16. UCLA Bruins
Coach: Forest Braden
Notable Departures: Ferdinand Edman, Jonah Diaz, Austin O'Neil
Notable Additions: Robert Brandt (?)
Projected Scoring Five:
Robert Brandt (JR) [TSR#36], Colin Burke (Rs. SO), Garrett Reynolds (SO), Daniel De La Torre (SR), John Carter Blunt (SO)
UCLA is one of those teams that continues to find a way to stay competitive. Despite losing ace Lane Werley to graduation, the Bruins only got better in 2016 with exceptional pack running, their new-found low-stick Ferdinand Edmand, and strong depth. There are certainly a lot of changes happening again in 2017, but if any team can overcome that, it's the Bruins.
UCLA's 2016 season began at the Roy Griak Invite where the Bruins put together a very strong performance. Ferdinand Edman led the way for the team with an 8th place finish while the rest of squad placed 26th, 29th, 39th, and 69th. Clearly, the drop off at their 5th scorer didn't help the Bruins. However, they were still able to walk away with a 6th place team finish only 6 points away from Michigan State and 11 points away from Michigan.
The Wisconsin Invite was the next stop on the schedule and this time, the end result would be much more impressive. Edman came up big for the team once again with a 10th place finish while Jonah Diaz finished 27th overall. The final three scorers would place 57, 68, and 83. Their scorers may have been relatively spread out, but UCLA would still finish 6th in the team standings with 246 points, only 6 points away from 5th place Iona.
Things were trending in the right direction for the Bruins. They still needed to tighten the gap among their top five, but it was tough to be disappointed with their racing so far.
Two weeks later would mark the start of the postseason with the PAC 12 Championships. One of the best conferences in the nation would host elite programs like Stanford, Colorado, and Oregon. For some, UCLA was an afterthought.
Colorado would eventually go on to pull off the upset over Stanford and win the PAC 12 title. However, the real surprise to many was seeing Oregon struggle while UCLA pulled ahead for third. The Bruins pack running was finally coming together. Edman placed 5th overall while the next three scorers stayed together for finishes of 10, 11, and 12. The 5th man? A very respectable 20th place overall. UCLA would finish with 58 points, only 11 off of Stanford and 17 off of Colorado.
Even after PAC 12's the Bruins continued to thrive. At the West Regional Championships, UCLA would place 3rd overall ahead of Oregon and easily earn a spot to NCAA's. The pack running, although not as tight as PAC 12's, still paid off with scorers placing 5th, 14th, 26th, 31st, and 37th. In a region filled with high-level programs, a spread like that is pretty strong.
The final test would come at NCAA's and, although their finish wasn't quite as strong as their other races, they still put together a very respectable performance. Ferdinand Edman capped off his senior season with an All-American 14th place finish while Jonah Diaz continued to be a supportive #2 man by placing 52nd overall. UCLA's top five would finish 11, 39, 100, 113, and 115 (in the team scoring) to place 15th in the team standings.
2016 treated the Bruins well and it showed that they were capable of rebounding from the loss of key scorers. That's a good sign for 2017 when you consider that Ferdinand Edman, Jonah Diaz, and Austin O'Neil no longer have cross country eligibility.
The loss of three scorers is not an easy thing to overcome for any team, especially when two of them were your #1 and #2. So how can UCLA be ranked 16th after losing a large portion of their 2016 squad? The answer lies in their underclassmen.
One of the top returners on this team is Colin Burke, a rising redshirt sophomore who often found himself at the #3 spot last year. He placed 11th at PAC 12's and 57th at Wisconsin. His consistency makes him very valuable and his youth indicates that there is still a lot more growth we could see from him.
Behind Burke will be Garrett Reynolds and Daniel De La Torre, two long distance studs who found success on the track this past spring season. De La Torre earned a PR of 13:46 while Reynolds ran 13:57 as a true freshman. Although their cross country performances may be modest, their improvement on the track is too significant to ignore. Like Burke, Reynolds is a rising sophomore who should continue to prosper with the Bruins as he gains more experience.
The fifth projected scorer is up in the air between Myles Smith and John Carter Blunt. On one hand, Smith brings experience to the top five and has been on the big stage multiple times before. On the other hand, Blunt was one of the top recruits coming into 2016 with personal bests of 8:57 and 14:41 in high school. We didn't get to see him run cross country last year, but he could be a dangerous weapon and bring a bit more firepower to the Bruins this fall.
All of the names I just mentioned will help this team stay competitive and return to the NCAA Championships. However, the potential addition of a new ace could be the game changer for this team.
*Rumors on LetsRun.com have suggested that former California runner, Robert Brandt, will be transferring to rival UCLA. Brandt is ranked 36th in our TSR Top 50. These rumors are unconfirmed as UCLA's 2017 roster does not have Brandt listed while California's roster is still from 2016 and has not been updated.
A lot of this is speculation which is why the Bruins are only ranked at 16. However, if Brandt is in fact going to UCLA, then this completely changes the conversation. The addition of Brandt would be the perfect replacement for Ferdinand Edman as the Bruins look to find a low-stick replacement for him. Of course, transfers are never a sure-fire thing. Having to adjust to new training partners, coaches, and atmosphere takes some time to get used to. Still, having his name potentially on their roster is a huge development.
Although the Bruins lose a lot of key seniors, they still make up for it with budding young talent who will be in the programs for quite a while. Like last year, UCLA won't be rebuilding this year: they'll reload.
*Flotrack Has Confirmed That Robert Brandt Has Transferred To UCLA