The 29th-ranked WVU cross country team is sitting in a similar spot based on year’s past just less than two weeks ahead of the Big 12 Championships.
WVU Head Coach Sean Cleary has taken six of the 10 teams he’s coached to the NCAA Championships during his time at the helm. He draws some comparisons from his most recent team to make it to nationals back in 2014.
"There are a lot of similarities; we’ve got a lot of West Virginia kids on the team like we did in that era," Cleary said.
There were six runners from West Virginia on both this year’s squad and in 2014. Standout seniors Jill Forsey, Maggie Drazba and Amy Cashin were all sophomores on the 2014 team.
Cleary also credits those seniors for helping lead the younger WVU roster, again drawing a comparison to 2014.
"We’ve got great team chemistry and we have leaders that are really setting great examples," Cleary said.
WVU finished eighth overall nationally in 2014.
The Mountaineers have dealt with multiple injuries to some key runners this season. One of the most notable injuries was to Forsey, who has been sidelined all season. But she and Cleary have been working hard all year to get ready for the Big 12 Championships.
WVU also sawDrazba miss the Spiked Shoe Invitational at Penn State earlier in the season. Cleary says that sophomore Olivia Hill is also battling the injury bug.
If Forsey is unable to run in the Big 12 Championships, Cleary still sees his team near the top of the conference.
"I think sitting with the team we have right now and just moderate improvements, we’d be happy with a top-three finish at the Big 12’s," Cleary said. "Of course, we’re not going to go in looking at that as the goal; we want more."
WVU has finished in the top three at the Big 12 Championships each of the past four seasons, so that is always the baseline goal for the Mountaineers.
WVU’s most important race comes in just less than a month when the team travels to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the Mid-Atlantic Regionals.
In order to get WVU back to the NCAA Championships as a team, it will need to beat some tough competition. Cleary sees No. 10 Penn State, No. 15 Villanova, No. 22 Georgetown as the top dogs, and WVU, Pittsburgh, Bucknell and Princeton are potential challengers for a national bid.
"I think there’s four or five teams that are really looking from the outside to try and knock off one of those top three," Cleary said.
The top-two region finishers automatically qualify for nationals, but the third team to finish has a chance for an at-large bid based on the team’s season performance.
The Big 12 Championships take place Oct. 28 in Round Rock, Texas, and the Mid-Atlantic Regionals begin Nov. 10, with the NCAA Championships following a week later.