Wednesday, August 14, 2013

NCAA XC Top 31 Countdown: Women's #13- Michigan State

Editor's note: For the next month, The Wood Report will be counting down projected team finishes in this year's NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, IN.

Michigan State
Head Coach: Walt Drenth (10th Season)
2012 National Finish- 16th

Key Returners from 2012
  • Sara Kroll (Sr., 4:24 1500m, 9:12 Open 3k, 16:16 5k)
  • Julia Otwell (Sr., 9:44 Open 3k, 16:50 5k, 35:12 10k)
  • Leah O'Connor (Jr., 4:20 1500m, 16:09 5k, 9:53 3k Steeple)
  • Lindsay Clark (So.,4:27 1500m,  9:32 Open 3k, 16:38 5k)
  • Megan Rodgers (Sr., 9:54 Open 3k, 16:36 5k)
  • Melanie Brender (Jr., 16:45 5k, 34:20 10k)
Impact Recruits/Transfers

  • Brooke Kovacic (Fr., 4:57 1600m, 10:44 3200m)
Season Preview

The Spartan's return a very quality and experienced group from their 16th place team at Nationals in 2012. Walt Drenth has brought in and developed a very good squad and will be ready to compete with some of the best in the country in 2013. 

Michigan State has a three-headed monster that is extremely dangerous. Sara Kroll, Julia Otwell and Leah O'Connor are all veteran athletes that are legitimate contenders in every race they compete in. 

After a second place finish at the Great Lakes Regional in 2012, the Spartans will be looking for a first place finish and their ticket to the Big Dance via the leadership of their big three.

Sara Kroll is the team returning leader and is a pure cross country girl. Her 53rd place finish at NCAAs in Louisville will certainly be improved upon in Terre Haute and she is a potential All-American candidate if she can produce at the end of the season like she did last season. Her 9:12 Open 3k PR is top-tier NCAA level and after a good track season she should be ready to roll and lead the big three and the rest of the Spartan squad. 

Leah O'Connor is one of the top steeplers in the NCAA and has a very good 5k PR. O'Connor had some ups and downs in cross country in 2012, but is coming off the best track season of her career. O'Connor won the Big 10 Outdoor Track 5k and was fifth in the country at NCAA Outdoors for the 3k Steeple in 2013. If she can carry this momentum on to the upcoming cross country season, she will be challenging Kroll for the no. 1 runner spot. 

Julia Otwell is as solid a no. 3 runner as there is in the country and is a very consistent cross country girl. Her veteran experience will be indispensable for Drenth up-front and she provides stability. Otwell is someone that can be counted on to produce race in and race out. 

Melanie Brender is the wildcard of this group because of the outstanding track season she is returning from. Her 34:20 10k PR led the Spartans in the spring and that kind of track ability should equate into a fabulous 6k runner on the cross country course. 

Lindsay Clark and Megan Rodgers are important contributors that return for the Spartans as well. Clark has quality track PRs and if she can step up and translate those times onto the cross country course, she provides a good no. 5 runner for the Spartans. 

Michigan State has the luxury of having a good team through 1-5 and is not lacking in their no. 5 runner like so many other teams struggle with. If the Spartans can stay healthy they should cruise through the Regional. Walt Drenth has brought this team together very well and will reap the rewards of their patience and hard work with a high finish at the NCAA meet in Terre Haute. 

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