wvu xc

Nov. 11, 2016; WVU cross country coach Sean Cleary talks with his team at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals

West Virginia enters this season looking to prove itself among its NCAA peers.

WVU hasn’t qualified as a team for the NCAA Championships since 2014. Last season, only redshirt juniors Jilian Forsey and Maggie Drazba qualified individually for the NCAA championships.

The Mountaineers return their top three runners from a year ago: Drazba, Forsey and Amy Cashin. The three seniors consistently performed at a high level in 2016, so expectations are lofty in 2017.

“While I do believe we have a very strong squad this fall, the proof will be in the results," said WVU head coach Sean Cleary in an interview with WVUSports.com "We have a shot to be much better than expected but need a few things to fall into place.

WVU’s talent and experience on the 2017 squad has earned them national recognition, coming in at No. 20 in the 2017 FloXC preseason rankings. It is the team’s first appearance in the top 25 since 2015.

In the NCAA rankings, WVU missed the top 30 by four points.

"Starting at No. 20 shows we are a national-class team; maintaining and improving this number will be the goal," Cleary said.

Last season, Forsey finished second overall at both the Big 12 Championships and the NCAA Regionals. A fall in the 2016 NCAA Championships caused her to finish 97th out of the 250 runners.

Drazba also impressed in 2016 after a 17th place finish at the Big 12 Championships and an 11th place finish at regionals. Drazba performed exceptionally well at the NCAA Championships, where she finished 58th overall.

Cashin returns this season after narrowly missing the NCAA championships last season. She finished 22nd overall at regionals and 20th at the Big 12 Championships, coming in just nine seconds behind Drazba.

WVU also brings back senior Brynn Harshbarger and sophomore Olivia Hill.  The duo both earned top-50 finishes in the 2016 regionals.

Harshbarger and Hill will be the favorites to round out WVU’s top five runners based on their performances last season.

Rounding out the 2017 returns for the Mountaineers are seniors Allie Diehl and Rebecca Wendt, along with sophomores Candace Jones and Andrea Pettit.

Three redshirt freshmen will be running for WVU in 2017. Antigone Archer, Abby Colbert and Sarah Wills will all see action in their first season.

Sean Cleary is entering his 11th year as head coach for the Mountaineers. Cleary has lead WVU to six appearances in the NCAA championships.

The 2017 season begins at 6:15 p.m. Friday, when the Mountaineers travel to the Leigh Invitational in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.