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.
There were (and still are) a handful of questions surrounding this Michigan team coming into the suspended 2020 cross country season. However, the consensus is that this group has more potential than almost any team in the country when it comes to what they could have done on the national stage.
With stellar returners and a strong group of recruits, the Wolverines may have the necessary firepower needed to compete with the best in the BIG 10 and the NCAA whenever competition returns.
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Michigan put together a respectable 2019 cross country season that culminated with a 13th place finish at the NCAA XC Championships. Their championship lineup in Terre Haute looked far different than what we were expecting at the beginning of the season, but they walked away with plenty of experience and a ton of exciting potential for the fall of 2020.
One of the biggest and best developments for the Michigan women last fall was the emergence of Ericka VanderLende. Leading up to the national meet, the Michigan star never placed outside of the top six in any meet she toed the line for. She finished 5th at Pre-Nationals, 6th at the BIG 10 Championships and 4th at the Great Lakes Regional Championships.
VanderLende capped off her season with a strong 25th place finish in Terre Haute to establish herself as the future leader of this Michigan program.
Now a sophomore, VanderLende has clearly acclimated well to the training of Coach Mark McGuire and saw immediate returns in her performances. From a points perspective, her improvements will have a minimal impact on the overall team score compared to last year, but she is a key name who gives a spark to the front portion of this lineup.
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Speaking of promising and elite-level youngsters, let's talk about current freshmen Katelynne Hart and Jaden Theis -- two game-changing recruits for the women of Ann Arbor.
Hart was a four-time Illinois cross country state champion in the toughest division in the state. At the high school national level, Hart was a two-time runner-up as well as a 4th place finisher at the Foot Locker National Championships, as well as a three-time top-20 finisher at the NXN Championships.
However, Hart's success does not stop on the grass. On the track, she was a multiple-time state champion in events ranging from the 800 meters to the 3200 meters. With personal bests of 4:39 (mile), 9:52 (3200) and 16:09 (5k), Hart could end up replicating the same pleasantly surprising scoring potency that we saw from VanderLende last fall.
In fact, Hart is so talented that we already have her ranked at TSR #44 in our preseason individual rankings.
Joining Hart as an incoming freshman is Jaden Theis, the sister of Michigan sophomore Olivia Theis. Jaden was the 4th place finisher at the Foot Locker National Championships in 2018 and has run 4:55 for 1600 meters and 9:45 for 3000 meters. She may not have the same credentials that Hart does, but she is someone who could absolutely emerge as a top seven contributor whenever competition returns.
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Now we come to the major "what if" portion of this article.
At the moment, there is massive uncertainty surrounding the statuses of Camille Davre and Anne Forsyth -- two promising talents who were high-level contributors on the cross country course in 2018.
Davre, now a junior, had a stellar 2018 season that ended with an All-American honor at NCAA's. Her 29th place finish at the 2018 national meet projected her to be a top-25 runner in 2019, but she wasn't able to replicate that incredible first season.
Last fall, Davre only managed a 26th place finish at the BIG 10 Championships and a 35th place finish at the Great Lakes regional meet before recording a DNS at the NCAA Championships.
Then there is Forsyth who can easily be compared to Davre.
In 2018 (her freshman season), Forsyth just missed out on All-American honors with a 46th place finish at the NCAA Championships. Her 8th place finish at the 2018 BIG 10 Championships and 3rd place finish at the ensuing regional meet turned some heads and made a ton of us realize just how bright the future was for this Michigan squad.
However, Forsyth remained absent from competition during the 2019 cross country season and didn't even race on the indoor oval.
Both Forsyth and Davre were essentially non-factors in Michigan's lineup in 2019. However, if they return to their 2018 form and are paired next to VanderLende and Hart, you're looking at a Michigan team that has four realistic All-American candidates.
That is a crazy amount of firepower for a team that is as young as Michigan.
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The six runners behind VanderLende throughout last season changed at almost every meet. Yet, despite the inconsistency, the Wolverines still benefited from having a few women step up and emerge as scorers.
Senior Kathryn House was a very solid and underrated scorer for the Michigan women throughout last fall. She finished 10th at the BIG 10 Championships last year and was 32nd at Pre-Nationals.
Fellow veteran Maddy Trevisan wasn't the most consistent scorer, but she did finish 14th at the John McNichols Invitational and was 46th at the NCAA Championships back in 2016. She has a ton of promising upside if she can replicate her best performances on a more consistent basis.
The experience of House and Trevisan -- as well as the return of women such as Alice Hill, Jessi Larson and Jena Metwalli -- gives this Michigan team plenty of scoring stability if the upper-half of this projected lineup doesn't work out the way we expect it to.
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On paper, you're looking at a Michigan team that could have been in the national title conversation this year if everything went perfectly for them. That means everyone would have had to stay healthy, peak for championship meets, have some athletes rebound from their 2018 performances and not have the underclassmen's inexperience get the best of them.
That's a ton of variables that would need to fall in Michigan's favor and the chances of all of that happening didn't feel super high.
It also doesn't help that the women in blue lost key veterans such as Micaela DeGenero (who transferred to Colorado for graduate school) as well as Anna West and Emma Sloan. All three of those women were scorers for Michigan at the NCAA Championships last fall.
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Even so, this team is flat-out stacked with talent. The Michigan women have thrived with young talents before and that is something that should bode well for women like Katelynne Hart and Jaden Theis as they attempt to inject even more scoring potency into this lineup.
It's often risky to rank teams that have as much uncertainty as Michigan does. However, the potential upside that this team boasts could make them one of the most electric cross country programs in the NCAA whenever competition returns.