For the second straight season, the Shawnee State women’s cross country program will kick off the year inside the NAIA top 10, as the coaches around the association put the Bears in 10th place in the 2015 Coaches’ Preseason Top 25 Poll on Thursday.
Despite losing All-Conference runners Andi Lanigan, Hallie Richards, Emily Richmond, and Jamie Retherford, as well as graduating runners Bri Tudor and Stephanie Cleland from a unit that scored its best NAIA Championship finish in school history (12th), the Bears were able to slide up into the top 10 from its 12th place NAIA ranking at the end of last season due to the return of four of its five conference honorees from last season, including first-team honorees Sarah Biehl, Anna Havranek, and Ashlyn Howie.
Biehl, who is now into her fourth and final season with Shawnee State, followed up on a superb 2013 season with another brilliant year in 2014. In addition to repeating her First-Team All-MSC honors, Biehl was named an Academic All-MSC athlete for the second year in a row and capped off the season with a 23rd place finish (18:28.3) at the NAIA National Championships, which allowed Biehl to add the title of NAIA All-American to her list of accomplishments.
Following right in Biehl’s footsteps was Havranek, who started her career off with a bang by winning Mid-South Freshman of the Year honors in addition to the First-Team All-MSC accolades. The super sophomore capped off a stellar 2014 with a 73rd place finish in the National Championships, finishing less than a minute behind Biehl with a time of 19:10.8.
Howie, however, had a year of her own to behold. The senior added onto her First-Team All-MSC honors by obtaining Academic All-MSC honors and a 77th place finish at the National Championships, finishing just over three seconds behind Havranek, with a time of 19:13.9, to give the Bears three runners in the top 100.
Behind the top trio, Shawnee State has one of the deepest women’s cross country rosters in the entire country, with Second-Team All-MSC, Academic All-MSC honoree, and NAIA Qualifier Megan Ashton, as well as fellow NAIA Qualifier Megan Day waiting in the wings.
Additionally, the Bears bring in a huge freshman class, with Jenna Liston, Katie Saling, Jessica Price, Alyssa Taylor, and Darian Steele all running times under 20:25 in various 5,000 meter races last year.
In the polls, Northwest Christian (Ore.) was ranked No. 1. The Beacons, who are making their 41st consecutive appearance in the top 25, were ranked just 10 points ahead of No. 2-ranked Carroll (Mont.).
As with the men’s side, the women’s cross country squad will be seeking its sixth straight Mid-South Conference championship. The women will also be looking to improve on its 12th place performance at the NAIA Championships last season, which was its best finish in school history.