Women's cross country preview: Bobcats look to reload in a year of change

Olivia LaMarche (left) and Anais Gonzalez are captains of the 2019 Bates women's cross country team. (Brewster Burns for Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine -- With five of the Bates women's cross country team's eight runners from the 2018 NCAA Championships now graduated, including the team's top two runners in All-American runners Katie Barker and Ayden Eickhoff, this season presents a new landscape for 15th-year head coach Jennifer "Jay" Hartshorn and the Bobcats.

After Saturday's annual alumni meet, the team officially opens the 2019 season on Saturday in the annual Bates-Colby Class Wave Races, taking place on Bates' challenging home course at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.

A pair of former All-New England veterans, junior Abby Hamilton (Yarmouth, Maine) and senior Olivia LaMarche (Lynnfield, Mass.), are bound to be two of the Bobcats' leading runners this season. LaMarche and fellow senior Anais Gonzalez (Hanford, Calif.) are the team captains.

Junior Vanessa Paolella (Dingmans Ferry, Pa.), who edged Hamilton for first place in the Alumni Meet, will look to build on a strong sophomore year that included her first career All-America honor in the indoor distance medley relay. Sophomores Tara Ellard (Brewster, Mass.), already an NCAA Championship veteran, and Elise Lambert (Amherst, N.H.), another DMR All-American from March, are expected to play leading roles as well.

"I feel like we have a stronger group coming back then maybe you would look at on paper, just based on that number of graduating those five women," said Hartshorn. "We have some women with some really, really good experience, but I think what I'm excited about is how different this year's going to feel and I think that will be really energizing for everybody."

The team has 10 first-year runners on the roster, pointing to a bright future. Jillian Richardson (Auburn, Maine) has shown outstanding promise thus far among the team's rookies.

"I think some of them are going to be able to make an impact right away," Hartshorn said. "Others I think are really strong runners and will make more of the impact in track. That's pretty typical of us to have some kids that maybe are on the cross country team and then you get to track and you go, 'Okay.' I'm hoping some of those students who were on our team last year who are really more track people are going to step it up during cross country this year, which is exciting."

Bates will play host again next Saturday, Sept. 14, for the Bates Invitational, before hitting the road for the remainder of the season. Highlights include the Maine State Meet in Waterville on Oct. 5, the Oberlin College Inter-Regional Rumble on Oct. 19, the NESCAC Championships Nov. 2 at Williams, NCAA Regionals Nov. 16 at Bowdoin and the NCAA Championships Nov. 23 in Louisville, Ky.