.
Jenks is a 4:45 miller and 10:17 two miler, but was technically a soccer player until her senior year. She transitioned to running full-time, opting for cross country over soccer during the fall, and it paid off.
Due to her limited training background and the substantial depth of this roster, Jenks may not have had much of a role for Stanford this fall, but her potential is so high that she will be an immediate threat once she becomes better adjusted to racing on the grass.
In fear of being long-winded, we have to at least mention the final Stanford recruit, Tori Starcher. The Washington prep was the fastest miler in the country in 2019, clocking a time of 4:38. She qualified for the Foot Locker National Championships and could be a contributor to an already-loaded Stanford team.
Starcher leans more towards track than cross country, but that seems to go out the window when athletes get to the NCAA. It also helps that multiple members of this Stanford team have been able to effectively compete on both the grass and track, something that bodes well for Starcher.
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There are truthfully not a ton of a weaknesses on this team, but if we're being fair, we do have to offer some criticisms and concerns.
Aubrey Roberts' recent injury and lack of racing isn't ideal, and there's no guarantee that she'll return to being the same distance running superstar that she was at Northwestern. Are we hopeful and optimistic about her return? Yes, very, but Stanford also needs her at 100% if they want to win the national title (whenever that may be).
Much like NC State, it could be risky for Stanford to rely too heavily on their inexperienced freshmen when it comes to championship stages. However, in fairness to Stanford, we didn't expect the Cardinal to utilize their freshmen nearly as much as the Wolfpack.
There aren't a ton of concerns with this team, but there's enough that we aren't ready to make them total locks for the national title.
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If it’s not abundantly clear yet, Stanford is absolutely loaded. They have a roster where five to six women could eventually emerge as All-Americans, and that may be a conservative guess. Heck, they could probably have two teams qualify for the national meet.
The only team that might be capable of challenging this group is NC State, but with the veteran leadership and experienced backend, the (now cancelled) 2020 national meet would have been Stanford's to lose.