TSR's "If Everything Was Normal" D1 XC Top 25 Teams (Women): #23 Oklahoma State Cowgirls

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.

Heading into the 2019 cross country season, the women of Oklahoma State had one of the highest ranked recruiting classes in the NCAA. A perennial powerhouse, the Pokes had appeared to reload and were led by two blooming, front-running stars in Molly Born and Taylor Somers.

With no clear favorites in the Midwest region, this was a golden opportunity for the Cowgirls to regain control and rope in yet another regional title.

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However, what actually happened that season was far from the expectations that we had.

Somers and Born did evolve into a pair of the best runners in the country, but the rest of the team didn't follow the same trajectory. Ultimately, Oklahoma State would finish 4th at the Midwest regional meet and fail to move on to the National Championships.

Despite the shortcomings of last fall, the Cowgirls appeared to have plenty of upside heading into this season. Both Taylor Somers and Molly Born are set to return and will provide the same up-front firepower that we have grown used to seeing from former Oklahoma State squads.

Outside of the national meet, that duo finished inside the top 10 of every meet they toed the line for last year. They opened up their 2019 season with respectable 5th and 6th place finishes at the Chile Pepper XC Festival, and later finished 8th and 9th at Pre-Nationals before finishing 2nd and 3rd at the BIG 12 Championships.

The biggest result for Born and Somers came at the NCAA Championships, where the duo finished 16th and 18th, respectively. Until then, neither had been an All-American, but those results officially cemented the 1-2 punch as NCAA stars.

Looking ahead to 2020, only seven women who finished higher than Somers and Born at the national meet were expected to return this fall, putting the pair within striking distance of a top 10 individual national meet finish (during a normal, pandemic-less year).

The duo showed remarkable consistency throughout last year and with the progression they had over the 2019 season, they bring a mixture of stability and firepower to the front of this Oklahoma State lineup. On paper (and in reality), they are some of the most valuable scorers in the country.

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Outside of these two, the best way to sum up the Cowgirls in 2019 is “growing pains”.

The abundance of youth and inexperience on last year's roster led to big swings in the team's performance from meet-to-meet. At each of their four meets last fall, three of the team's top seven runners were freshmen, with a handful of other young athletes right behind them.

While that wasn't an ideal lineup structure, that group has since gained ultra-valuable experience which provides huge upside for this Oklahoma State team whenever they next compete.

The top returner outside of Somers and Born will be senior Ariane Ballner. After showing solid progression during her sophomore season, Ballner took a (very minor) step backward last fall and will need to make improvements this year if she wants to factor into Oklahoma State’s lineup. She has shown flashes of potential -- notably finishing 12th at the BIG12 Championships in 2018 -- but was 19th last fall in a weaker field.

If Ballner can replicate her top finishes on a more consistent basis, she'll be the reason why the Oklahoma State women thrive in 2020. Any stability in the middle portion of this lineup will do wonders for the women in orange and black and Ballner can be the key who unlocks the full potential of this squad.

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Moving on to the sophomore class, there are a numerous women who will likely be vying for a top-five lineup spot later this season. Taylor Roe, like Ballner, showed flashes of promising potential throughout last year, but needed to show a bit more consistency.

Roe started the season as the team's fourth scorer at the Chile Pepper XC Festival and matched that result at the BIG 12 Championships, finishing 16th overall. However, Roe dropped out of her other two races last fall, leaving us at TSR scratching our heads and shrugging our shoulders.

If she can substantially improve her 50% finish rate (which seems reasonable), then Roe has a lot of upside. It’s likely that having a year of experience should greatly help her this fall and bring far more stability and consistency to the second half of Oklahoma State's top five.

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The final group of names is made up of sophomores such as Montanna McAvoy, Amanda Mayoral, Gabby Hentemann as well as junior Katherine Ruck. These four rotated between the six and seven spots of the Cowgirls' varsity lineup last fall and bring much needed depth to an Oklahoma State squad that needs just that.

The big question, however, will be how much of a jump can each of these women make? Although they posted decent results last season, they also struggled in bigger meets, leaving Oklahoma State vulnerable to a few upsets.

One final name to mention is Gael De Coninck. The redshirt freshman from Gothenburg, Sweden who did not compete in cross country during 2019, but was a seven-time national champion in high school.

Although she was/is primarily an 800 meter runner, middle-distance women (and men) have often done well in cross country when running for Oklahoma State. De Coninck could be a major dark horse for the Cowgirls this fall if she is able to translate her success from the track to the grass in 2020 and beyond.

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When we look at this year's version of Oklahoma State, they bring a ton of exciting potential to the table, but lack consistency outside of Born and Somers.

The majority of the team is still relatively young, but they should benefit from the experience they gained in 2019. The Cowgirls will be banking heavily on significant improvements from their 3-4-5 runners, but that seems like a reasonable ask. All of these women are talented, they just need to put it together on the right day.

If the younger runners continue to progress at a “normal” rate, Oklahoma State should be a very solid team this fall. They don't need to be superstar talents, they just need to do enough where Somers and Born aren't burdened with all of the scoring responsibilities.

If someone from the younger group makes a considerable jump in 2020 -- which is extremely possible and maybe even likely -- then Oklahoma State suddenly becomes a top 20 team (or better).

The key for Oklahoma State this year will be youth development. If that happens, then watch out for what could be a very dangerous cross country squad.