The field is set for the 2013 NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s cross country championship. The event will be held this Saturday at the L.S. Ayers Sports Complex on the campus of Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana. This is the third time the event has been held in Hanover, with the last being in 2008.
Upon conclusion of the regional meets this past weekend, 32 teams and an additional 56 individuals for both men and women qualified for the championship. The race features fierce battles for team titles on both sides and both defending teams come in atop the rankings— poised for a repeat. The race will also see a new men’s and women’s individual champion crowned. Last year’s winners, Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Christy Cazzola and Wisconsin-Stout’s Tim Nelson, are out of the picture having graduated.
The Women’s race will begin at 11 am, followed by the Men’s race at 12:30.
Women’s Teams – Johns Hopkins, then everyone else:
On the women’s side, Johns Hopkins University comes in having dominated the competition all year. They are seated atop the final USTFCCCA NCAA Division III National Coaches' Poll rankings and are heavy favorites to defend their title from a year ago.
Johns Hopkins cruised to an easy victory at the Mideast Regional with a low score of 26 points over second place finisher Dickinson College. The Blue Jays enjoyed a spread of less than a minute among their top seven, and their top four took spots two through five in the event.
As sure a bet as the favorite appears to be, the battle for spots two through five is very competitive. Last year’s second place team, Wartburg College, is coming off an 18 point victory in the Central Regional and currently sits fifth in the team rankings.
Last year’s fourth place team, Williams College, is favored to win the race for second place. The Ephs came out on top in a strong New England Regional. They defeated rival Middlebury College who comes in ranked fourth in the final coaches’ poll by a score of 44-57.
In addition to Williams and Middlebury, multiple other teams are in contention for a podium spot. The Knights of Calvin College enter after dominating the Great Lakes Regional, and are poised to greatly improve on their 18th place finish from 2012.
Not even in the national championship a year ago, The University of Chicago has continually climbed the rankings to their current sixth place rank. They too are a threat to jump into the top five.
Women’s Individual – The Chelsea Johnson show:
The race for an individual title reflects the team battle. Only three of the top 10 places from 2012 return. With the top six spots filled by seniors a year ago, an individual title seemed wide open entering the season.
After winning both the 5000 and 10000 individual titles in track, it seemed as though breakout performer Alana Enabnit of Wartburg was poised to seize that opening. However, her undisclosed absence from this season since her fourth place finish at the University of Minnesota Griak Invitational again opened the door.
That door has been all but slammed shut with the emergence of returning All-American Chelsea Johnson of St. Scholastica (15th in 2012). Johnson blew away the field at the Central Regional, covering the six kilometer course in 21:10, 20 seconds ahead of St. Olaf’s Noelle Olson.
Johnson has dominated the Division III individual scene as much as Johns Hopkins has dominated the team ranks. She has not lost to a Division III opponent all year and has been voted USTFCCCA Division III female athlete-of-the-week multiple times this season. She dismantled a national caliber field earlier in October with a 45-second win at the Pre-National meet. Her success on the national course and throughout the year has made her an overwhelming favorite for the individual title.
The battle for second place is much tighter. For St. Olaf’s Olson, a freshman, chasing Johnson is familiar territory. Olson placed second to Johnson at the Griak Invitational earlier this year before taking second behind Johnson at the regional meet.
Olson leads a contingency of talent that looks to take advantage should Johnson falter. Fellow freshman Cassandra Vince of Calvin College looked strong in her victory at the Great Lakes Regional with a time of 21:27.
Some upper classmen are also looking to challenge Johnson though. Returning All-Americans Kaleigh Kenny of Williams College (16th in 2012) and Johns Hopkins teammates Hannah Oneda and Holly Clarke (10th and 25th in 2012, respectively) look to improve on their placing from last year.
Top returner Jorden Johnson of St. Olaf (9th in 2012) had a solid fourth place finish with a time of 22:05 at the Central Regional. She hopes her experience will put her in contention to challenge Johnson for a national title.
Men’s Team – North Central, then everyone else:
The men’s team race looks a lot like the women’s. North Central College (Ill) tops the USTFCCCA NCAA Division III National Coaches' Poll for the eighth straight week and comes in as heavy favorites for a repeat. Led by the Midwest Regional champion, John Crain, North Central returns five runners from last year’s championship team. The Cardinals look to claim their fourth team title in five years.
Behind the Cardinals, things look very different than a year ago. Of the returning top five teams from a year ago, only North Central and Washington University out of St. Louis (5th in 2012), are ranked in the top 10.
The boys from St. Louis may prove to be the biggest threat to North Central’s hopes for a repeat. The Bears finished second to North Central in the Midwest, a regional which featured five of the top 12 teams in the nation. If they hope to bring down the North Central dynasty, however, they will have to close the 45-point gap seen in Illinois a weekend ago.
St. Olaf College (14th in 2012) narrowly defeated rival Central College (13th in 2012) by a score of 51-61 at the Central Regional. Both teams look to improve upon their placing from last year and make a run at the top five.
Other teams poised for a run at the top 5 include New England Region foes, Williams and Middlebury. Last weekend, the Ephs of Williams College squeaked out a one point victory over the Panthers of Middlebury. The teams come into this weekend ranked 4th and 5th respectively.
The individual battle does not have as clear a favorite as the team race. The exact opposite of the women’s race, seven of the top 10 competitors from last year, including the 2012 runner-up, return in this year’s field.
Crain, who finished sixth in 2012, earned the outdoor 5,000 meter individual title in May and has followed up with an impressive streak of racing this fall. Last weekend he ran the fastest regional time of 24:17 and comes in as one of the favorites. He is joined near the front by two other national champions, Michael LeDuc of Connecticut College (New England Regional Champion) and Chris Stadler of Haverford (2nd at Mideast Regional). Stadler and LeDuc are returning All-Americans and finished 12th and 14th respectively in 2012. LeDuc won on this course at the Pre-National meet in October.
Bobby Over of Allegheny College is the top returner from 2012. He finished second to Nelson in last year’s race and is coming off a narrow one-second victory over Stadler in the Mideast Regional with a time of 24:29.
Out of the Central Regional, last year’s third place finisher, Grant Wintheiser of St. Olaf (2nd at Central Regional) returns and looks to be in the mix for an individual championship. In addition to Crain, the Midwest Regional boasts two other All-Americans in the top five: Second place finisher, Wylie Mangelsdorf of Principia College (19th in 2012), and fifth place finisher, Kevin Sparks of Washington University (4th in 2012).