The seventh in a series of fall sport team previews. Earlier previews include Field Hockey, Volleyball, Women's Soccer, Men's Soccer, Men's Cross Country and Football. For news and updates on Bates Athletics, follow @BatesSports on Twitter and like Bates College Athletics on Facebook.
LEWISTON, Maine – Head coach Jennifer “Jay” Hartshorn enters her ninth season as the leader of the women’s cross country team with a number of returning runners who helped the team reach the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1997 and will look to make a second consecutive trip.
Five runners return from last year’s group that reached nationals in addition to another five athletes who competed at last year’s ECAC meet. That experience coupled with the potential re-emergence of runners who were abroad or injured last fall has earned the Bobcats a preseason ranking of No. 20 nationally and No. 4 in New England.
The 2013 team will look to repeat its success from last year which included winning its first Maine state title since 1990, but at the same time it will look to take the season one race at a time in building up to November.
“I want things to happen organically. I know we have really good runners on our team. We’re returning a really strong core so I feel really good about it,” Hartshorn said. “We want to go to nationals again, but it can’t be our only focus. It’s a long time from now.”
Bates welcomes back five athletes who aided the team to a 19th-place finish at last year’s Division III NCAA Championships who now have the understanding of what it takes to compete at that level.
Senior Gabby Naranja (Fort Kent, Maine) returns for her final campaign after placing as the Bobcats second finisher at NCAAs and as the team’s top finisher at the NCAA New England Regional meet. Last fall, she garnered All-New England and Second Team All-NESCAC accolades.
The team also brings back senior captain Mira Carey-Hatch (Laconia, N.H.), junior Elena Jay (West Hartford, Conn.), and sophomore Hannah Zeltner (Bedford, N.H.) from last season’s NCAA group. In 2012, Zeltner crossed as Bates’ fourth finisher at NCAAs and regionals taking home All-New England honors along the way while Jay earned All-New England accolades as well for finishing in the top 35 at regionals, and Carey-Hatch came in as the Bobcats’ fifth finisher at NCAAs and regionals.
Hartshorn will also look to senior, two-time captain Amanda Solch (Mountain Lakes, N.J.) to provide leadership and guidance to this year’s team. Solch competed at the NCAA Championships last fall but will not race with the team in 2013 due to medical reasons.
“She can still practice with us every day, but she can’t race. I think she’s going to be really valuable because she has been there, and she’s really positive,” Hartshorn said. “She’ll have the opportunity as a captain to run with different people on our team in practice.”
The Bobcats boast several other returning runners who gained valuable experience either last fall or during the track seasons.
Two student-athletes – seniors Devin Tatro (Haverhill, Mass.) and Kallie Nixon (Medfield, Mass.) – spent last fall abroad and will look to re-establish themselves as cross country runners in 2013. Hartshorn feels that both can build off strong track seasons from last year.
Nixon spent much of her first two cross country campaigns with the team’s top group, and Hartshorn believes she can make a similar impact this season. A member of Bates’ school-record-setting 4x800-meter relay team last spring, Nixon qualified for the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Championships during the outdoor track season, finishing 13th in the nation.
Fellow senior Andrea Fisher (Williamstown, Mass.) also has the potential to make her mark after a stress fracture derailed a promising season last fall.
Bates also brings back five athletes who competed at last year’s ECAC race in senior captain Merrill Brady (Concord, Mass.), junior Sarah Fusco (Cheshire, Conn.), and sophomores Addie Cullenberg (Farmington, Maine), Isabel Ferguson (Bainbridge Island, Wash.), and Isabelle Unger (Charlotte, Vt.). Anyone from that group could prove capable of contributing at an even higher level this fall, particularly Unger who came in as the team’s top finisher at ECACs, acted as the team’s alternate at NCAAs, and helped set the school’s record for the 4x800-meter relay in the spring.
“We have some kids that are coming up in our pipeline that I know are ready to make an impact or contribute. Our history is of developing kids,” Hartshorn said.
The 2013 edition of the Bates women’s cross country team will have its goals set high but its sights set on its day-to-day efforts as it seeks to duplicate its success of reaching last year’s national meet.
“Having had that experience last year, everyone knows what it’s all about so this year we’ll know – here are our goals and here’s what we need to do,” Hartshorn said.
Not only will the squad have the experience of last year to lean on this season, but it will also have the opportunity to compete in an NCAA-like atmosphere when the team travels to the Roy Griak Invitational in St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 28.
“We’re excited to go to Minnesota. That will be a big thing for us. To be able to take 10 kids is really awesome,” Hartshorn said. “That will give people a similar experience to being at a national meet. This is a really, really unique opportunity.”
The Bobcats will have to once again navigate its way through a New England region which features three teams ranked in the preseason top-10, but with the mental understanding of what is necessary to create success, the team will be able to concentrate more closely on its craft this fall.
“I feel like we’re going to be able to start off at a different place this year. There is going to be less of a learning curve and more just working hard,” Hartshorn said.