* Cedar Park's Isabel Conde De Frankenberg is a fast-rising sophomore to watch out for in 2021
Photo Credit: Texas MileSplit
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It's easy to pick out the stars of high school girls cross country.
They've done some legendary things lately.
Everywhere you look, there are spectacular athletes filling the ranks. A year ago, Jenna Hutchins became the first female to break 16 minutes for 5K, winning a national title in the process. She's back for one final year.
But sometimes harder to pinpoint are the under-the-radar females who are doing equally great things in and out of the national spotlight.
There are plenty of those athletes, too.
A few names we will feature below come from Kentucky, Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin. But we know underrated runners exist across the United States. These five won't be the only ones who may strike it rich in 2021.
So keep your eyes and ears peeled low to the ground. It's going to be a fun cross country season.
5. Ciara O'Shea, Madison Central (KY)
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Class of 2023
2020 Top Results: 24th at XC Town USA Meet of Champions in 18:25.00; 1st at Kentucky State Class AAA Championship in 18:15.37; 1st at Louisville XC Classic in 18:12.20; 1st at Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational in 17:40.40.
While no one would argue that O'Shea has accomplished a litany of major accomplishments during her time in Kentucky -- she's captured three straight Class AAA state titles -- there's a sense that she's still a regional gem.
Hopefully, O'Shea gets a chance to shine beyond state lines in 2021.
Because the Madison Central (KY) senior is a true cross country star, racking up 24 wins since 2017. That's right. O'Shea has been crushing the cross country scene in Kentucky since she was an eighth-grader.
With COVID-19 shutting down national opportunities like Team Nationals and Foot Locker Nationals, O'Shea never was granted an opportunity to improve upon the 21st-place run at the South Regional in 2019.
A year ago, though, O'Shea gave every evidence she was in line for something big following her career best outing of 17:40.40 for 5K at the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational in September.
While a top 25 performance at the XC Town USA Meet of Champions provided slight solace for the Kentucky star, expect O'Shea to be much more on the radar this fall.
O'Shea recently won two more outdoor state track and field titles in May, scoring performances of 4:56.83 in the 1,600m and 11:11:09 in the 3,200m.
4. Isabel Conde De Frankenberg, Cedar Park (TX)
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Class of 2024
Frankenberg may have had a spectacular freshman season in 2020. But she hasn't had her moment just yet.
And that may come this fall.
One look at her resume from the previous year, whether it was her reign over the Class 5A classification in cross country, or her performances on the outdoor track and field circuit, was wildly impressive. From a Texas UIL Class 5A cross country championship, to an outdoor title in the 3,200m, Frankenberg ran well beyond her age and had titles to back it up.
Sometimes it's hard for freshmen to break into the mold of an experienced state. Other times, superstars simply step up and show themselves. Frankeberg was the latter for Cedar Park, winning seven races en route to her UIL Class 5A title.
She defeated Anastacia Gonzales at regionals, then Cameron Fawcett at state. Her last five races were all wins, and all of them were under 18 minutes for 5K -- her win at the Temple Invitational is converted.
That's tough to do.
Frankenberg then lined it up at the UIL Class 5A Track Championships. While she lost to Kailey Littlefield in the 800m -- by a second -- she would go on to capture a 3,200m title in 10:26.49, dueling past Allie Love, a talented Texan in her own right.
The jury? Frankenberg was a star in the making.
* Ford in the 1,600m at the CYUP Misfits Invitational
3. Meghan Ford, Mason (MI)
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Class of 2024
2020 Top Results: 56th at the XC Town USA Meet of Champions in 18:55.90; 2nd at MHSAA State LP Division 2 Cross Country Championships in 18:18.08; Career best time of 17:36.40 at the Shepherd BlueJay Invitational.
Wait a minute. Didn't we just witness Meghan Ford's career end? No, you're thinking of another Meghan Ford.
This sophomore from Mason High School, a promising sophomore from Michigan, is every bit as good as that other Ford, and with three more years left on her term, there's every indication she's going to cook up some special performances over that stretch.
A year ago, she dropped three sub-18 performances across the 2020 calendar season, including a career best time of 17:36.40 in October.
While Ford ran a total of 13 times over the fall, that stat might be slightly misleading. Five of those races were duals; she won all of them.
She won 10 races all together, including her biggest victories at the Greater Lansing Cross Country Championships in 17:47.90, along with two more regional wins in October. And yet, when she stacked up against good competition, Ford was right there in the mix, too.
In October, during that career best performance, she finished fifth at the Shepherd BlueJay Invitational, a shade behind talents like Julia Flynn, Audrey Dadamio, Lani Bloom and Emma Squires.
A few months later, Squires would also get the best of her at the Division 2 State Championships. Ford would go on to place top 60 at the XC Town USA Meet of Champions in Indiana, among the top five freshman in the race.
With so much in front of her, including a breakout sophomore season, Ford will certainly be a superb athlete to watch out for in 2021.
2. Lauren Pansegrau, Middleton (WI)
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Class of 2022
2020 Top Results:
No one rose up the charts quite like Pansegrau over the last year.
And for good reason.
The Middleton (WI) senior actually ran her junior cross country season in the spring. And she was the toast of the state, winning five straight races en route to her WIAA Division I Championship win in 17:07.30.
Her top performance of 16:57.98, which came at sectionals, actually finished the last cross country term (combined 2020 and 2021 seasons) at U.S. No. 17.
That performance, though, marked nearly a minute improvement from her previous campaign. Importantly, though, it mirrored what's become a steady-improvement over the last three seasons for the athlete.
From freshman times of 19- and 18-minutes, to sophomore performances of 18- and 17-minutes, Pansegrau has shown that development is all about maturation.
What's somewhat crazy, too, is that her outdoor season proceeded immediately after her cross country campaign, meaning there was little rest. But that hardly mattered.
She ran PRs of 4:55.93 for 1,600m and 10:13.91 for 3,200m. She claimed a Wisconsin state title in the 3,200m.
And once her fall starts, she may be among the nation's top athletes. She's earned it.
1. Julia Flynn, Traverse City Central (MI)
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Class of 2022
2020 Top Results: 3rd at the MITCA Meet of Champions in 17:33.19; 3rd at the MHSAA LP Division I Championships in 17:59.18; 1st at Benzie Central Pete Moss Invitational in 16:51.27.
In some ways, Flynn had kind of a perfect cross country season in 2020. While Michigan has a history of racing its athletes a lot over the cross country season, Flynn lined it up just seven times, winning five of those events.
She only lost to two athletes overall, finishing identically in third to both Audrey Dadamio and Rachel Forysth at the MHSAA State Championships and the MITCA Michigan Meet of Champions.
And yet, she likely walked away from all of those performances with a clear optimism. For starters, she broke 18 minutes at both the state course and at the Meet of Champions venue, pushing toward her second-fastest time ever on the Maple Creek Golf course with a time of 17:33.19.
She also opened up her year with an incredible U.S. No. 10 performance of 16:51.27 at the Benzie Central Pete Moss Invite -- on a course that generally is considered runner-friendly. That was part of five performances under 18 minutes.
Honestly, though, it was what Flynn did over the outdoor season that truly began to show her transformation.
Her personal records over the outdoor season were 2:09.18 for 800m, 4:41.87 for 1,600m and 10:09.87 for 3,200m, which was good national marks of U.S. No. 47, US No. 7 and US No. 13, respectively.
While Michigan will be stock full of talent in 2021, Flynn might be the athlete who flies off the charts and an athlete we wouldn't have naturally expected. Don't be fooled.