After the departure of a handful of its top runners, the Shippensburg University women’s cross country team returns in 2019 with a revamped roster and elite potential.
Coach Steve Spence coached the Raiders to a strong 2018 campaign that included a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) championship, a third place finish at the NCAA Atlantic Regional Championships and an 11th consecutive trip to the NCAA Division II National Championships.
But after losing All-PSAC seniors Jackie Kinkead and Lindsey Gerlach to graduation, and having junior Maria Antoni transfer, there were holes to fill in the squad’s scoring lineup.
However, between a formidable freshman class and three incoming transfers, the transition is expected to be seamless. That notion was supported by the annual PSAC Women’s Cross Country coaches’ poll that is put together by the conference’s coaches each preseason.
SU was voted to finish second among 17 teams in the conference, receiving six of the possible 17 first-place votes. Only Edinboro University was voted higher than Shippensburg, receiving the remaining 11 first-place votes.
The highest-scoring returning runner for the Raiders is junior Bella Marchini.
A breakout 2018 season ended with a splash as Marchini finished sixth overall at the NCAA Atlantic Regional Championships. She carries a 6,000 meter run personal best of 22:35 – achieved at Lehigh University’s Paul Short Run – into her junior season.
The six-runner freshman class is led by Isabelle Gulgert out of South Lakes High School in Virginia. Gulgert, a district champion on the track in the 1,600 meter and 3,200 meter run, boasts a high school cross country 5,000 meter run personal best of 18:45.
Emily Montag, a freshman from Forest Hills High School, joins the Raiders with a 5,000 meter run personal best of 19:07. Montag was a two-time district VI cross country medalist at Forest Hills, notching a runner-up finish in 2015 and a district championship in 2017.
Recent Owen J. Roberts High School graduate Mackenzie Kurtz carries a 19:33.50 personal best in the 5,000 meter run into her freshman season at Shippensburg, while Amanda LaVana of Emmaus High School comes in with a best time of 20:39.
Of the three incoming transfers, Sydney Sirois appears most primed to make an immediate impact to the roster. Sirois joins the Raiders after two years of competing for the University of Southern Maine. In her sophomore season, Sirois earned All-Little East Conference honors after finishing ninth at the conference championship meet. Her 6,000 meter run personal best of 24:02 slots right near the top of the projected scoring lineup, making an immediate contribution easy to imagine.
Despite the influx of talent, Coach Spence faces the challenging task of making sure a locker room full of new faces and personalities mixes well.
But with the expansive history of success of the Shippensburg women’s cross country program, it is safe to expect the team to peak in the postseason once again. And if it does, they will be right in contention for nationals once again.