Women's cross country preview: Cats aiming for 3rd straight Maine title, more

Elena Jay '15 and Hannah Zeltner '16 (front), shown in last weekend's annual Alumni Race, could be setting the pace for Bates women's cross country in 2014. (Tom Leonard '78)

LEWISTON, Maine -- If nothing else, the Bates College women's cross country team's No. 6 preseason ranking in New England -- perenially the strongest and largest region in Division III -- shows that despite losing its one NCAA Championship participant from last year, Kallie Nixon, to graduation, the team remains nobody's pushover.

Bates aims to win a third straight State of Maine championship, and if the Bobcats are fortunate enough to stay away from injury, a return team bid to the NCAA Championship could be within the team's sights.

Although Bates wasn't extended an at-large invitation to NCAAs last year, 10th-year head coach Jay Hartshorn believes the 2013 squad was her best yet. Standouts such as Nixon, Mira Carey-Hatch and Gabrielle Naranja (Fort Kent, Maine) have graduated, but if all goes well, senior Elena Jay (West Hartford, Conn.) and junior Hannah Zeltner (Bedford, N.H.) figure to be at or near the top of the times list in most of Bates' meets this season. 

Zeltner led Bates in five races last season before it ended prematurely with injury. Zeltner's ninth-place showing helped Bates beat five other nationally ranked teams at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota, and her 15th-place individual finish paced the Bobcats to fourth place at the NESCAC Championships. Without Zeltner, Bates still managed to place sixth at the NCAA New England Regionals, with Jay earning her second straight All-New England (top 35) laurels and missing an individual berth in NCAAs by just one spot.

Other returning standouts on the team include co-captain Sarah Fusco (Cheshire, Conn.), a two-time All-American in track and field, and one-time track All-American Isabelle Unger (Charlotte, Vt.). Senior Erica Gagnon (Weymouth, Mass.), who studied abroad a year ago, makes a welcome return to the lineup. Juniors Addie Cullenberg (Farmington, Maine) and Julia Fisher (Philadelphia, Pa.) both have a good chance of moving further up in the team's lineup. And Bates' sophomore class is poised for a much-improved season, led by impressively fit runners such as Jessica Wilson (Cumberland, Maine) and Molly Chisholm (Wayland, Mass.). Hartshorn's first-year class includes such potential standouts as Katherine Cook (South Burlington, Vt.), Callie Reynolds (West Hartford, Conn.), Rachael Rosow (Avon, Conn.) and Mary Szatkowski (Buxton, Maine).

Bates kicks off the 2014 season on Saturday, Sept. 6 with the Bates/Colby Class Meet in Waterville. Other schedule highlights include the Paul Short Invitational on Oct. 4 at Lehigh University, the Maine State Championships in Farmington on Oct. 18, the NESCAC Championships at Middlebury on Nov. 1; NCAA Regionals at Williams on Nov. 15; and the NCAA Division III Championships in Mason, Ohio, on Nov. 22.