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Aug. 5, 1997

1997 Women's Cross Country Outlook

Every fall, there are many constants. At Villanova University, the students arrive back on campus after a summer of fun. The leaves begin to change color, and the weather becomes blustery and cool. And the Wildcat women's cross country team, once again, competes for a national title.

Excellence certainly has become the norm for Villanova women's cross country and head coach John Marshall. The Wildcats have finished among the top three teams eight-straight years, including an unprecedented six-consecutive national titles from 1989 to 1996. During that time, four Villanovans have won individual national cross country titles on six occasions, and 10 have earned 23 All-America awards.

This season, Marshall expects to contend once again. With a nucleus of two returning All-Americans, a talented freshman class, and a core of ever-improving letterwinners, the Wildcats should battle defending champion Stanford University and Brigham Young University for top honors.

"The strength of this year's team hinges on Kristine Jost and Carrie Tollefson," Marshall said. "Both are extremely strong runners who should be top contenders. Our freshmen should be excellent in a supporting role, and we have several others who I look for to make more improvement this year."

Jost, a junior from Baltimore, Md., placed fourth at last year's NCAA Championships. As a freshman, she finished 26th, marking perhaps the biggest improvement of any individual in the nation in one year's time. In addition, Jost posted a stellar track season, winning the NCAA title in the indoor 3000m and earning runner-up honors in the outdoor NCAA 3000m.

"It's going to be an exciting year for Krissy," Marshall said. "She has learned how to run well in big races. She sets her goals extremely high, and then just goes for it. I don't think anyone could have predicted that she could have made the jump into the top four last season, but she has the commitment and drive that made it possible.

"Krissy is also one of the most intelligent runners I've ever coached. Cross country is a very long race, and strategy and smart running are keys to a top finish. I think Krissy is primed to have a great season."

Tollefson is also performing at peak level after an excellent sophomore campaign. The junior from Dawson, Minn., amassed All-America honors in cross country last season, finishing fifth at last year's NCAA Championships. In addition, she placed fifth in the indoor 3000m, and sixth in the 1500m run at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, adding to her list of All-America honors.

"Carrie has performed very well at national events," Marshall said. "She is highly motivated by top competition, and loves to run out front with the best. She has matured over the last year, and is now looking to knock down the door and finish in the top four."

While Marshall has high hopes for Jost and Tollefson, he notes that there is extremely tough competition for the individual NCAA cross country crown. 1996 champion Amy Skieresz from Arizona returns to defend her title this season.

"The athlete that the country has to beat is Amy Skieresz," Marshall said. "She is the top collegiate distance runner in the country and she sets the standard."

Jurga Marcinkevicuite joins Jost and Tollefson in the talented junior class. Primarily a middle distance runner, the junior from Lithuania, placed 81st at last year's NCAA Cross Country Championships. She won the Big East Outdoor title in the 800m and earned All-America honors in the event at the Outdoor NCAA meet, finishing fifth. She is, however, a valuable member of the cross country squad.

"Jurga's strengths lie in the middle distance events," Marshall said. "We look for her in a supporting role in cross country, and to continue to improve."

Three sophomores will also perform this fall for Marshall: Carmen Douma, Tamieka Grizzle, and Lony'e Johnson. Douma, from Cambridge, Ontario, gained valuable experience as a freshman. She finished 44th at the NCAA Championships and demonstrated great promise for the future. In addition, she ran on Villanova's winning 4x1500m and 4x800m Championship of America relays at the Penn Relay Carnival.

"Carmen has excellent potential and ran very strong for us last year," Marshall said. "We look for her to continue to improve as a sophomore and finish in the 20 to 25 range at the Championships."

Grizzle possesses perhaps the most raw talent of any member of the Wildcat squad. Like Marcinkevicuite, she is an exceptional middle distance runner with great versatility. She ran at last year's NCAA Cross Country Championships, and qualified for both the NCAA indoor and outdoor 800m event. Grizzle was a standout on the Wildcats' winning distance medley relay squad at the Penn Relays, and earned runner-up honors at the Big East Championships in the 800m.

Johnson, meanwhile, will provide the depth that Marshall needs to field a contender. She should continue to improve and make further strides as a sophomore.

Joining the fold this season is a pair of freshman, Ann McGranahan and Geraldine McCarthy. McGranahan, from Pensacola, Fla., was cited as the Runner of the Year by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association after winning the state championship in both the mile and two mile events. McCarthy, from Listowel, Ireland, was also a standout performer, earning All-Ireland honors.

"Ann McGranahan is an athlete in the Carole Zajac mode," Marshall said. "She is a true long distance runner who is exceptionally talented. She set all kinds of course records in high school, and We expect her to be a great asset for us this season. She should make an impact in cross country, in the 5,000m indoors, and the 10,000m outdoors.

"Geraldine is another fine runner from the Irish pipeline, who we expect to have a fine career at Villanova."