8. Mississippi Rebels
- Waleed Suliman (49 / 1:51 / 2:27 / 4:04 / 14:49)
- Cade Bethmann (1:50 / 4:10 / 9:09 / 15:34)
-Everett Smulders (51 / 1:50 / 4:15 / 9:27)
- John Rivera (48 / 1:50 / 4:20)
- Ben Savino (4:15 / 9:10 / 15:31)
In less than five years, the Rebels have gone from just another average team in the south to one of the best distance running programs in the NCAA. A combination of star transfers and the appointment of Ryan Vanhoy to the position of head coach have been the keys to the recent achievements of this program.
Success of this magnitude eventually garners attention from high-level recruits that were once impossible to win over. Naturally, that is what the Ole Miss program is currently seeing as they are about to bring in four top-tier talents.
Of the four recruits, Waleed Suliman stands out as the biggest catch of them all. The 10x Virginia state champ has been overshadowed by Drew Hunter for the past few years, but was really able to shine in 2017 with four personal bests in the 800, 1000, mile, and 5k. Suliman not only has superstar times, but he has an uncanny ability to win races. What other high schooler do you know has 10 state titles in a state as strong as Virginia? I'm sure there are names that I'm missing, but it can't be that many.
While he may not have the state titles Suliman has, Cade Bethmann is a winner who has the times to back it up. The Texas native has competed against some of the best middle distance runners in the nation and should fit in perfectly with this mid-distance oriented program. The addition of Bethmann to Mississippi's squad couldn't have come at a better time when you consider that 800 specialists and sub-four milers Craig Engels and Ryan Manahan just graduated.
The same could be said about Florida state champion John Rivera and Georgia state champion Everett Smulders who each boast personal bests of 1:50 as well. The combination of Bethmann, Rivera, and Smulders is a scary thing to think about if you're an SEC team not named Ole Miss.
Ben Savino may be the last recruit we mention, but he is arguably the most important. With Mississippi graduating four of their top five scorers from the 2016 Cross Country National Championships, the need for help in the longer distances is at an all-time high. Of course, it is completely unfair to expect that Savino will immediately fill the roles of those exiting seniors. It is very possible (even likely) that Savino becomes a project for Vanhoy and his staff to develop over time. Even if he doesn't have an immediate impact, his addition to the roster is incredibly valuable.
However, out of all of this, the biggest (and maybe most obvious) commonality among this group of recruits is the fact that they have absolutely incredible range. Just look at Suliman who can run a 49 second 400, but is also under 15 minutes in the 5k. That type of fitness is simply unheard of. The same goes for Cade Bethmann who can run 1:50 in the 800, but can also tick off a 9:09 3200.
Rivera and Savino may not have quite the range that Suliman and Bethmann do, but they have shown that they are more than just "one event wonders" .
The ability to extend your racing range is greatly undervalued in today's world of competitive racing. We are beginning to see more and more individuals focus on just one or two events rather than a wide array. Maybe that's why Mississippi has found so much success. Nearly every Rebel on that roster can stay very competitive in more than just one event, which includes cross country. Without Craig Engels stepping up and delivering a solid performance at Cross Country Nationals, the Rebels don't become a podium team. In fact, the backbone of this Ole Miss XC team has been primarily milers for the past few seasons.
The culture-changing distance stars may have graduated, but with this incoming class of recruits, the future is only getting brighter in Oxford, Mississippi.