Less than 24 hours after the Nuttycombe Invitational, the second big NCAA cross country meet of the weekend gets going in Terre Haute. The Pre Nationals meet at the site of this year’s NCAA Championships features four of the top seven women’s teams in the nation. Here are three big questions that will be answered in the race:
Will BYU Cement Their Status As A Podium Contender?
Thus far, the Arkansas women’s team is as good as advertised. The rest of the podium spots look up for grabs.
BYU’s dominant victory at the Bill Dellinger Invitational put them in the mix with a handful of other teams in a tier just below Arkansas at this point in the season.
Currently, the Cougars are ranked third, but there should be a bunch of movement this weekend with New Mexico (#2), Stanford (#4), Michigan (#5), Colorado (#6), Washington (#7), and Utah (#8) racing either in Terre Haute or in Wisconsin.
This weekend, BYU won’t race their top finisher from two weeks ago, Whittni Orton. Orton beat teammate Erica Birk by five seconds in Oregon. It was a surprise result, but one that bolstered BYU’s team chances (Birk is one of the top runners in the nation) and moved Orton into the individual top 10.
BYU still has a nice core racing on Saturday with Birk, Courtney Wayment, and Olivia Hoj. Beating Michigan, Colorado, and Washington without Orton would be a significant show of strength.
How Will Colorado Bounce Back From Loss At Joe Piane?
On paper, the matchup between Colorado and BYU should be close. Two weeks ago, the defending champions finished second at the Joe Piane Invitational, six points behind upstart Utah. Colorado got good performances from Sage Hurta (10th) and Tabor Scholl (12th), but the 32 places between their fourth and fifth runners were too much to overcome.
It’s a safe bet that in those past two weeks, they’ve shored up that No. 5 spot. The team is too deep not to be able to tighten up that gap. Colorado didn’t run their full roster at Notre Dame as well, so there could be relief coming from their bench. In addition to Hurta and Scholl, Colorado’s third and fourth runners at Notre Dame (Annie Hill and Rachel McArthur) ran well in 20th and 21st.
Another steady performance like that and Colorado will be fine. This race should be a bit deeper than Notre Dame, though, magnifying any vulnerabilities that teams have with their scoring five.
Can Freshmen Lead Washingon Or Michigan To Surprise Win?
The seventh-ranked Huskies have turned in solid performances this fall. They were third at the John McNichols Invitational and then fourth at the Joe Piane Invitational two weeks ago. In both those races they were led by freshman Melany Smart.
Smart — from Perth, Australia — introduced herself to the country with a fifth-place finish at McNichols. Then she was fourth at Joe Piane, beating established NCAA stars Ednah Kurgat and Anna Rohrer. There’s still a long way to go in the season, but to have her as a low scorer is a huge help for the Huskies.
Michigan finished nine points behind Washington at McNichols and is also led by a freshman. Ericka Vanderlende was fourth in that race and has been the Wolverines top runner in all three of their meets this year. After her prep career, it was expected that she’d contribute right away. Like Washington, Michigan will need their veterans to close the gap if they want to get a win on Saturday.