Defending champions face uphill battle

The NCAA III Cross Country National Championships are being held on Hanover College’s campus course for the third time since 2003. The 2013 championship field boasts the defending national champions from both the women’s and men’s 2012 finales, a collection of the top teams and 560 of the best runners in the nation.

2013 NCAA III Cross Country Championship Field

Johns Hopkins University (Md.) captured the women’s title last season and enters the 2013 championship ranked No. 1 in the country. The Blue Jays earned the Mideast Region crown last weekend with a 26-point effort, including six runners among the first 13 across the line.

Sophomore Hannah Oneda, who was 10th in the NCAA finale one year ago, led Johns Hopkins with a second-place finish in 21:11. The squad’s top four runners finished within 14 seconds of each other.

Williams College (Mass.), Calvin College (Mich.), Middlebury College (Vt.) and Wartburg (Iowa) will all be in the hunt for the championship.

Williams, ranked No. 2 in the nation, outdistanced a 53-team field at the New England Regional, winning with 44 points. The Ephs placed four runners in the top 10, including a first-place outing by senior Kaleigh Kenny (21:02.18), who was 16th in the NCAA finale last fall.

Middlebury, at No. 4 in the poll, placed second in the New England Regional with 57 points. The Panthers have won six national championships, with two coming on Hanover’s course (2003 and 2008).

Calvin, the No. 3 team in the U.S., is coming off a first-place finish at the Great Lakes Regional. The Knights totaled 54 points behind freshman Cassandra Vince’s first-place effort in 21:27.8.

Wartburg, the Central Region champions, enter ranked No. 5 in the country. The Knights were led by junior Sammi Bruett, who was 13th in the NCAA meet last fall.

Wartburg has competed in the NCAA championship in each of the three times Hanover has hosted the event. The Knights’ former standout Missy Buttry, a three-time six-kilometer champion, continues to hold Hanover’s course record after winning the 2003 crown in 20:00.2.

The College of St. Scholastica (Minn.) senior Chelsea Johnson holds the top six-kilometer time on Hanover's course this season. Johnson, the Central Region champion, claimed the Pre-Nationals' individual crown Oct. 5 in 21:25.74.

St. Olaf College (Minn.) junior Jordan Johnson finished ninth in the national meet last fall. She was fourth at the Central Regional last weekend after turning in a time of 22:05.24.

Cal Lutheran senior Melissa Skiba placed 11th at the 2012 championship. She placed second at week’s West Regional in 21:48.10.

Michaela Freeby, a junior from Willamette University (Ore.), captured the individual crown in the West Regional with a time of 21:37.66. She was 142nd in the national meet in 2012.

North Central College (Ill.) is looking for its third consecutive men’s championship and 16th overall. The Cardinals come into the event ranked No. 1 in the U.S. after earning the Midwest Regional with a 56-point effort.

Senior John Crain was the top individual in the regional meet with a time of 24:17.2.

Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.), ranked No. 2 nationally, finished second in the Midwest Regional with 101 points. The Bears’ Kevin Sparks placed fourth in the championship last fall and was fifth in last week’s regional in 24:33.3.

St. Olaf College (Minn.), at No. 3 in the poll, is coming off a first-place finish at the Central Region. The Oles placed three runners in the top six spots and totaled 51 points to hold off No. 8 Central College (Iowa) by 10 points.

Junior Grant Wintheiser was third at the national meet last season and led St. Olaf in last weekend’s regional with a second-place finish in 24:39.62.

Williams and Middlebury will go head-to-head for the third straight week.

Williams, ranked No. 4, used two of the top three runners to defeat No. 5 Middlebury, 77-78, at the New England Regional last weekend.

Connecticut College senior Michael LeDuc holds the fastest eight-kilometer time at Hanover this fall. LeDuc, who captured the New England Regional title Nov. 16, covered the course in 25:22.82 to win the Pre-Nationals, Oct. 5.

Allegheny College (Pa.) senior Bobby Over finished second at the 2012 NCAA III championship. He was first overall at the Mideast Regional last weekend with a time of 24:29.

Bates College (Maine) senior Tully Hannan was fifth overall in last year’s finale. He posted a time of 24:47.80 to finish fifth at the New England Regional one week ago.

Hamilton College (N.Y.) runner Peter Kosgei set Hanover's course record with a time of 24:22.1 to win the men's individual championship in 2008.