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2017 FloXC Countdown: #21 Villanova Women

Follow our 2017 FloXC Countdown, where FloTrack ranks the top 25 cross country teams and individuals in the NCAA this season which will be LIVE on FloTrack. The No. 21 women's spot goes to Villanova, and here's why:

Probable Top Three:

SR Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (2:01 800; 4:33 Mile; 85th at '16 NCAA XC)
JR Bella Burda (9:20 3K; 16:19 5K; 33:50 10K; 136th at '16 NCAA XC)
JR Nicole Hutchinson (4:13 1500; 9:09 3K; 197th at '16 NCAA XC)

Fourth & Fifth Woman Battle:

SO Kaley Ciluffo (2:06 800; 4:43 Mile; 225th at '16 NCAA XC)
FR Lauren Ryan (4:20 1500; 9:21 3K; 13th at '16 World Jr 3K; 44th at '17 World Jr XC)
SO Ann Campbell (4:25 1500; 9:41 3K; 16:51 5K; 222nd at '15 NCAA XC)
SR Katie Fisher (9:42 3K; 16:53 5K; 210th at '16 NCAA XC)
FR Rachel McArthur (2:05 800; 4:41 1600; 17:16 5K XC; 14th at '15 NXN)
SR Kelsey Margey (2:05 800; 4:17 1500)

Impact Freshmen/Transfers:

Rachel McArthur via Nokesville, VA (2:05 800; 4:41 1600; 17:16 5K XC; 14th at '15 NXN)
Alex Harris via Thiells, NY (10:14 3K SC; 18:23 5K XC; 3rd at '15 Pan-Am Jr 3K SC)
Lauren Ryan via Australia (4:20 1500; 9:21 3K; 13th at '16 World Jr 3K; 44th at '17 World Jr XC)

Analysis:

Led by head coach Gina Procaccio in what will be her 18th year, the Villanova Wildcats play host to a heavy returning class along with some blue chip recruits that could see them eclipse their '16 NCAA finish of 21st.

In 2016, Nova surpassed pre-season expectations in part due to international talent Síofra Cléirigh Büttner, whose range from 800m (2:01.9) to 6K XC is almost unthinkable. How many top-100 NCAA XC runners out there have split a sub-56 400 on the books? The one knock on her is that she extended her season all the way through August to compete in the 800m heats of the London world championships representing Ireland, but should she find herself recovered from that effort she'll be looking to lead the team with a top-75 national finish in her last season of XC eligibility.

In fact, all but one of the Wildcats' 2016 NCAA squad returns -- NCAA mile runner-up and XC frontrunner Angel Piccirillo, who graduated. The two runners behind her and Buttner in that '16 NCAA race are Bella Burda and Nicole Hutchinson, now both XC juniors. They look to remain locks in the scoring lineup, with high school XC standout Burda coming off a 33:50 10K PR and Hutchinson having qualified for indoor and outdoor NCAAs with her 4:13 in the 1500 this spring.

There are a number of middle-distance standouts that will be looking to step up (both literally in distance, and figuratively) to score those crucial fourth and fifth-finisher points for Nova in 2017. '16 NCAA returners Katie Fisher, Ann Campbell, and Kaley Ciluffo all finished between 210th and 225th at nationals last year, and all three are coming off PRs in the indoor season, though Fisher and Campbell also extended their range to the 5K and 10K outdoors.

Nova boasts two freshman recruits who could make an immediate impact on the '17 team, should the coaches choose to not redshirt them -- Rachel McArthur and Lauren Ryan. McArthur achieved national notoriety for winning the Brooks PR 800m this spring, but her distance acumen is nearly as impressive with a 17:16 XC 5K best and a 14th-place showing at NXN in her junior year. The real wildcard for the Cats will be Ryan, who ran as a superstar prep in Australia and has global championship experience that almost no other women in the NCAA have. Ryan not only holds impressive 1500 and 3K PBs, but she has also already competed against the world's best both on dirt with her 44th-place finish at World XC Juniors this year, and on the track in the 3K at World Juniors last year.

Though the loss of Piccirillo will certainly be a blow to the team, Villanova's upward trend looks set to continue this XC season if their middle-distance stars and freshman talents can translate their successes to the grass in Louisville.

FULL WOMEN'S RANKINGS HERE
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