By: Sam Ivanecky
10. Arkansas Razorbacks
Two of their top five are gone, but Arkansas may actually be better this year. For starters, Taylor Werner finished 104th at NCAA's in 2017, but was 16th as a true freshman in 2016. She recently finished 4th at the Chile Pepper Festival with two teammates finishing ahead of her. It may be a long-shot to place 16th in country again, but she could still find herself as an All-American if she regains her 2016 form.
Ahead of Werner at the Chile Pepper Festival were Katrina Robinson and Carina Viljoen. Robinson is a freshman from New Zealand with PR's of 4:14 (1500), 9:03 (3k), and 16:06 (5k). As for Viljoen, she is the top returner from 2017 where she finished 48th at NCAA's. If Robinson and Viljoen are able to run together for the rest of the season, they could both be in the top 40 come November 17th.
The Razorbacks have the depth to back-up their top three and they may even have a fourth up front if Devin Clark rediscovers her fitness from 2015. That year, she finished 48th at the national meet. However, she only managed 116th in 2016. We only saw her race a handful of times in 2017, but Clark came back to finish 11th in the steeplechase at NCAA's in 2018.
The Razorbacks have the proven talent to be a formidable opponent. There is also potential for to be even better than last year depending on how some of their wildcards perform.
9. Villanova Wildcats
The Wildcats lost two runners from last fall's 12th place team, but with the addition of Caroline Alcorta from North Carolina and three new freshmen, Villanova should be even better than last year.
Alcorta had a breakout track season in the spring where she finished 10th in the 10k at Nationals. She'll be a potential low-stick for this squad in 2018. They also bring in Taryn O’Neil from Canada who was 9th in the 3k at the IAAF U20 World Championships. O’Neil owns a PR of 9:15 over this distance and in 2017, she ran 9:23 as a 17 year old, setting a Canadian national record. She didn’t run at Villanova’s only race this season, but expect to see her debut at Nuttycombe this Friday.
Aside from those two, the Wildcats return five from last year. Nicole Hutchinson was only 90th at Nationals last fall, but followed it up with a huge track season where she was 14th in the 5k at the Outdoor National Championships and ran a PR of 15:46 at the Raleigh Relays. It wouldn’t be surprising to find her finishing in the top 50 at NCAA's this year with the way she’s been racing.
The Wildcats have run once this fall at the Main Line Invitational where they took the top seven spots. In that top seven were two freshmen, Lydia Olivere and Reilly Seibert. Olivere was 26th at NXN last fall and Seibert owns a PR of 4:27 for 1500 meters. It’s a little early to tell how much of an impact they’ll have, but seeing them running with the returners is promising.
8. Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers were 10th last fall and return six of their seven women from that team. Last year, Amy Davis and Shaelyn Sorensen finished a little outside of the All-American spots coming in 55th and 59th. Both women carried their momentum into the spring where they ran 5k PR's of 15:44 and 16:19, respectively. If they're are able to continue their progress over the next two months, they could potentially sneak into the top 40.
Despite the improvements, Alicia Monson may jump past both of them this fall. She was only 139th in 2017, but burst onto the scene in track where she ran 15:38 and finished 18th at the Outdoor National Championships in the 5k. The women she finished around at NCAA's include many XC All-Americans and it’s realistic to think Monson will find herself among that group once again. In her only race this season, she won the Badger Classic by seven seconds, leading Wisconsin past Northwestern without running their full team.
The rest of the Badger roster is deep and includes Alissa Niggemann (131st at NCAA's), Erin Wagner (178th at NCAA's), and freshman Hannah Reale (33rd at NXN), all possible top five runners. With three potential All-Americans and a strong supporting group, expect Wisconsin to be near the front this fall.
7. Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines graduated their top two from NCAA's, but bring back a mix of strong returners and talented freshmen who should keep the team among the top 10 squads once Nationals rolls around.
In their only race this season, the Wolverines took spots 2 through 7 at the Woody Greeno Invitational. This group finished with a spread of only 16 seconds, almost as though it were a workout. That group included four returners from last year’s NCAA meet, one of whom was Avery Evenson. Last fall, Evenson finished 157th after somewhat of a disappointing season following her 18th place finish at the 2016 National Championships. She didn’t race outdoors this year, but looks to be in good shape relative to her teammates. If she can get close to her 2016 form, there’s a chance she could be an All-American this fall.
Michigan also brought in Baylor transfer Anna West (7th at Woody Greeno) who finished 40th at NCAA's in 2017. She should be a lock for Michigan’s top five and will likely want to replicate her All-American performance at Nationals.
Another new face in the maize and blue will be true freshman Olivia Theis. As a high schooler, she finished 3rd at the Foot Locker National Championships in 2017, and owns a PR of 10:03 for 3200 meters. She hasn’t raced yet this season, but expect to see her debut this weekend when Michigan races at the Greater Louisville Classic.
Camille Davre (4th at Woody Greeno) and Alice Hill (7th at IAAF U20 Worlds Steeple) are two redshirt freshmen who could also mix into an already deep Michigan team this fall.
6. North Carolina State Wolfpack
Led by All-American Elly Henes, the top five from last years 8th place team all return. They are also adding Stanford transfer Nevada Mareno along with a strong recruiting class for the 2018 season.
Last fall, Henes finished 32nd at Nationals and proceeded to earn two national qualifiers in the 5000 meters (7th at indoors, 16th at outdoors). She should continue to build on last year and potentially finish in the top 25 at NCAA's.
Mareno redshirted her entire freshman year, transferring to NC State after her fall semester at Stanford. She was 3rd and 2nd at Foot Locker XC in ’15 and ’16, winning four state titles on the track as a senior in North Carolina. She hasn’t raced collegiate cross country yet, but she should quickly find success given her high school performances.
The Wolfpack return two top 60 finishers from 2017 in Bethlehem Taye (54th) and Dominique Clairmonte (58th). This spring, Clairmonte ran a PR of 15:55 in the 5k, setting her up to have a strong season this fall.
NC State also added Columbia transfer Nell Crosby who qualified for the national meet in the steeplechase by running an impressive PR of 9:54. She was only 141st at the XC National Championships last year, but Crosby should be close to the top 100 after a stellar track season.
The Wolfpack bring in freshmen Mariah Howlett and Savannah Shaw, both of whom were top 20 finishers at the 2017 Foot Locker National Championships. It is very possible that they could find themselves in NC State's top seven this fall.
NC State has not raced yet this season, but will open up on Friday at Nuttycombe.
5. Boise State Broncos
The Broncos started the year ranked one spot higher than their 2017 NCAA finish in the Coaches Poll. Once again, they’ll be led by NCAA steeplechase champion and multi All-American Allie Ostrander. At the national meet, she was 4th last fall and runner-up in 2015. Ostrander will likely be in the top five again this season.
Boise State also returns Clare O’Brien (77th NCAA XC, 15:42 5k), Emily Venters (53rd NCAA XC, 15:49 5k), and Alexis Fuller (122nd NCAA XC). They also brought in international talent Maxine Paholek who owns PR's of 4:29 in the 1500 and 10:21 in the steeplechase.
Boise State has one more wild card in the mix: Brenna Peloquin. She hasn’t raced since 2017 indoors and didn’t run at their season opener either. However, she was 6th at the national meet in 2016 and placed 9th the year before. There’s reason to think she will race when Boise State runs at Nuttycombe this weekend, but since it’s been two years since her last cross country race. It's unknown what she’s capable of this fall.
If Peloquin is healthy, the Broncos have the potential to earn four All-Americans and make the podium as a team for the first time in school history.
4. Stanford Cardinal
Vanessa Fraser, who placed 4th at the national meet last year, is the only loss Stanford sustained for the 2018 season. However, the addition of Courtney Smith (All-American from Harvard) should ease that departure.
Junior Fiona O’Keefe will lead the team after her 13th place finish last fall. She followed that cross country season with a 10th place finish at Indoor Nationals in the 3k and ran a PR of 15:38 in the 5k during outdoors. O’Keefe should be in the top 20 once again and should have teammates around her this year.
Former Harvard standout Courtney Smith will join Stanford this fall as a redshirt senior and could add another All-American to an already deep roster. Smith was 35th at the national meet in 2016 and could join O’Keefe in the top 40 if she’s able to repeat her performance from two years ago.
The Stanford 1500 duo of Elise Cranny (57th NCAA XC ’17) and Christina Aragon (67th NCAA XC ’17) could also be closing in on that All-American selection. Both qualified for NCAA's in the 1500 during the spring and (along with O’Keefe) went 1–2–3 at the San Francisco Invitational earlier this month. These two have also been XC All-Americans previously, Cranny in 2014 (when she finished 12th) and Aragon in 2016 (when she finished 38th).
Junior Ella Donaghu was 69th last fall and freshman recruit Rebecca Story comes in with a monster PR of 9:59 for 3200 meters. Both have the potential to be top 50 at Nationals this year which would put six Stanford women on the brink of being All-Americans.
With their home meet this weekend, we may not see their full squad until Pre-Nats on October 13th when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin.
3. Oregon Ducks
It’s not often that a team loses their top two runners and their coach, but that’s what happened to the Ducks this year. All-Americans Katie Rainsberger and Lilli Burdon followed Coach Maurica Powell to the University of Washington, opening the door for new names to enter the Oregon program.
After a second place team finish in 2017, three key members from the University of San Francisco came to Oregon; Coach Helen Lehman-Winters and the All-American duo of Weronika Pyzik and Isabelle Brauer. Pyzik and Brauer finished 5th and 15th at NCAAs last fall and could both place in the top 10 this year.
Although those two were great, the Ducks weren't content on Pyzik and Brauer being their only additions. Oregon also picked up Phillipa Bowden from Great Britain. Bowden owns PR's of 15:52 and 32:33, leading many to believe that she will be in the scoring five for Oregon this fall.
These three new faces will join a talented group from Eugene which also includes cross country All-American Carmela Cardama Baez (34th in 2017) and Jessica Hull, the national champion for 1500 meters last spring.
Those five women have already run together at the Bill Dellinger Invitational where they swept the top seven spots. That top seven also included Susan Ejore (2:04 800) and Amanda Gehrich (4:24 1500).
Oregon’s success at NCAA's will be dependent on their 5th runner. They have a proven top four with Pyzik, Brauer, Cardama Baez, and Bowden, but Hull was "only" 97th at NCAA's last fall.
If they’re able to strengthen that final scoring position, the Ducks will not only return to the podium, but they'll challenge for the national title
2. Colorado BuffaloesLast year’s 3rd place finish at NCAA's was somewhat disappointing for a Colorado team that had gone 2–0 against New Mexico throughout the fall. The Buffs only graduate one scorer from their top five and are led by an elite scorer in Dani Jones.
Last fall, Jones finished 10th at Nationals and came back to place runner-up in the mile during indoors. She redshirted the 2018 spring season, but continued to compete unattached, earning a PR of 4:07 in the 1500. She has improved at Cross Country Nationals every year and could finish in the top five this fall if she remains healthy.
Colorado brings back another All-American from 2017 in Sage Hurta. She placed 35th at last year's national meet and carried her success into outdoors where she ran a PR of 9:57 in the steeplechase. She's been a very consistent performer and has enough talent to be top 25 at Nationals this year.
Outside of those top two, Colorado has a slew of runners who have finished right on the All-American bubble. Mackenzie Caldwell was 39th in 2016 and finished 31st at the Mountain regional last fall. Tabor Scholl placed 42nd at the 2016 national meet and Makena Morley was 50th in 2017.
Maddie Boreman and Val Constien are both sub-9:50 steeplechasers who could join their teammates in All-American conversation. Steeplechasers have a history of success during the fall...
Although it is unlikely that Colorado will have seven All-Americans, having five of these women in the top 40 is a realistic goal based on their previous performances. Coach Mark Wetmore has a habit of peaking his runners at the right time and if they all show up on November 17th, they can challenge for the NCAA title.
1. New Mexico Lobos
The defending champs are back and may be even better than last fall. The 2017 individual champion (Ednah Kurgat) has returned along with All-Americans Weini Kelati and Charlotte Prouse. What's crazy is that all three women could finish in the top 10 at Nationals this year. Last fall, they nearly accomplished that, finishing 1st, 7th, and 12th.
All three also followed up their XC performances with stellar track seasons. Kurgat finished runner-up at NCAA indoors in the 5k, and placed 6th in the same race during outdoors. Kelati was 5th in both the 3k and 5k at NCAA indoors, and 9th in the 5k during outdoors. Prouse was an NCAA silver medalist in the steeplechase...but isn’t even the fastest steeplechaser on the team.
That title belongs to Iowa Central CC transfer Adva Cohen.
At Iowa Central, Cohen dominated the NJCAA where she won the NJCAA XC title and earned seven national titles on the track between indoors and outdoors. She then ran 9:29 in the steeplechase at the European Championships this summer, a result that ranks 6th all-time in the NCAA.
In other words, it would be shocking if Cohen wasn’t top 20 at NCAA's this fall.
The Lobos weakest point is their fifth runner. In 2017, Alondra Negron was their final scorer, placing 85th overall. This year, the Lobos brought in Creighton transfer Emily Martin who was right behind Negron in 86th last year. Between those two, New Mexico could benefit from a breakout performance which would give Coach Franklin another team title to put on his resume.
As strong as New Mexico is, they aren't completely invincible. If someone in their top four has a bad day, Colorado or Stanford could be close to enough to pull off an upset.
Then again, if the Lobos run to their potential this fall, they'll head back to Albuquerque with another national title in hand.