At the beginning of last season, the Michigan women’s cross country team was ranked No. 1 in the nation with a national championship looking like an attainable and realistic goal. But as the postseason began, two of the squad’s top runners, rising junior Erin Finn and rising senior Shannon Osika, could not compete due to injury, leaving the team’s goal out of reach.

Instead of being in the thick of the national championship race, the Wolverines placed 18th at the NCAA Championships. 

Osika and Finn will return this year to lead another young, but promising group of talented runners. Michigan lost three seniors, all of them captains, but will reload with new talent in the form of recruits and athletes who have made improvements in the offseason. 

With the cross country season beginning Sept. 5 at the EMU Open, the Daily breaks down Michigan’s roster for the 2015 campaign. 

Who left?

The captains, Brook Handler, Alex Leptich and Megan Weschler left the Wolverines as strong leaders and examples to their teammates. Leptich and Weschler anchored the middle of the Michigan lineup, providing stability with quality times. Weschler frequently finished fourth among the Wolverines behind Finn, Osika and Handler.

Handler will especially be missed as the third-fastest runner on last year’s team. With both Finn and Osika missing the NCAA Regional and NCAA Championship, Handler led the way. She finished 7th and 89th, respectively, in the final two races. Without Handler and her leadership, Michigan might have fallen out of the top 25 at the end of the season.

Who’s returning?

The top-two runners, Finn and Osika, will return from injury, striving to make up for the time they’ve lost. They posted admirable times in the outdoor track season, running the fastest school times of the season in four races combined, and last season’s injuries shouldn’t hinder them from performing well this season. Osika edged out Finn in last year’s Michigan 5K by a hair (both posted a time of 17:01.5), but for a majority of the time, the All-American Finn sets the pace for the Wolverines with Osika not far behind. 

Also returning is rising redshirt sophomore Jamie Phelan, who won last fall’s EMU 5K. She finished 125th at the NCAA Championships, which was good for fourth among her teammates, placing just behind the three seniors. Rising fifth-year senior Laura Addison ran a personal best in the same race, finishing off the cross country season strong by posting a 21:39:1 clip. 

Rising fifth-year senior Anna Pasternak, rising redshirt sophomore Gina Sereno and rising senior Taylor Manett rounded out the maize and blue competitors in the final race of last year, and will hope to make strides in the upcoming year to ensure a successful season for the Wolverines.  

Who’s new?

Thirteen middle-distance and distance runners enter the Michigan women’s cross country program this year. Incoming freshman Lauren Van Vlierbergen was named a Wendy’s High School Heisman Award recipient in December. The three-time All-State runner from Illinois finished second in her state meet her senior year and holds seven state medals spanning the duration of her high school career. 

Erika Fleur is a rising fifth-year transfer from Princeton and will add experience to the young lineup. As a sophomore and senior, she competed in the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. Just before she enrolled at Princeton, she competed at the New Balance Indoor Nationals, placing third and earning All-American honors on the track. 

Mary Kate MacNamara is a incoming freshman who led her high school team in New Jersey to a state Meet of Champions win as the No. 1 team in the state in 2014. She ran in the Nike Cross Northeast Regionals in 2013 and 2014, reaching 51st place in her best outing. 

Rounding out some of the top incoming talent for the Wolverines is Meg Darmofal, who finished 13th at the Footlocker Midwest Championships in 2013. She was a Michigan All-State selection in her first three years of high school, and was named second-team All-Midwest in her senior season. 

With preseason rankings to be released by the end of August, the Michigan women’s cross country team will likely be in the top five. The mix of a strong returning core and an incoming class of talented runners makes for a team with high potential. 

If the Wolverines stay healthier as a whole than they did last year, their national title hopes will remain in reach. 

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