Women’s College XC Season in Review

Over at Flotrack.org, I just posted a review of the men’s college cross country season. I thought I’d keep some for my own website, and posted the women’s season in review here.

Upset. Out in the post-race mosh pit trying to get interviews, your Flotrack crew wasn’t aware of team results right away. When I informed them that Georgetown won, the general reaction was “Really? Oh, OK, that makes sense.” This is my view of their win, both in that race and in the larger view of the season as a whole.

The Hoyas’ victory will probably be considered one of the biggest upsets of all time. But how much of an upset is it if the winning team started the season ranked #1? It was assumed they had the talent to win, but they just didn’t race well as a whole until the regionals and nationals.

Kevin Liao’s Flotrack pre-NCAA preview for Georgetown was oddly prescient:

Despite mediocre early races, there were many positive signs that things were coming together for the Hoyas. Georgetown was third at the tough Big East conference meet but it wasn’t until the Mid-Atlantic Regional that they showed their true potential.

The team’s depth was the biggest takeaway from [regionals]. Georgetown had its top seven runners through the finish line before Villanova’s fifth runner. Although only five score in cross country, the depth they showed may prove to be very valuable at nationals.

And, of course, it was; Georgetown had five across the line before anyone else did.

On the pre-meet show, I said that #1-ranked teams win about 50% of the time, #2 teams win about 40% of the time, and the last 10% come from the rest of the field. Georgetown, at #4 going into the meet, ties for the lowest-ranked champion since the coaches’ poll was started in 1995.

Not upset. Last year’s top three individuals were Sheila Reid, Emily Infeld, and Jordan Hasay. That trio went 1-4-2 this year (Infeld lost some training time early in the season due to injury). Despite the mass dash to the finish, the top end ended up basically as was expected.

Reid is the sixth multi-time NCAA cross country champion, and the third from Villanova. She led a pretty strong day for Canadians, as they took fourth (Cam Levins) and fifth (Mo Ahmed) in the men’s race.

Florida State. It’s easy for me to say this now, but before the race I kept on bouncing back and forth between thinking the Seminoles were untouchable and simply not good enough to win. It turns out the second thought was the right one.

They did keep the same relatively tight pack they had during the regular season, but as a group they just weren’t fast enough. Their first two runners combined for 45 points, as compared to 36 for Georgetown , 17 for Washington and 5 for Villanova.

The other thought I had was that teams from warm-weather areas don’t tend to do so well at cross country, especially if it’s less than pleasant weather. I looked it up, and only once has a champion team come from within 200 miles of the Gulf of Mexico: Houston ’s men, in 1960. And the trend continues.

Pushes. Four different women’s teams got into the NCAA Championships on a “push”, meaning they had insufficient victories during the regular season and qualified by finishing ahead of a regional rival who did. North Carolina , ranked #25 in the nation going into regionals, where they finished third, did not qualify to nationals. A few observers said it wasn’t right.

But how did it all turn out? Here are the pushed teams:
Toledo : qualified 23rd, finished 21st
San Francisco : qualified 25th, finished 25th
West Virginia : qualified 27th, finished 8th
Weber State : qualified 29th, finished 29th

The two Southeast regional teams, the ones who finished ahead of North Carolina , were Virginia (ranked 19th, finished 20th) and NC State (ranked 20th, finished 23rd). Maybe North Carolina did merit inclusion in the field, but their case is much weaker now than it was a week ago.

Here’s the other thing: upsets should happen. Otherwise sports are boring. Watching the inevitable happen is not exactly thrilling. One of the reasons the NFL is a television ratings juggernaut is because the letters could stand for “Not For Long”. Watching a team pull off an upset is exciting, whether it’s to win a championship or merely to get there.

Peaking. Neither of the top two women’s teams won their conference championship. Georgetown was third at the Big East and Washington was second in the Pac-12. I’m not sure to what extent Georgetown’s not winning their conference was by design; I don’t think they were capable of it at the time, no matter what they did. Washington’s not winning the Pac-12 was almost as much because of another coach’s design as their own.

Colorado was ranked 16th heading into the Pac-12, behind three other teams in the conference, and won the thing. It was considered a huge upset, and it probably was since the Buffaloes ended up 11th at the NCAA Championships. Coach Mark Wetmore targeted his team’s season for that meet, because he knew that they weren’t going to do much on the national stage. Also, it was their first year in the new conference and he wanted to make a splash.

Who’s up for next year? Jordan Hasay is the top athlete who has eligibility remaining. It’s not impossible that she turns pro this summer and skips her senior year, but she’d have a very hard time making the Olympic team. I think we’ll see here back here next year. If she can win, she’d be the first girls’ Foot Locker high school cross country champion to go on and win an NCAA championship. There are others who are capable of beating her; Abby D’Agostino (Dartmouth) was third, and Katie Flood (Washington) beat her at the Pac-12.

In terms of teams, the early favorites for 2012 are Washington and Florida State , both of which had fairly young teams. Using a scoring system similar to what I used for the men, the next teams are Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Iowa State and Boston College .

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