These Five Girls Should Be National Title Contenders In XC

The cross country season is just beginning and athletes in a few states have already had season debuts.

Even though we are roughly four months away from crowning a national champion, there are top returners this fall who stand out as potential national title winners in 2023. 

Check out the top girls below.

* Jane Hedengren reflects on her performance from the 2022 Bob Firman Invitational, her first race back after battling an injury

Jane Hedengren, Timpview (UT)

Class of 2025

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Based on how Hedengren's sophomore season ended, she has potential to be one of the top cross country runners this year.

She captured her first Utah cross country state title in 2022 and from there carried that momentum into the rest of the season. Even though she didn't qualify for NXN -- she was 11th at the Nike Southwest Regional -- she gained valuable experience. 

This fall, Hedengren will enter as the eighth-fastest returner in the Southwest region. 

Fast forward to the spring as she showcased her speed and strength by setting personal bests in the 800m with a 2:09, a 4:35 mile and 9:54 in the two mile. Her two-mile performance was the third-fastest time this spring and a new sophomore class record.

If Hedengren can pick up where she left off this spring, she can be a serious competitor on the course. 

Sadie Engelhardt, Ventura (CA)

Class of 2025

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Engelhardt is a two-time All-American at Champs Sports Nationals. Is this the year she wins? 

As a freshman, she finished 15th and then as a sophomore she finished 10th on the Balboa Park course in San Diego, California.

Looking ahead to December, Engelhardt would be the sixth-fastest returner.

However, the Ventura (CA) standout had a big spring. She earned New Balance Nationals Indoor and Outdoor titles in the mile. She also clocked a 9:51 in the 3,200m.

With her speed, strength and maturity, Engelhardt should be electric in cross country this fall. 

* Abby Faith shares insight on her fourth-place finish at Champs Sports Nationals

Abby Faith Cheeseman, The Webb School (TN)

Class of 2025

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Cheeseman has showcased progression from her freshman to sophomore season on the cross country course.

The two-time TSSAA cross country champion ended her freshman season in 2021 with a 5K best 17:13 and was 31st at Eastbay Cross Country Championships.

A year later, she ran 17:04 and was fourth overall at Champs Sports Nationals. 

The runner from Bell Buckle, Tennessee then earned three Tennessee outdoor titles in the 800m, 1,600m and 3,200m this spring. To cap off her sophomore season, Cheeseman won her first national title in the two-mile at New Balance Nationals Outdoor with a 10:02 personal best. 

Ellie Shea, Emerging Elite (MA)

Class of 2024

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What can't Shea do?

The rising senior from Massachusetts made three U.S. teams over the past calendar years and claimed wins in the 1,500m and 3K distance at the Pan American U20 Championships in August. 

But last year, after finishing second at Champs Sports Nationals with a 5K personal best of 16:55, she qualified for the U20 Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia.

There, she was the first American to cross the finish line and helped the U.S. secure a bronze medal at Worlds. With her 10th-place finish, Shea finished the 6K course in 21:48. 

She then won New Balance Nationals Indoor titles in the two mile and 5K with personal bests of 9:49.82 and 15:46.28, securing two straight top five performances all-time.  

During the spring, Shea qualified for the NACAC U23 Championships in the 1,500m and the Pan American U20 Championships, where she earned her first wins internationally in the 1,500m and 3K. 

* Bethany Michalak finished third at NXN in 2022 

Bethany Michalak, Air Academy (CO)

Class of 2024

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The NC State commit ended her junior campaign with a flurry. 

After finishing sixth at the Colorado Class 6A Cross Country Championships, Michalak rebounded and finished third overall at Nike Cross Nationals.

Michalak enters the 2023 season as the top returner nationwide. 

This outdoor season she earned personal bests in the mile and 3,200m, clocking times of 4:37 at Brooks PR and 9:57 at Arcadia.

Michalak returns for this final season with a long-list of accomplishments and big goals on the line.