Women's Way Too Early XC Preview (Part Two)

Read up on Part One here

________ can be a podium team this season because....

Sam: New Mexico, because when your top runner scores one point, you’re essentially running with a team of four.

Maura: Florida State can be a podium team this season because they return their top six runners from last year and have a tight pack.

Sean: Air Force. They return two All-Americans from last year and four of their top seven from the national meet. If anyone can continue to perform at a high-level in challenging conditions, it’s Air Force. They never faltered last year.

Garrett: Air Force, because Maria Mettler and Mahala Norris are two extremely underrated low-sticks and there are numerous respectable scorers expected to return this fall. The loss of reliable veterans like Lindsey Blanks and Teri Brady will be difficult, but if last year's depth can fill the gaps, then this team has a chance to be on the podium.

Michael: Colorado, because they return some young stars and we have yet to see their roster fully healthy.

Eric: Minnesota. With the Hasz twins back and the Gophers 52 second time spread without them at NCAA's last year, I think that gives them a legitimate shot.

What is Arkansas’ ceiling this year?

Sam: 27th. Oddly specific, but here’s my rationale. They lose their top four runners. Lauren Gregory is their top returner and she was only 79th last year (although she probably wasn't at 100%). After her is Abby Gray who was 179th at the national meet. Furman transfer Krissy Gear should help, but this upcoming fall doesn't look great for the Razorbacks.

However, the South Central region is notoriously weak and the Razorbacks will almost certainly make the national meet. They could run incoming freshman Taylor Ewert, but that would be surprising considering the team won’t be nearly as competitive this fall as they were last year. Plus, it may just be easier to redshirt her given the unpredictable COVID situation that the NCAA is in.

Maura: I'll say Top 25. With only two returners from last year’s team, it will be hard to replicate their 2019 success. If Lauren Gregory is healthy, things could improve, but one low-stick won’t necessarily help the Razorbacks a ton.

Taylor Ewert will enter the college scene and is extremely talented, but how will she adapt to new coaching and college racing in her first year? Krissy Gear was 78th at the national meet last year while competing for Furman and showed growth during the indoor season after transferring. She can add key points, but will it be enough?

As Sam mentioned, Arkansas qualifying for the national meet is extremely probable. So it truthfully comes down to what Coach Lance Harter decides to do with his returners and incoming freshmen.

Sean: Top 15. Arkansas is losing a big group, but they can easily replenish to a top 15 level. Gregory and Gear are both top 80 performers who should/could be All-Americans this fall. Abby Gray and Taylor Ewert should both be top 100 finishers in 2020. If you have four top 100 finishers at NCAA's, you’re going to be a top 15 team, no matter where your #5 runner is.

Michael: Top 20. Arkansas should have a rather easy path to NCAA's coming from the South Central region, so getting to the national meet shouldn’t be an issue. If they opt to run their full lineup and not redshirt any athletes, they are still likely to be stronger than a lot of bottom-half teams at NCAA's.

Garrett: I'm with Michael, I would say that their ceiling is being a Top 20 team this fall. The Razorbacks will still be able to patch together a respectable squad between returns, transfers and recruits, but it won't be as flawless as last year. Women like Lauren Gregory, Abby Gray, Taylor Ewert and Krissy Gear could form a nice group of scorers, and there is likely one or two talents capable of stepping into Arkansas' top five later this fall. Still, the loss of such elite firepower from last year is going to force the Razorbacks to take one step back while they rebuild.

Eric: Top 25. As previously mentioned, they will make it to Nationals due to a weak region, but who will be competing for the Razorbacks besides Lauren Gregory, Abby Gray and Krissy Gear? Will they run Taylor Ewert or London Culbreath? Ultimately, there will be a new team champion when the ladies descend upon Stillwater, Oklahoma in November.

Which team has something to prove this fall?

Sam: Colorado. Two years removed from winning a national title, the Buffs are largely a new team. They were only 10th last year and lost their top runner in Sage Hurta. So who will we see this fall?

They bring in Abby Nichols from Ohio State which should be a huge boost in terms of talent and leadership. Holly Bent narrowly missed All-American honors in 2019 and likely earns that honor this season.

The three names that could really swing Colorado in the right direction are Emily Covert, Emily Venters and Rachel McArthur. Covert did not race at all her freshman year, but was one of the top high school runners in 2018. Venters was once an All-American for Boise State and could return to form if she can recover from her injuries. McArthur has shown flashes of being a top-ranked runner, but just needs to show more consistency.

All three of those women have finished up their first year living in Boulder. With the transition phase behind them, I think the fall of 2020 will treat them well.

Maura: Oregon. The Ducks placed 26th last fall at the national meet and graduated numerous members of that lineup. Oregon has had plenty of success at the national meet and is a name many know when it comes to distance running. However, what will come of Oregon this year?

Taylor Chiotti led the team with her 79th place finish at last year's national meet and is one of four returners from last year's top seven. Aneta Konieczek was a Division Two standout at Western Colorado before transferring, but she's still getting acclimated to Eugene. If she can get back to her top form, she could run alongside Chiotti.

Oregon will rely on inexperienced runners this year. If COVID-19 keeps teams from traveling this fall, Oregon may find themselves in trouble when only being able to compete on the west coast against some of the nation’s best teams. The Ducks will need to pick up plenty of Kolas points to return to NCAA's this year.

Garrett: I know that I'm kind of stealing answers from people, but I would agree with Maura that the Oregon women have a lot to prove. They have historical greatness on their side, a few respectable returners and a strong recruiting class. Still, this team loses a lot. If they can get back to the national meet this year, it will be one of the most impressive coaching jobs of the 2020 cross country season.

Sean: I'm going with the entire national qualifying contingent out of the Northeast region last year which includes Boston College, Columbia, Cornell and Harvard. The shift to a road race in Buffalo would have been the most absurd alteration in almost any year. It’s effect on that race will never be fully known, but what we do know is that Cornell and Harvard were not expected to qualify for Nationals last year.

Still, all four of these teams will have something to prove this year to show that their qualification in 2019 was not a fluke result. Each team will have a completely different route toward earning redemption and I don’t think they necessarily have to make NCAA's again in order to do so. However, strong results from each team throughout the season should help dignify their 2019 results a little bit more.

Eric: To me, it has to be Stanford. They have already received a ton of hype and the only way they validate themselves this year is to win it all. They seem to be a consistent podium team, but for all of the top recruits they get, I honestly would have expected more championship wins this past decade. They haven’t won a national title since they won back-to-back-to-back cross country titles from 2005 to 2007.

Michael: Minnesota finished 28th at NCAA's last fall, but have stirred plenty of discussion as of late. Bethany and Megan Hasz should be back in the Golden Gophers’ lineup this fall, and based on their indoor 5k performances (15:29 and 15:35, respectively), they should be major contributors. When you pair those two women with Anastasia Korzenowski -- who was already a low-stick talent for Minnesota last fall -- you get a scary-good top three.

We’ve discussed the possibility of Minnesota being the top team from the BIG 10 -- which is no easy feat. If Minnesota is to be the best team in the conference, they will also be one of the best teams in their region and the NCAA as a whole. They return their entire top seven from 2019, plus the Hasz twins. The Golden Gophers will be under a lot of pressure to climb the ladder and take down some top teams this fall.

Talk about three individual runners who are due for a breakout season this fall and why.

Sam: Since I just mentioned them above, Emily Venters and Rachel McArthur of Colorado. Venters has been absent with injuries while McArthur has been solid, but still seems due for greater performances. Both women will be looking to lead Colorado back to the podium this fall. For my third name, I'll say Krissy Gear. She truly broke out in a big way this past indoor season.

Maura: Grace Forbes of Rice will be one to watch for this fall. She was 87th at the national meet last year, but after throwing down a time of 8:56 for 3000 meters this past winter, she could vie for a top 25 finish at Nationals.

Mercy Chelangat of Alabama is another woman to keep an eye on after running 15:37 for 5000 meters during indoor track this past winter. Chelangat missed out on qualifying for NCAA's last fall after finishing 9th at the South Regional Championships. She is likely much better than that result indicates.

Nicole Fegans of Georgia Tech is on the verge of a breakout year (if this past winter doesn't already count as one). She ran 4:41 (mile) and 9:06 (3k) this past indoor season which suggests that Fegans is a top 40 contender (nationally) on the grass. She was 18th at the South Regional Championships last year, but given her recent success, a trip to the national meet is not out of the picture.

Sean: I think Grace Forbes is the easiest answer here and we already saw her success throughout the indoor season. She should be a top 20 contender later this fall at the national meet.

Michaela Reinhart from Duke is a name we rarely talk about. She finished the indoor season with the NCAA's 23rd best 3k above some huge names. She has yet to qualify for the NCAA Championships, but I think she could be on the path toward a top 100 finish at the national meet in 2020.

Haley Herberg from Washington should also be ready for a huge breakout year. She had a series of good races last year after transferring from Oklahoma and I think she’ll be ready for a top 75 finish in 2020.

Eric: Three women that are destined to breakout are Anastasia Korzenowski of Minnesota, Adva Cohen of New Mexico, and Jodie Judd of Florida State. This group of ladies are the x-factors in my mind for their respective teams. If these individuals are able to take the next step up, then their teams will be in contention for a conference, regional or national title.

Michael: Mia Nahom had a great cross country season for UConn last fall, finishing 4th at both the American Athletic Conference Championship and the Northeast Regional Championships. She ultimately finished 161st at NCAA's. Now that Nahom is already established on the conference and regional level -- and has some national-level experience -- she should be primed for a breakout season this fall.

Nevada Mareno was NC State’s #6 runner at NCAA's last fall, but I think she can do a lot more. With an incredibly talented young team looking to bring NC State to the top of the NCAA, Mareno will be able to take on more of a veteran role for the Wolfpack this fall. When she's healthy, Mareno is one of the better milers in the country and that she should hopefully translate to her being an underrated scorer for NC State later this fall.

Notre Dame’s Maddy Denner had a strong cross country season last fall, finishing 3rd at the loaded ACC Championships. She followed that up with personal bests in the 3k and 5k during indoors. With Anna Rohrer out of eligibility, Denner seems to be next in line to lead the Fighting Irish. With a solid improvement, she should be a strong pick for an All-American finish this fall.

Garrett: I'm a big believer in the Illinois women this year, mainly because I'm a big believer in Rebecca Craddock. She had a quietly strong cross country season last year and went on to record four personal bests in four different events this past winter. She's trending towards a breakout season this fall.

Lauren Ryan is another name I'm looking at. Everyone will look at this Florida State team and talk about women such as Maudie Skyring and Elizabeth Funderburk (and understandably so). However, the Villanova transfer showed just how strong she could be last fall when she had an unbelievable breakout performance at the ACC Championships, finishing as the top Florida State runner in 6th place overall. If she can run like that on a more consistent basis, she'll be one of the best runners in the NCAA this year.

Finally, I'll take Jennie Baragar-Petrash from Arizona. It's easy to get overlooked in the crowded PAC-12, but she has a few solid performances on her resume. She finished 26th at the Joe Piane Invite last year and ended her season with an 18th place finish at the West Regional Championships (where she was the first individual out of qualifying for Nationals). After running a 3k PR of 9:18 this past indoor track season, I think Baragar-Petrash has the potential to make some noise later this fall.

Give us your bold prediction for the upcoming cross country season...

Maura: The cross country season gets to be run, but limited fans are allowed at meets.

Sean: At least three postseason meets (conference, regional, national) get cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19

Eric: Freak weather hits one of the region meets and forces meet directors to improvise like they did at the 2019 Northeast regional meet where instead of running on grass, they took to the roads.

Michael: Early-season meet cancellations and changes force the NCAA to shift how at-large selections are made for entry to the national meet due to a lack of Kolas points available to teams.

Garrett: A team that didn't qualify for the national meet last year will finish in the top 10 at the National Championships in November.