CHICAGO – An infusion of youth paid dividends for the University of Chicago cross country teams in the 2018 season. With a large contingent of underclassmen playing key roles, UChicago proved up to the challenge throughout the year and capped it off with a pair of top 12 team finishes at the NCAA Division III Championships. The Maroons seek to keep the momentum rolling with another year of experience under their belts in 2019.
The Maroon women's cross country team has been a model of consistency over the past decade. The squad has qualified for the NCAA national meet every year since 2010, finishing in the top 15 six times along the way.
Head Coach Chris Hall embarks on his 19th season leading the program, and he credits the mentality of his athletes for their reliable results.
"We have been very fortunate to consistently attract student-athletes that are team orientated people," Hall said. "It is amazing how much a person can elevate when they put the goals of the team as their priority. I feel that our athletes have bought into the training philosophies and are confident they are going to perform at their best when it is most important, and for the past several years they have done just that."
The 2018 Maroons were among the national elite once again, taking 11th place at the NCAA Championships. They preceded that accomplishment by finishing runner-up at the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championship and fourth at the NCAA Midwest Regional. The current 29-member roster is composed of two seniors, nine juniors, 12 sophomores and six first-years.
"Both of them have been wonderful examples to the other members of our team of how consistent hard work pays off," he said. "In both instances, they have shown remarkable improvement over their previous three years at UChicago and have done so by truly buying in to our team philosophies."
The Maroons remain intact from last year's version, led at the top of the pack by All-American junior Sophie Elgamal who took 26th at NCAA nationals. Elgamal, Boudreau and Brockway each earned All-Region and All-UAA honors, while junior Emma Dyer also achieved All-Region status. The other regular point scorers in the mix include junior Abigail Shoemaker, sophomore Lucy Jeffs and sophomore Kaitlyn Van Baalen.
"We are returning all seven members of our 2018 NCAA squad and all 10 members of our UAA squad," Hall said. "I believe our greatest strength should be our experience and an understanding of what it takes to perform at a really high level, and most importantly how to elevate at the championship time of the season. We have some really good front runners including All-American Sophie Elgamal but also three other athletes (Van Baalen – 800 meters, Dyer – Mile, Brockway – 5K) that qualified individually to the NCAAs in track."
With a wealth of returners in the fold, the veteran head coach looks to lean on his veterans and incorporate the rookies along at their own pace.
"The luxury of having so many experienced runners back also means our first-years can ease into the transition of running collegiately without a lot of pressure," Hall said. "We certainly have some really good talent joining us this fall. Leah Ulrich and Caitlin Jorgensen may be the most ready based upon high school performances to challenge for varsity spots on our team."
The UChicago men are coming off one of their most successful campaigns. Last year marked the third time in school history that both men's and women's programs qualified for NCAAs the same year (2013, 2015, 2018). The Maroons ended on a high note, taking 12th at the national meet for their second-best placement in school history (ninth in 2005).
The men also finished third at the UAA Championship and sixth in the loaded NCAA Midwest Regional.
"We've had a number of really good recruiting classes over the past few years," Hall said. "What we had last year was a greater competitive edge (stronger belief) that we were an exceptional team. As a group, our team expected to perform really well when it was most important. That competitive edge along with a good team culture really carried us a long way. I do feel that will carry over into the 2019 season as the depth of our team is only getting better and we have strong front runners."
Leading the way at the front is Ryan Cutter. The junior received All-American status after earning 20th place at the NCAA Championship. He was also a First Team All-UAA (sixth) and All-Region (15th) performer. Cutter is one of the team captains this year alongside senior Tim Koenning.
"Tim is a senior who has had national experience and is also someone who has had to overcome injuries at times but continues to excel within our program," said Hall. "I feel his teammates recognize the effort it has taken for him to overcome those setbacks and still impact our program. Ryan was an All-American for us last year and knows how to lead on the course. He expects great things and that attitude filters down to his teammates."
"What we need most is great depth at the NCAAs and we certainly have the athletes to do that," Hall said. "Our No. 5 runner this year needs to be much closer to our No. 3. We showed that at times in 2018 but could have done a better job at the NCAAs. I believe we should go into races with seven runners capable to being in our top three or four and if we can consistently compete that way throughout the season, we will have our best team ever at the end of the year."
The 2019 roster is balanced through the classes with seven seniors, seven juniors, eight sophomores and eight first-years.
"We have a really solid incoming class," said Hall. "But much like the women's team, I hope our first-years are simply allowed to get comfortable in a new environment without the expectations from us of being difference makers on our team. Based upon their high school performances, there will likely be a few who could be competing very late into the season. Cy Chittenden, Alex Hastings, Charlie Nevins, Adam Sachs and Dan Spellman all had really good senior years and will add great depth to our team."