Follow our 2017 FloXC Countdown, where FloTrack ranks the top ten cross country teams and individuals in the NCAA this season which will be LIVE on FloTrack. The No. 5 women's spot goes to Ithaca, and here's why:
Probable Top Five:
SR Taryn Cordani (16:28 5K; 34:27 10K; 3rd at '17 NCAA 5K; 1st at '17 NCAA 10K; 11th at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Denise Ibarra (17:42 5K; 10:53 3K SC; 48th at '16 NCAA XC; 104th at '15 NCAA XC)
JR Emilie Mertz (4:41 1500; 181st at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Sierra Grazia (4:39 1500; 196 at '16 NCAA XC)
SO Annie Morrison (126th at '16 NCAA XC)
After an eight-year run outside of the top 20, the Ithaca Bombers exploded back on to the national scene with an 11th-place finish last November. Sixth-year head coach Erin Dinan says, "My team is always the team that nobody expected to do anything." But that's no longer the case when you bring back your entire top five from an 11th-place team, led by the arguable favorite for the national title.
Taryn Cordani was an excellent runner in 2016, taking eighth in the indoor 3K, 15th in the outdoor 5K, and 11th in cross country. Then she made a huge leap in 2017, sweeping national titles in the 3K and 5K indoors and winning the 10K and taking third in the 5K outdoors. She's only the fifth returner, but every woman who beat her last fall either lost to her at outdoor nationals, has been dealing with injuries, or some combination of both. Cordani's 16:28 5K indoors is third all-time behind Christy Cazzola and Amy Regan; that's the level she's at. She's a clear preseason No. 1.
Cordani and Denise Ibarra gives Ithaca the best 1-2 punch outside of Johns Hopkins and WashU, and those two teams will be contending for the national championship. Ibarra is the 28th returner after finishing 48th last year, and backed that up by making outdoor nationals in the steeplechase. Starting the scoring with the national champion and a second All-American gives the Bombers some margin for error with their next three scorers -- let's say Cordani and Ibarra finish first and 30th. That would equal roughly 21 points.
Since the field expanded to 32 teams in 2006, the fifth-place women's team has had an average score of 246 points; for Ithaca, that means that they need to get roughly 230 out of their third through fifth runners. Morrison, Mertz, and Grazia added up to 349 last year. That sounds like a long way from 230, but in reality it means about a 15-20 second improvement per runner. This should be a top ten team no matter what; if Ithaca's returning scorers have improved by about 1.5 percent, they could contend for the podium.
FULL WOMEN'S RANKINGS HERE