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 ORLEANS—Winter 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.).
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 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:
|2013||Noelle Olson||2||St. Olaf|
|1999||Carolyn Jones||2||UC-San Diego|
|1983||Jen Hintz||2||St. Thomas|
And here’s the even shorter list of sophomores who won nationals:
|2011||Chiara del Piccolo||Williams|
Note the Minnesota power in that second table: Buttry 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 makes her a veritable unicorn.
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 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 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)
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)