For the fifth consecutive year, the Hillsdale College women's cross country team will extend its season to the furthest possible point, participating in the 2017 NCAA Division II Championships, scheduled for Saturday in Evansville, Indiana, on the campus of the University of Southern Indiana.
This stage is nothing new for coach Andrew Towne and his program. Hillsdale finished as the national runner-up in both 2014 and 2015, and an energized lineup, built with a mix of wily veterans and impressive newcomers, has designs on once again being a podium team (top four overall).
"It's going to take a good effort from us," Towne said when asked what his team would need to do to finish that high at the most prestigious meet at this level. "It's the final race of the season, and to this point we have accomplished our goals and the rest of those goals are right here in front of us. You want to have your best performance of the year at the biggest meet of the year and that's the opportunity we have."
Senior Hannah McIntyre heads into this meet running in her fourth NCAA Division II championship in four years. She has a chance to accomplish a first in Charger women's cross country history – be a four-time All-American. Back in 2014, she was a freshman who came up with a strong back-end performance that elevated the Chargers to second place at the national meet. Now, three years later, she is the reliable veteran, who her teammates affectionately call "mama" who leads by example every day in practice.
"Hannah has been an integral part of what we've done over the past several years," Towne said. "It's been neat to see how she's evolved lately. When she started, she was a secondary part of what we were trying to do, and she's become very much a primary part of it. You know what you're getting from Hannah, but she's been having her best year. She's comfortable with who she is and where she's at."
Junior Allysen Eads and sophomore Arena Lewis have added important depth to the Chargers this year. Lewis has always displayed impressive talent, but fought the injury bug early in her career. Over the past month, she's been healthy and running consistently well, giving Hillsdale a runner that's rarely outside the leading pack. Eads has also enjoyed her best season in 2017 and has easily topped previous PRs throughout the fall.
This freshman class has made an impact on the success of the Chargers unlike any in recent memory. On any given day, any one of Kyleigh Edwards, Christina Sawyer, Maryssa Depies can be number one on the team in a given race. The depth they've added have been invaluable parts of the team's recent first-place (G-MAC) and second-place (regionals) finishes. Depies was the G-MAC Freshman of the Year.
"I think they've done a good job of learning," Towne said of his energetic freshmen. "They remind me personality-wise of some of our other podium teams. They don't see themselves as freshmen who have to stay in the background. They go out there and put it on the line, but they don't do it in a threatening way by being over the top. They've done it the right way."
Hillsdale has been ranked among Division II's top 10 through much of the second half of the season. It won the Great Midwest Athletic Conference championship in its first year in the new league, and followed that up with a second-place finish at the Midwest Regional at Cedarville Nov. 4.
This year's championship race will be webcast by FloTrack, the same outfit that webcast last spring's Gina Relays.