2019 NCAA DI Women’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll – Preseason
NEW ORLEANS – The team title in NCAA Division I Women’s Cross Country is projected to return to the Four Corners of the United States for the fourth time in the past five years.
But what team from those states is expected to hoist the trophy high above its heads following the conclusion of the 2019 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, on November 23? That’s up for debate according to the coaches who cast a ballot in the preseason edition of the NCAA DI Women’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll.
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Defending champion Colorado, national runner-up New Mexico and last year’s seventh-place team BYU all received first-place votes from the coaches: The Buffaloes landed No. 1 on six of the 11 ballots and that’s where they’ll begin the season for just the fourth time since 2001; the Lady Lobos headlined four ballots and come in at No. 2 for the third time since 2011; that left a single first-place vote for the Cougars, who enter the season at No. 6, establishing its best preseason billing in the past 13 years.
Colorado will have its work cut out for itself if it wants to become the first women’s team to repeat since Villanova from 2009 to 2010. The Buffs lost four of the seven women who competed – and three of the five women who scored – last year in Madison, Wisconsin (That includes individual champion Dani Jones).
You should know by now not to doubt a team coached by Mark Wetmore.
Two of those athletes returning to Boulder are All-Americans Tabor Scholl and Sage Hurta, who both finished in the top-25 last year (Scholl, 15th; Hurta, 22nd). The Buffs also add a pair of talented transfers in Rachel McArthur (Villanova) and Emily Venters (Boise State). McArthur won the individual title in the Mid-Atlantic Region last year, while Venters earned All-America honors with her 39th-place finish.
Very few teams have been more successful than New Mexico in recent memory. The Lady Lobos, who have graced the top of the National Coaches’ Poll 16 times in the past five years, captured national titles in 2015 and 2017, and finished runner-up last year.
New Mexico has the strongest 1-2 in the nation at the top of its lineup with Weini Kelati and Ednah Kurgat. Kelati had a breakthrough season last year with a regional title and a runner-up finish at the NCAA meet, while 2017 NCAA individual champ Kurgat finished second and fifth, respectively. Look for Adva Cohen to continue her strong running after getting her feet wet in the NCAA system. Cohen, who transferred from Iowa Central CC last year, improved her track PRs to 9:44.41 in the steeplechase and 15:31.01 over 5000 meters.
Washington is ranked third to begin the season, just the fourth time it has been in the top-5 in the past six years. The Huskies finished ninth at NCAAs, one year after finishing 21st, so there is no reason to doubt they won’t be able to take more strides under Maurica Powell’s direction. Katie Rainsberger (19th at NCAAs last year) and Lilli Burdon (33rd) are a formidable 1-2 at the top of the lineup, while Allie Schadler rode a wave of momentum from the cross country season onto the track that will only help her this fall.
Michigan comes into the season at No. 4, the same spot it finished 2018. Youth was served last year for the Wolverines, as freshmen Camille Davre and Anne Forsyth were among the team’s best runners all season, especially at NCAAs (Davre was the top finishing freshman in 29th, Forsyth was 46th). Michigan is in a good spot, as it added a strong recruiting class that features talented freshmen and impact transfers.
Stanford finished fifth at NCAAs last year and holds down that spot in the preseason poll. The Cardinal returns five of those athletes, including Fiona O’Keefe and Jessica Lawson. O’Keefe had a strong junior year in which she earned three All-America honors (17th in cross country, 3rd in the indoor 5000 and 7th in the outdoor 5000), while Lawson finished just outside of All-America contention in both cross country (44th) and in the outdoor 1500 (10th in the final).
No. 6 BYU returns all seven runners from last year’s seventh-place team, including Erica Birk-Jarvis and Courtney Wayment. Birk-Jarvis and Wayment both finished in the top-25 last year with Birk-Jarvis headlining the group in seventh place. One runner who didn’t compete for the Cougars at the national meet last year was Whittni Orton, as injuries sidelined her after just two meets. Orton was runner-up at the Joe Piane Invitational in late September and then returned to earn First-Team All-America honors on the track in the outdoor 1500.
The rest of the top-10 in the preseason is rounded out by No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 9 Oregon and No. 10 NC State. This matches the Badgers’ best preseason ranking since 2007, while the Razorbacks haven’t been ranked this high to begin the season since 2014.
We’ll release the next NCAA DI Women’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll on September 17.