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The nation’s best Division II cross country runners had to endure what was described as “20 degree day with howling winds, blowing snow and inches of mud” by the folks at Western State during the NCAA Championships in Slippery Rock, Pa. last year. Chances are the conditions won’t be nearly as tough this time out when Southern Indiana and the Southern Indiana Cross Country Course play host to the 2009 NCAA Championships Nov. 21.
The defending national champions will be among the favorites this fall as the Grizzlies return five of their top seven runners from last year’s squad. Senior Aaron Braun, who has finished second at the NCAA Championships for the second straight season, will lead the way for the Grizzlies. Behind him will be three other seniors who finished in the top 25. Adams State was a 21-point victor over archrival Western State in last year’s title meet and we could very well see another showdown between the two to end the season.
The Wildcats lose a lot in individual champion Scott Bauhs and 20th place finisher Angel Marquez. But the cupboard is far from bare out in California where Chico State will have five of its top seven finishers back at the starting line this fall following a third place finish at the NCAA Championships. There’s also a lot of hype surrounding incoming freshman Isaac Chavez who has been tabbed as the most decorated recruit in the Wildcats history.
Grand Valley State
The Lakers lose one senior from last year’s top seven and five of those top seven were freshmen. Youth was not a problem for GVSU last season as the Lakers finished fifth at the NCAA Championships. Sophomores Tyler Emmorey and Ryan Toth – both All-Americans – were top 30 finishers last fall and will be the leaders of the 2009 squad.
Talk about a team on the rise. Two years ago, the Royals finished 15th at the NCAA Championships. Last year, they went home with a seventh place finish. And with their entire top seven expected to return, the Royals should be taking aim at some hardware this fall. Michael Crouch will be the No. 1 runner for Queens after he ran his way to a third place finish in the individual championships.
Losing two seniors normally would be a big loss for any team, but for Western State it certainly seems like that’s something the Mountaineers should be able to overcome. Its top five runners last year were all underclassmen and senior Iain Donnan, the fourth place finisher at the individual championships, will be the Mountaineers No. 1 runner this fall. This program has a national championship pedigree and always seems to be in the hunt. The Mountaineers have won five national titles this decade.
The Grizzlies have won 14 national championships in the 28 years since a champion has been crowned for the Division II women. Few programs have been as dominant in their respective sports as the women of Adams State have and they certainly have the ingredients to win a seventh straight national championship this fall. They will lose their top two runners from last season, but something tells us that won’t hold back the Grizzlies.
Never before had an Augustana team finished so high at the NCAA Championships. Coming in fifth at the meet last year, the Vikings had all seven runners finish among the top 100 and all of them return this fall. Alyssa Anderson and Molly Clark, both seniors, will look to improve on their 30th and 37th place finishes, respectively.
The Falcons just happen to return the defending national champion. Senior Jessica Pixler was almost half a minute better than Shippensburg’s Neely Spence and in the title meet as Pixler helped pace Seattle Pacific to a fourth place finish in last year’s NCAA Championships. With six of the top seven returning from last season the Falcons will look to improve on that fourth place finish.
Spence will headline the top seven that returns all but one departed senior. While Samantha Jones will be missed, she finished 149th in last year’s championship while no other Raider finished worse than 95th in last year’s championship meet. Mary Dell earned All-American status after her 33rd place finish last year. This program has experienced a meteoric rise over the past few years. It was only two seasons ago that Shippensburg found itself among the PSAC’s bottom teams.
A very young top seven helped stake the Mountaineers to a third place finish last year. All but one runner returns and eighth place finisher Julianne Payton – and All-American last year – will be Western State’s top threat. The rivalry mentioned above also extends over the women’s side as either Western State or Adams State has won the national title since 1992. Western State hasn’t won it all since a three-peat from 2000-02, but could they have the runners to take down Adams State this season?