The lineup may be fluid and evolving on a year-to-year basis, but the overall goal remains the same for the Middlebury women's cross country team heading into this fall. Winners of six NCAA titles since 2000 and a 14th-place finish a season ago, the team has its sights set on hoisting another trophy come mid-November in Illinois.
Under the leadership of seventh-year head coach Nicole Wilkerson, the 2013 and 2014 NESCAC Women's Coach of the Year, the Panthers return a balance of youth and experience. The team looks poised to make another title run with five of its top-seven scorers from the 2016 squad returning this season.
Gone from last year are five runners, of which two were scorers for the Panthers during the 2016 Regional and NCAA Championship meets.
Despite the loss of the quintet of runners, Wilkerson is optimistic about the upcoming season. Glancing at this year's roster, Wilkerson noted the top returners that are a mix of experience and youth that is ranked ninth in the Division III women's national preseason poll.
Leading this year's team will be a talented group, featuring juniors Abigail Nadler and Katherine MacCary, sophomores Meg Wilson and Talia Ruxin along with senior Isabella Alfaro. A season ago, Nadler earned All-American and all-region accolades, claiming the NESCAC individual title at the conference's meet. She finished in the top-six spots five times, including winning the Connecticut College Invitational and claiming the runner-up position at the Purple Valley Classic. MacCary produced a pair of top-25 finishes in 2016, including a seventh-place performance during the Connecticut College Invitational.
Wilson had a solid initial year last fall for the Panthers, coming in strong toward the end of the season. She crossed the line 17th at the NESCAC Championship and 31st two weeks later during the NCAA Regionals, capping the season with a strong showing at the national meet.
Ruxin competed in three meets last fall, highlighted by a fifth-place run at the Vermont State Meet, while Alfaro gained valuable experience by providing depth at the regional and national meets.
Senior captain Read Allen is a key returner looking to move up the lineup, claiming the Vermont State Meet individual title last fall. Junior Claire Gomba battled injuries for much of last season and looks to challenge for a top-seven spot at full health.
The Panthers will begin their quest for national title number seven when they travel to eastern Vermont to take part in the Vermont Tech Invitational on September 9. They will host the annual Aldrich Invitational one week later on September 16, while the Panthers will entertain teams from the state during the Vermont State Meet on September 30. The 2017 NESCAC Championship will be hosted on October 28 by Bates, while the NCAA Championship meet will be held in Illinois at the Principia North Farm Course on November 11.