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. 4 women's spot goes to MIT, and here's why:
Probable Top Six:
SO Megan McCandless (17th at '16 NCAA XC)
SO Katie Bacher (4:34 1500; 203rd at '16 NCAA XC)
SO Marissa McPhillips (4:35 1500)
SO Jenna Melanson (10:43 3K SC; 5th at '17 NCAA 3K SC)
SR Mary Eccles (17:25 5K; 36:06 10K; 122nd at '16 NCAA XC; 60th at '15 NCAA XC)
JR Leandra Zimmermann (97th at '16 NCAA XC; 45th at '15 NCAA XC)
Katie Collins via Newton, MA (10:51 2 Mile)
Lindsey McAllister via Marymount, CA (10:35 3200)
MIT's women made their first nationals in only 2008, but every year since then they've been between second and sixth in the country. They'll be right back there this fall and for probably two years to come, as they could have four sophomores in their top six.
Of course, at MIT, bigger things than cross country can take precedence. For example, Jenny Xu was on the Engineers' national roster last fall but didn't run track in 2017 to focus on her burgeoning career as a "prolific game developer and computer programmer," according to head coach Halston Taylor. But mostly, their fifth-place squad from last year is back, with one major addition.
Megan McCandless will lead the way after a 17th-place finish last year, and Taylor says she's healthy after a heel injury that limited her to just five meets in track. She should be in the top 10 or 20 nationally, and we're ranking her at No. 8.
In the exact opposite situation is Jenna Melanson, who was just solid last fall but a star this spring, taking fifth in the steeplechase at outdoor nationals. Taylor says that "she doesn't just want to be seen as a steepler . . . I think she'll make that transition." It's tough to translate steeple results into cross country, but at a minimum, Melanson should be in the top 100 nationally. She has the upside to be significantly better than that.
Behind that duo, the Engineers have two veterans and two milers looking to make the leap. Mary Eccles and Leandra Zimmermann have five cross country national appearances (and three top-100 finishes) between them. Eccles was only 122nd last fall, but could return to her 60th-place form of two years ago, as she ran 36:06 for 10K on the track this spring.
On the whole, as can often be the case with a roster of cerebral athletes, the biggest question is confidence. Taylor says that that's been an issue in the past, but he doesn't think it will be this year, telling me that this team "doesn't think they're going to get it done -- they know they will. And it's so much easier for the 4-5-6-7 runners to jump on board when that's the case."
FULL WOMEN'S RANKINGS HERE