Oles’ Olson Leads Historic Pack of DIII Women’s Returners

Oles’ Olson Leads Historic Pack of DIII Women’s Returners

Notes: this preview is NOT predictive, but simply an overview of the top returners.  We refer to athletes by their eligibility year for the 2014-15 school year.

NEW ORLEANSWinter is coming:  the snow-bound state of Minnesota suddenly sits on the throne of NCAA Division III men’s and women’s cross country.  The top two finishers in last year’s women’s race both went to high school and college in Minnesota, and the top men’s and women’s returner both hail from the same tiny college in the North(field, Minn.).

Look Who’s Back

Returning 2013 All-Americans

Place Name Team
2 Noelle Olson St. Olaf
4 Hannah Oneda Johns Hopkins
5 Lucy Cheadle Wash U
6 Amy Regan Stevens Inst.
8 Michaela Freeby Willamette
9 Catherine Young U. of Chicago
11 Emma Lehmann Oberlin
13 Emma Gilbertson Wheaton (Ill.)
15 Frances Loeb Johns Hopkins
18 Elaine McVay MIT
20 Rachel Malone Brockport St.
22 Kimber Meyer Macalester
23 Cassandra Vince Calvin
25 Hannah Zydanowicz Roger Williams
28 Lindsay Neal Oberlin
29 Hannah Cole Williams
30 Lucy Skinner Bowdoin
32 Tricia Serres Luther
34 Lily Corsaro NYU
35 Emily Cousens NYU

20 – All-Americans Returning
58 – Top-100 Finishers Returning
(Based on listed 2013 eligibility)

That college is St. Olaf, and your top women’s returner is Ole sophomore Noelle Olson.  (We cover Jake Wintheiser and the rest of the top men’s returners HERE).  Olson is the only freshman woman[1] to place in the top two since DIII women began racing 6000 meters in 2002.  In fact, let’s take a little historical deep dive.  Here’s the extremely short list of women who cracked the top three in their XC nationals debut:

Year Name Place School
2013 Noelle Olson 2 St. Olaf
2005 Liz Montgomery 3 Geneseo
2001 Jenn Campbell 3 Williams
1999 Carolyn Jones 2 UC-San Diego
1998 Cheryl Smith 1 Cortland
1983 Jen Hintz 2 St. Thomas
1981 Cynthia Nagle 1 C-M-S

And here’s the even shorter list of sophomores who won nationals:

Year Name School
2011 Chiara del Piccolo Williams
2002 Missy Buttry Wartburg
1995 Jess Caley Williams
1984 Julia Kirtland Macalester

Note the Minnesota power in that second table: Buttry[2] won her title (by a ridiculous 55 seconds!) on the St. Olaf course, and Kirtland is a Macalester alum.

Joining a list that short is an uphill battle in any circumstances.  The grade of Olson’s hill will be particularly steep, though, as she’s raced just three times, all outdoors, since her precocious finish last November.

The Ole is certainly the most anomalous of our top returners, but Johns Hopkins junior Hannah Oneda isn’t far behind.  Just qualifying for Footlocker nationals makes her a DIII rarity; having both made Footlocker in high school and running Pan-Am juniors as an undergraduate[3] makes her a veritable unicorn.

Returner Spotlight:

Lucy Cheadle, Washington (Mo.)

Lucy Cheadle

Q: Do you consider yourself the favorite to win nationals? You’re the No. 3 returner, but had a much better track season than any of the other major contenders.
A: I don’t think I would call anyone the favorite to win nationals. What I love about cross country is that it’s never pre-determined. You could win every race all season but nothing is guaranteed unless you show up at nationals and compete. I do have a lot of confidence in my teammates and know that when we toe the line together in November we’ll be excited and ready to roll. My goal is just to do my job for the team and focus on our plan and the results will take care of themselves. 

Q: How have you balanced staying healthy/avoiding injuries and still training hard these last two years?
A: I am very lucky to have a coach (Jeff Stiles) who I trust completely and who always has my long-term health and goals in mind. I did have a stress fracture my sophomore year, but since then we have been more conservative with my mileage and incorporated more cross training. I also do more strength work now, which I think has made me more efficient and able to handle my training without getting injured. We’ve learned that having consistent training is more important for me than trying to push the envelope with mileage. Learning to be flexible and make adjustments has made a big difference in my running.

Q: What are the biggest similarities between you and actor Don Cheadle?
A: I actually get asked that a lot because the resemblance is really uncanny. But I think the biggest similarity is that we’re both most famous for our acting skills. I starred in my kindergarten musical “The Ugly Duckling” and gave a pretty memorable performance. He’s had a couple big parts, too, I think.

Oneda has more than lived up to her stellar high school CV, finishing tenth as a first-year and fourth as a sophomore— both times as the number one runner on a national championship team.

In any other year, Oneda and Olson would easily be considered co-favorites for the title.  But the two both clearly struggled with injuries in early 2014, as they’ve run just nine races between the two of them. 

That’s less than half of the nineteen times Lucy Cheadle circled the oval this spring; her nineteenth race saw the Washington (Mo.) senior win the national steeplechase title in the sixth-fastest DIII time ever. After breaking her foot in spring 2013, Cheadle took the following summer off and was still able to place fifth at last year’s cross country nationals.  She told me in May that coach Jeff Stiles has severely curtailed her mileage (“30-40 per week”) which kept her injury free in 2013-14. 

Though Cheadle was deferential about her chances in the sidebar interview, she’s clearly the third head of the Fluffy that makes up our co-favorites for the fall.

Poor Amy Regan. The Stevens Institute junior’s 16:41.95 5k at last year’s national meet would have won every 5k national championship (stretching back to the first one in 1982) that didn’t involve Christy Cazzola, Buttry, or UW-Lacrosse’s Tori Neubauer.

She took sixth on the oval in May. That’s the same place Regan was on grass in November; her sixth place finish makes her our No. 4 returner. Get to know Regan here.

Short of running like 19:30 for 6k and 15:30 for 5k, it’ll be tough for Michaela Freeby to wrest the crown of “most accomplished Willamette[4] track/XC alum” from Nick Symmonds. 

Like Olson and Oneda, Freeby has some injury issues from the recent 2014 outdoor nats.  On balance, though, the 2013 West region champ has performed well at national meets. She was fourth in the steeple in 2013, and eighth in cross last fall.  That eighth place finish makes her our No. 5 returner.

As good as Olson, Oneda, Cheadle, Regan, and Freeby are, they don’t have the best track credentials in the field.  That honor belongs[5] to Alana Enabnit of Wartburg, whose 16:25 5k, makes her the seventh fastest woman in DIII history.  Enabnit seemed to be on the path to challenging Cazzola: she took tenth at 2011 XC nationals and seventh in 2012; in between, she won the 5k/10k double at 2012 outdoor nationals by a combined 22 seconds.  In 2013-14, though, the Knight was clearly off her game, not racing in cross country and dropping out of the outdoor 10k, her only national appearance of the year.

In a wide-open year, a return to form for Enabnit could be good enough to add a cross country title to her pair from the track. And it’s equally likely that a runner we haven’t mentioned takes the crown out of Minnesota, reminding us for the umpteenth time that races aren’t run on paper, however fun that would be.

1. Freshwoman? Freshwomyn? (Back to story)

2. Buttry’s 15:37 5k is arguably the most unbreakable DIII women’s record; she’s now married to Olympic gold medallist Andrew Rock (Back to story)

3. Oneda finished fourth in the 5k in Medellin’s insane altitude last summer. (Back to story)

4. Pronounced Will-LAMB-it, as any proud Oregonian (is there any other kind?) will tell you. (Back to story)

5. It could have been shared by Cara DeAngelis of Ohio Wesleyan, who has nearly the exact same 5k PB as Enabnit, but DeAngelis will be pursuing her PhD at and running for the University of Toledo this year. (Back to story)