CHICAGO – With the 2018 cross country season quickly approaching, University of Chicago head coach Chris Hall will have a pair of rosters that are chock full of youth. The combined squads feature 44 first-years and sophomores out of 66 total runners. Even with so many fresh faces, the end goals remain unchanged. The Maroons are focused on reaching the NCAA Championship meet on November 17 and making an impact when they get there.
Consistent success year-over-year has been the hallmark of UChicago women's cross country over the past decade. The squad has reached the NCAA Championship for eight years running, including a 14th-place showing in 2017.
Graduate Khia Kurtenbach produced a historic season, capping her career by winning the school's second individual cross country national championship. Kurtenbach was a dominant force throughout as she earned her third-straight All-American honor while also snagging the NCAA Midwest Regional and University Athletic Association titles.
Even with Kurtenbach's graduation, Hall sees her impact living on.
"It always created a level of confidence knowing we had someone that could win any race we entered," Hall said. "It took a bit of pressure off some of the other scorers on our team. What I hope rubbed off on the rest of our team wasn't just the way she competed, but the fact that she ran for her teammates. Khia really helped to create a wonderful culture on our team and I would like to continue to see that grow."
Led by a strong five-deep senior class, the Maroons took second at UAAs and fifth at the NCAA Midwest Regional in 2017. Now the squad will be looking for new faces to rise to the top of the pack. Junior Maggie Boudreau, junior Claire Brockway and sophomore Abigail Shoemaker were all consistent placers in last year's top seven. Boudreau received All-Region status as well.
"I know we have some really outstanding runners on our team but in terms of who will be leading from week to week, I expect that to be in constant flux," said Hall. "Maggie Boudreau, Claire Brockway, Abby Shoemaker, Sophia Elgamal and Emma Dyer made great improvements during track season and will lay the foundation of a really strong team.
This year's roster of 32 includes 15 first-years, 10 sophomores, six juniors and one senior. The veteran head coach is counting on contributions from everyone across the board to maximize the team's winning potential.
"Our team depth will be our greatest strength," Hall said. "I believe this team has the ability to truly run in a pack and to keep a small gap from one through five from week to week.
"I do feel we have a very good freshman class coming in this fall and would expect one or two to crack our top seven at times throughout the season," he continued. "It's always fun to watch the frosh develop and this is one of the deepest classes to come onto our team in many years. We will let them just adjust to being in a new system and as they get comfortable, we will likely see some impact our varsity."
Youth was served on the 2017 UChicago men's team. The rookies stepped up to the challenge and provided contributions right away throughout the top seven. Ryan Cutter led the pack consistently, finishing as the squad's top finisher in four of his six races. He ended up with Second Team All-UAA accolades and fellow first-year Jordan Olson recorded a First Team All-UAA finish at the UAA Championship race.
Hall attributed Cutter and Olson's highly-competitive approaches as key to their breakouts.
"Both have a great deal of confidence in their ability and I feel that they also helped to push each other not just in competition, but daily in practice," said Hall. "It's rare to see first-years adjust so quickly to the 8K distance. Ryan was able to take another step forward during track season as Jordan battled a lot of sickness in the spring. They have both had strong summers and seem very motivated to move forward."
The Maroons return much of their scoring lineup from last year, including consistent scorers like junior Ralph Patejunas, senior Jacob Gosselin, junior Andrew Kates and sophomore Chase Gardner. Patejunas was the team's top finisher at the 2017 NCAA Midwest Regional, taking 33rd overall. UChicago placed fifth at UAAs and sixth at the NCAA Midwest Regional.
The 2018 team captains will be seniors Jacob Gosselin and Owen Melia. "They are fantastic teammates who will be instrumental in creating team culture," Hall said. "They will be a really great positive influence on a pretty young team."
Now entering his 18th year at UChicago, Hall feels that he has a strong team from top to bottom in 2018. "We possess good front runners but also quality team depth," he said. "They just need to completely believe in themselves and they can accomplish some high goals. As a young team, it will be important they don't try to do too much too early, but just embrace the process of doing the right things from day to day."
The 34-man roster is comprised of 11 first-years, eight sophomores, nine juniors and six seniors.
"I'm really pleased with our incoming class both in terms of depth and some really strong front runners," Hall said. "We have as many as six incoming first-years that are capable of cracking our top seven at times during the season. We will be looking to this class to add a lot of depth to our squad, but I hope we can rely on our veterans to give them time to grow."