Building a dynasty in college athletics is much more difficult now than it was in the past. But the Johns Hopkins women's cross country team's recent dominance on the national level has proven it can be done.
Johns Hopkins, the defending NCAA champion and the nation's top-ranked team since the dawn of the 2017 season, will be seeking its second straight national title and fifth in the last six seasons when it travels to the NCAA Division III championship meet at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., Nov. 18. The Blue Jays won their first NCAA title in 2012 and repeated in 2013 and 2014. Following a fourth-place finish at the 2015 national meet, they captured the title again last fall.
Johns Hopkins earned an automatic bid to the 2017 national championships by winning its 10th consecutive NCAA Mideast Regional title Nov. 11, outdistancing second-place Elizabethtown by 68 points. The Blue Jays dominated the 49-team field, with four runners finishing in the top 10. Junior Ellie Clawson was the Mideast Regional's individual champion with a time of 21:33.5. Freshman Therese Olshanski finished fourth at the NCAA regional meet with a time of 21:56, just six-tenths of a second ahead of Blue Jay senior Caroline Smith.
"With trying to manage all of our injuries, this has been the most complicated season," said Blue Jay head coach Bobby Van Allen, who has guided Johns Hopkins to its four previous NCAA titles. "The championship meet will be the first time that we have run our top seven runners together all season."
Clawson has been the Blue Jays' most reliable runner. The junior from Bellevue, Wash., who earned second-team All-Centennial Conference honors in 2016, took first place at the conference meet. Clawson, who sparked the Blue Jays to their 10th consecutive Centennial Conference title, earned the league's Runner of the Year award.
"Ellie has had an amazing progression from her freshman year," said Van Allen, who earned the Centennial Conference's Coach of the Year honor for the sixth time. "She's made a huge jump from last year to this season. She also has one of the best attitudes of any athlete I've ever coached."
The hallmark of Johns Hopkins' previous championship runs was the team's quality depth, and the 2017 squad is continuing that tradition. Clawson, Olshanski, Smith and junior Natalia LaSpada, who finished second at the Centennial Conference meet, earned first-team all-conference honors. The sophomore class has been outstanding, with Lauren Jacob, Kristin Meek and Allison Rosen receiving second-team All-Centennial Conference recognition and Rebecca Grusby finishing in 17th place at the NCAA Mideast Regional.
"Therese has well-surpassed her initial goals, and she's going to be a star," Van Allen said. "Caroline was more of an 800-meter runner when she came to Hopkins, and by her sophomore year she finished 12th in the country [at the NCAA meet]. She's battled through injuries last year, but has been healthy this year. She's also been a great mentor to Therese."
Junior Felicia Koerner, who was injured for much of the 2017 campaign, finished sixth at the regional meet with a time of 22 minutes. Van Allen admired the grit of Koerner, a native of Munich, Germany, who earned All-America recognition in 2016.
"Felicia wanted to fight back, and to try to become a part of another team title," Van Allen said. "She's persevered through a lot this year."
The Blue Jays can make history at the NCAA championship meet. With another title, Johns Hopkins can tie the previous record of five championships in six seasons that was set by SUNY-Cortland from 1992-97.
Van Allen understands that securing another national crown won't be an easy task. Johns Hopkins will be challenged by several prominent teams that are ranked in the Nov. 14 USTFCCA national poll, including No. 2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, No. 3 SUNY Geneseo, No. 4 Wisconsin-Eau Claire, No. 5 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, and perennial contenders No. 9 Williams and No. 6 Washington University (St. Louis).
"MIT has been the most consistent team this year," Van Allen said. "They're very well-coached, and have had a chance to win a national title several times. But at the end of the day, when we get to nationals we're just focusing on our team."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of JHU Athletic Communications