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2017 FloXC Countdown: #13 BYU 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. 13 women's spot goes to BYU, and here's why:

Probable Top Three:

JR Erica Birk (4:38 Mile; 9:23 3K; 9:58 3K SC; 34th at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Laura Young (9:25 3K; 16:10 5K; 34:07 10K; 72nd at '16 NCAA XC)
SO Olivia Hoj (9:44 3K; 16:22 5K; 82nd at '16 NCAA XC)

Fourth & Fifth Woman Battle:

SR Ashleigh Warner (4:39 Mile; 9:49 3K; 123rd at '16 NCAA XC)
SO Courtney Wayment (9:26 3K; 10:04 3K ST; 153rd at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Kristi Rush (4:39 Mile; 9:21 3K; 9:57 3K SC)
FR Kearan Nelson (10:32 3200; 6th at '16 FL XC)

Impact Freshmen/Transfers:

Kearan Nelson via Veradale, WA (10:32 3200; 17:45 5K XC; 6th at '16 FL XC)
Whitney Rich via South Jordan, UT (10:34 3200; 17:39 5K XC; 11th at '16 NXN)
Sara Musselman via American Fork, UT (10:40 3200; 17:44 5K XC; 19th at '16 FL XC)
Kate Hunter via Provo, UT (10:53 3200; 17:51 5K XC; 18th at '16 FL XC)
Ally Geisler via Kaysville, UT (5:03 1600; 17:48 5K XC; 104th at '14 NXN)

Analysis:

In a squad that returns all but one (Yesenia Silva) of their 2016 scoring five, BYU has a great chance to score another top-15 finish in 2017 despite the loss of longtime coach Patrick Shane two years ago, now replaced by Diljeet Taylor. 

Top returner Erica Birk was the only female Cougar to achieve All-American status last year with her 34th-place finish, and in 2017 she looks set to improve upon that with PRs in every single distance she contested on the track (800, 1500, mile, 3K, 3K SC) in the winter and spring this year. She's joined by teammates Laura Young and Olivia Hoj, who finished 10 spots apart in 72nd and 82nd in that race and could do well to work together to crack the top 50 this season. Of the two, Young is the one coming off track PRs aplenty including her 16:10 5K -- the fastest of the BYU XC contenders this year.

Aside from her XC accolades, Birk is also a speedy steepler with her 9:58 PB. But two more star steeplers in Courtney Wayment (10:04) and Kristi Rush (9:57) will be in the hunt for the scoring spots behind Birk. Wayment has the more decorated XC resume having been a part of the '16 NCAA squad, but Rush has nice mile and 3K flat bests of 4:39 and 9:21 that could see her take the edge this year. Finishing higher than both Wayment and Rush last year was Ashleigh Warner, whick kicked off a breakout track year for her in 2017 to bring her mile time down from 4:56 to 4:39.

The final thing the Cougars have going for them is their best all-around American recruiting class in years. Five of the incoming freshmen have made Footlocker or NXN finals in high school, with four of those women having placed in the top 20. The one with the best chance to make an immediate impact for the squad, should she not redshirt, will be Kearan Nelson hailing from Veradale, WA, who finished a very impressive sixth in HS XC's most competitive meet last year and holds the best 3200 PR of the preps with her 10:32 mark from last spring.

With a team that may still be adjusting to the top, 2017 could be a landmark year for the Cougars as many of their stars will be spending their last year of eligibility for one last shot at the Big Dance. With most senior athletes looking as good as ever on the track this year, should the freshmen step up we could see a lethal combination for the lady Cougars this fall.

FULL WOMEN'S RANKINGS HERE
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