Preseason DI Women’s Individual Preview: If Iona’s Avery Repeats, She’d Have Earned It

Preseason DI Women’s Individual Preview: If Iona’s Avery Repeats, She’d Have Earned It


Note: This preview is not predictive, but simply an overview of the top returners.

NEW ORLEANS – Based off last year’s results and her margin of victory, one would think Iona’s Kate Avery is a shoo-in to repeat as NCAA Division I women’s champion.

Avery won by eight seconds at the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana and was never tested after breaking away 1,000 meters into the race. She became the first British woman to ever win a Division I women’s XC title in the process.

She parlayed that breakthrough performance into a successful 2015 track season where she set personal bests in the 3,000 (8:53.12) as well as the 5,000 (15:25.63) and 10,000 (31:44.44). Avery then competed at the 2015 IAAF World Championships, where she represented Great Britain in the 10K and continued to learn how to race against elite competition.

If cross country races and national championships were contested on paper, Avery would be crowned champion – but they’re not. There are several other women hot on Avery’s heels and will be looking to dethrone her come November.

Disanza Ready to Shine

Sarah Disanza

Wisconsin junior Sarah Disanza is no worse for wear after a nagging injury forced her to redshirt the outdoor track season.

Actually, Disanza is far from it.

“My fitness is even better than it ever had been before,” Disanza said late last week. “I’ve been able to get my base pace down on maintenance runs and I don’t know about workouts yet, but I have a feeling that’s better too.”

To be fair, Disanza probably knew her fitness wouldn’t be a problem after what she did on minimal training during the indoor track season.

Despite running only a few miles per week leading up to the 2015 Division I NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships – choosing to cross-train instead – Disanza earned All-America honors in the 5,000 meters. Disanza finished third, but her personal best from the season (15:20.57) would have won the race by 12 seconds.

“My focus was to compete and let everything else sort itself out,” Disanza said. “Those kinds of races are great about teaching you about what kind of competitor you are.”

Where Disanza truly shines, however, is on the cross country circuit – specifically in the postseason. Tack on an extra kilometer to the end of the race and trade synthetic rubber for grass (and maybe some mud), Disanza will have herself a party.

Disanza stepped into the spotlight last year at the Greater Louisville Classic when she won the Gold Invitational and guided Wisconsin to a team title. Nearly one month later she placed second at the Big Ten Conference Championships and took third at the Great Lakes Regional behind Michigan State’s Leah O’Connor and Rachele Schulist.

Then at the national meet, Disanza beat everyone not named Kate Avery. After Avery dropped the field at the 1K mark, Disanza led the chase pack and rattled off the quickest final 2K split of all entrants (6:39.0).

“The main take away from that race was I shouldn’t really set any limitations to myself,” Disanza said. “I should just shoot for the best possible situation based off how I’m feeling that day and trust that my training has prepared me well enough for what I want to accomplish, no matter what goal I set for myself.”

Expectations are high for Disanza and the Badgers, who finished 10th in the team standings at nationals last year. Wisconsin has reached NCAAs seven out of the past 10 years.

“Our team is kind of unique in that a lot of teams you see before the races, they’re really serious. You’ll hear our tent from a mile away,” Disanza said. “Everyone is having a good time, staying really, really relaxed. That’s what’s helped us have a lot of success last year and we hope this year, too.”

– Tyler Mayforth, USTFCCCA

Sarah Disanza, Wisconsin

Like the rest of the field last year, Disanza was left playing catch-up after Avery hit her second gear. But of all the women trying to reel in Avery, Disanza had the best bait.

Over the final two kilometers, Disanza posted the fastest split (6:39.0) and gained a full two seconds on Avery. Vince Lombardi once said, “We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time,” so maybe that has some merit here when talking about Disanza.

An injury forced Disanza to redshirt outdoor track, but her indoor track season opened some eyes. While Disanza only raced four times, she set a personal best in the 5K at the Boston University Opener (15:20.57) and wrapped up the season with a third-place finish in the event at NCAAs to earn All-America honors.

Finally healthy and now a junior, Disanza wants to make up for lost time.

Don’t forget about this: Disanza won the 2014 Greater Louisville Classic at the site of this year’s national meet. Disanza will have the chance to defend that title this year in a crowded field and 13 days later, Wisconsin hosts its prestigious adidas Invitational.

Rachele Schulist, Michigan State

It didn’t take Schulist long to find her groove last year in cross country.

Schulist won the season-opening Bill Dellinger Invitational and then never finished worse than fifth the rest of the way. Those races included star-studded fields at the Roy Griak Invitational, Wisconsin adidas Invitational and all of the postseason affairs.

At nationals, Schulist placed fourth to lead the Spartans to their first team XC title in program history. Schulist and Lindsay Clark, who also took home All-America honors, will create a formidable one-two punch for Michigan State this year.

Schulist wasn’t as successful on the track, but she held her own. Indoors, Schulist’s season was highlighted by a 3K win (9:01.25) at the Big Ten Championships. Outdoors, Schulist shattered a school record in the 5K with her time of 15:36.33 at the Virginia Challenge and placed second in the event at the Big Ten Championships. A subpar finish at the NCAA meet (14th in the 5K) left her hungry to get back on the course this fall.

Dominique Scott, Arkansas

Range is a critical component to a potential individual champion’s arsenal and Scott, a native of South Africa, has it in spades. Put Scott in a race between the distances of 1,500 meters and 10K, then sit back and watch her go to work.

This summer Scott established an Arkansas program record in the 1,500 (4:08.65), breaking the old mark that stood for 12 years. Scott set her previous best in the event (4:12.16) at the 2015 SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

But what about those other distances? Glad you asked.

Scott won two national indoors last March, anchoring the Razorbacks to a victory in the DMR and blistering the field en route to a 3K crown. Then outdoors, Scott broke a school record in the 5K (15:32.55), 10K (32:11.60) and finished second in both of those races at the national meet.

How could we forget about cross country? Scott crossed the finish line sixth at nationals and won the 2014 South Central Region individual title.

Crystal Nelson, Iowa State

No one saw much of Nelson after cross country season ended. Nelson only ran once indoors (fifth place in the 5K at the Big 12 Championships) and redshirted outdoors.

During cross country season, if you were going to look for Nelson you wanted to train your eyes to the front of the pack. Nelson never placed worse than seventh in her five races and posted two wins – once at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational and then at the Big 12 Championships. It was in Madison, Wisconsin, where Nelson posted the third fastest time in meet history (19:35.0) and led the Cyclones to a third-place finish.

Nelson is a two-time All American in cross country, placing 32nd in 2013 and seventh last year. She also won the 2013 Midwest Region individual championship.

Other Runners to Watch

Courtney Frerichs, New Mexico – Frerichs, who is the sixth fastest female steeplechaser in collegiate history, joined the Lady Lobos in the offseason. She finished 13th at last year’s NCAA XC meet as a junior at UMKC. Frirechs might be the key cog in New Mexico’s hopes of bringing a team title back to Albuquerque. Frerichs’ new teammate Alice Wright is another to watch after placing 20th last year as a freshman.

Molly Seidel, Notre Dame – Seidel, coming off a national title in the 10K this past spring (33:18.37), could parlay that success into a Top 10 finish or better in November. Last year Seidel finished 19th overall and was the only runner for the Irish in the Top 75.

Aisling Cuffe, Stanford – Cuffe, who finished fourth in 2013, sat out last fall on a redshirt. Will she be able to shake off the rust and get back to her All-America ways? If so, Cuffe should join sophomore sensation Elise Cranny (top finishing freshman last year) near the top of the pack.

Jillian Forsey, West Virginia – Forsey, an All American in 2014, led the Mountaineers to a surprising eighth place finish at NCAAs last year. WVU head coach Sean Cleary said he’ll monitor Forsey’s progress as she returns from an offseason injury. If Forsey is cleared to run by late September, she’ll have ample time to regain her 2014 form.

Now these are just several of the athletes poised to make a run at the individual title come November. Then again, a lot can happen between now and then. Stay tuned.

Look Who’s Back

Returning 2014 All-Americans

Place Athlete
1 Kate Avery, Iona
2 Sarah Disanza, Wisconsin
4 Rachele Schulist, Michigan State
6 Dominique Scott, Arkansas
7 Crystal Nelson, Iowa State
10 Chelsea Blaase, Tennessee
11 Lindsay Clark, Michigan State
12 Elise Cranny, Stanford
13 Courtney Frerichs, New Mexico (via UMKC)
14 Jillian Forsey, West Virginia
18 Megan Curham, Princeton
19 Molly Seidel, Notre Dame
20 Alice Wright, New Mexico
24 Rhianwedd Price, Miss State
25 Bethan Knights, California
27 Maddie Meyers, Washington
31 Erin Clark, Colorado
33 Catarina Rocha, Providence
36 Emily Stites, William & Mary
37 Samantha Nadel, Georgetown
38 Elizabeth Weiler, Lehigh
40 Andrea Keklak, Georgetown

22 – Returning 2014 All-Americans
56 – Returning 2014 Top-100 Finishers

(Based on 2013 eligibility)