Probable Top Four:
JR Avery Evenson (9:34 3K; 16:34 5K; 18th at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Gina Sereno (9:07 3K; 15:49 5K; 15th at '17 NCAA Outdoor 5K; 30th at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Jaimie Phelan (4:11 1500; 1st at '17 NCAA Outdoor 1500; 65th at '16 NCAA XC)
SO Maddy Trevisan (16:27 5K; 34:09 10K; 46th at '16 NCAA XC)
Fifth Woman Battle:
SR Jamie Morrissey (2:05.5 800; 4:17 1500; 90th at '16 NCAA XC)
JR Audrey Belf (4:43 Mile; 9:21 3K; 16:16 5K; 106th at '15 NCAA XC)
JR Claire Borchers (9:56 3K SC; 17th in '17 NCAA Outdoor 3K SC; 166th at '16 NCAA XC)
Audrey Belf via Georgetown (4:43 Mile; 9:21 3K; 16:16 5K; 106th at '15 NCAA XC)
Camille Davre via Milwaukee, WI (2:09.2 800; 4:48 Mile; 1st at '15, '16, & '17 NBN Indoor 800)
Mallory Barrett via Highland, MI (2:11 800; 17:47 5K XC)
Nobody could forget the historic team battle that took place between Oregon and Michigan at last year's NCAA championship. It perfectly described the essence of cross country -- two underdog teams, ranked just fifth and 11th coming in to the champs, having the races of their lives to battle for the win, and a photo finish where the fifth woman made all the difference:
Unfortunately Michigan came out on the wrong side of that finish, and 'lost' the team title by one point. I put lost in quotes because the performance marked a milestone for head coach Mike McGuire (in his 26th year no less) as the team's best finish since 1994, when they also placed second. And though the loss of top performer and individual NCAA XC runner-up Erin Finn is big (having run out of XC eligibility), the Wolverines have a few reasons to be excited in 2017.
Top returner Avery Evenson is a special case. After a good but not spectacular high school career, she spent two years at UC Colorado Springs -- not to run for their team, but instead to train with USA Triathlon, culminating in a fourth-place finish at the U23 Triathlon World Championships in 2015. In her first year of collegiate cross country competition at Michigan last year, she flourished, finishing ninth at regionals and then surpassing all expectations to cross the line 18th at nationals behind Finn. After dedicating herself to the sport, she's continued to show fitness since then, posting de-facto PRs of 9:34 and 16:34 during the 2017 indoor season. Without a solid gauge on her ceiling, Evenson stands to move up and could be the low stick to replace Finn that Michigan will need.
An experienced championship performer in Gena Sereno will look to go out with a bang in her last season of XC eligibility. Sereno has been a factor for the team since her freshman year, and she's got impressive strength, being an NCAA individual qualifier for nationals in the indoor 3K, outdoor 5K, and 10K. She's also coming off a big 15:49 5K PB this spring -- one that paved the way to an eventual 15th-place finish for her in the super-competitive NCAA outdoor final in that event. An improvement upon her 30th-place finish last year seems not only possible, but likely.
Fellow upperclassman Jaimie Phelan has the tools to do something really special in 2017. Despite her 10 seconds (or, perhaps more fittingly, one-tenth of a second) of infamy last fall in losing the team title, Phelan's 2016 XC season was actually the beginning of a breakthrough year for her, having finished 35 spots ahead of her '15 placing at nationals. Determined to not have that fateful photo become her namesake, Phelan shocked the nation this spring in winning the NCAA outdoor 1500 title, posting a 4:11.92 PB in the prelims to boot. Expectations are much higher for the senior now, who should contend for at least an All-American finish at the big dance this fall.
Less experienced -- but perhaps just as talented -- is sophomore Madeline Trevisan. She really excelled as a freshman last year, forgoing the XC redshirt to finish 22nd at regionals and 46th at nationals, just six spots away from being the team's fourth All-American athlete at that meet. Trevisan redshirted her freshman track seasons, but ran well as an unattached athlete, posting 16:27 and 34:09 PBs on the track in her first year of collegiate competition. If all goes right for the Wolverines in 2017, Trevisan could be seeing herself make up those six spots and (assuming Evenson, Serena, and Phelan all do it) finally complete a quartet of Michigan All-Americans.
If the star power up front wasn't enough to wow you, maybe the best thing that the Blue have going for them is their depth. There are a whole host of women who could battle for the last scoring spot with a top-100 finish, including Jamie Morrissey, Audrey Belf, Claire Borchers, and Sophie Linn. If not for the 'other' Jaimie of Michigan, Jamie Morrissey would be the top Wolverine miler, holding an impressive 4:17 1500 best from last spring along with 2:05 800 speed. Her 91st-place finish at last year's NCAAs was impressive and could be enough to snatch the fifth spot this year. And for what it's worth, Morrissey was the No. 2 finisher at her season opener last week, just behind Sereno. Belf comes in as a standout transfer from Georgetown, arriving at Michigan to complete her final two years of eligibility. McGuire is no stranger to developing late transfers -- see Erika Fluehr, Anna Willard, and Amanda Eccleston, to name a few -- and he should guide Belf to eventually improve upon her 106th-place finish from '15 NCAAs. Lastly, Borchers could round out the scorers on her best day, coming off a 9:56 steeple PB last spring and being the last Wolverine across the line as part of the '16 dream team.
With so many ways the race could go for the Wolverines and an uncertain top five, it's difficult to pin a number on this team, but one thing is clear: the Blue have the tools to really excel this season, and coming off of last year's performance they've already proven that they can overcome great odds. Should the pieces fall in place, McGuire could be looking at another national championship contending team despite the loss of their top runner.
FULL WOMEN'S RANKINGS HERE