The Case Western Reserve University women's cross country team will get its 2019 campaign underway this weekend, as the Spartans will embark upon the season aiming for the team's sixth NCAA Championship berth in program history and its first since the 2010 campaign.
Despite losing five of their top seven runners from last year's team, which placed eighth out of 33 teams at the NCAA Regionals, the Spartans will have a veteran squad returning in 2019, with 12 experienced runners slated to compete. In addition, the roster will be bolstered by the addition of a strong six-person class of first-year competitors.
"Our women's team has a really good chance of getting a national bid," said 16th-year Head Coach Kathy Lanese. "We are going to be a better team this year, and compete for an at-large opportunity in the NCAA Championships."
CWRU is ranked ninth in the USTFCCCA's Great Lakes Region preseason poll to start the campaign, the team's highest preseason regional ranking since 2015.
The Spartans' strength will come from the top of its lineup, with senior Madeline Lindemann and Kiera Olson each scheduled to return after the duo finished first and second, respectively, in each of the team's races last year. Lindemann qualified individually for and placed 98th overall at the NCAA Championships in 2018 after placing 10th and earning All-Region honors at the Great Lakes meet. Meanwhile, Olson emerged as one of the top runners on the team during her sophomore season, and narrowly missed out on all-region honors with a 43rd-place finish at the Great Lakes meet.
CWRU will have competition behind their top two runners, as the team aims to fill the spots vacated by last year's senior class. Senior Vanessa Pasadyn will provide a veteran option, after placing among the team's top-seven runners in all but one race she has competed in throughout her four year career. Sophomores Jana Fisher (who competed in track but not cross country last season) and Susanna Henry (who was the team's 10th finisher at the UAA Championships) are other strong candidates to vie for a scoring spot on the team.
Additional experienced options for the Spartans include senior Mallorie Mitchem, juniors Olivia Battistoni, Cara Giannuzzi, Grace Kemerer and Madison Vargo, and sophomores Julia Kocherzat and Maddy Nacci.
Addition depth among scoring competitors for the Spartans in 2019 could come from a strong incoming class of first-year runners.
"I'm looking for the fifth finisher now, which could be any number of freshmen, including Stephanie Wroblewski, who is coming off an injury but is extremely talented, and Danielle Sarno, who is running really well right now," said Lanese.
Other freshmen looking to make an impact in 2019 include Suki Bristol, Rae Dwyer, Cassidy Hill and Melissa Phung.
Case Western Reserve will open its season this Saturday, August 31st by hosting the annual Sudeck Classic Stampede at the Squire Valleevue Farm in Hunting Valley, Ohio. The meet will provide an early gauge for the Spartans, who will be facing a pair of regionally-ranked teams in the race in no. 5 John Carroll University and no. 7 Allegheny College. The women's 4K race is scheduled to begin at 11:15 a.m.
CWRU will then turn its attention toward three meets in September – the Calvin Invitational in Grand Rapids, Michigan on September 7th, the Gator Invitational in Meadville, Pennsylvania on September 14th and the All-Ohio Championships in Cedarville, Ohio on September 28th, as the squad will aim to create a team mentality early in the campaign.
"I always look for pack running the first few meets, as we try to build chemistry right from the start," said Lanese. "We want our one-to-five to finish very tight, within 30 seconds of each other. As the season goes on, when you build that chemistry from the start, we think we're going to be more of a unit. I believe on both ends, we're going to be able to do that this year."
The Spartans will open October with the Pre-National Meet in Louisville, Kentucky on the 5th, which will provide the team with a preview of both the site and competition level of the NCAA Championships later in the year. After a mid-season tune-up at the Inter-Regional Rumble in Oberlin, Ohio on October 19th, Case Western Reserve will embark on its championship season, beginning with the UAA Championships in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 2nd.
The Spartans are slated to compete at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 16th, as the team will aim to qualify for the NCAA Championships, either by finishing among the top-two teams at the meet, or placing high enough to secure an at-large bid. Should CWRU secure one of the 32 spots in the national meet, the Spartans will head back to Louisville for the NCAA Division III Championships at Tom Sawyer State Park on November 23rd.
Fans can follow the Spartans throughout the season on athletics.case.edu, where previews, results and recaps for each meet will be posted, including for this Saturday's Sudeck Classic Stampede.