19. Mid. Tenn. St. Blue Raiders
Coach: Dean Hayes
Notable Departures: Hillary Rono
Notable Additions: N/A
Projected Scoring Five:
Jacob Choge (SO) [TSR#12], Kigen Chemadi (JR), Sampson Laari (SR), Amos Cheruiyot (SR), Geoffrey Cheruiyot (SR)
One of the more exciting teams for the past few years has been the MTSU Blue Raiders. Excellent recruiting from Coach Hayes has transformed this program from just another average team, to one of the best squads in the NCAA. With a new season on the rise, this program has a chance to capitalize on their success from 2016 and accomplish even more in 2017.
Although this team has been successful in the past, 2016 proved to be one of the best years in program history. Middle Tennessee began their season at the Memphis Twilight meet where they easily handled squads like Alabama and Mississippi's "B" team. The result would be similar at the UTC Powerade Invite as the Blue Raiders swept the field and defeated Alabama once again.
The first real challenge wouldn't come until the Commodore XC Invite which held an underrated Georgia team and a slew of talented individuals. Of course, that didn't phase MTSU. The men in blue put five in the top 30 by placing 2, 8, 10, 17, and 26.
That runner-up finish was by Jacob Choge, a freshman who pushed Edwin Kibichiy to the line. Could he be the elite low-stick that MTSU was looking for? That question wouldn't be answered for another two weeks, but Middle Tennessee did walk away with a convincing win over Georgia.
The Blue Raiders continued to crank up their competition as they traveled to the Greater Louisville Classic (GLC). Despite a great race by MTSU, Virginia Tech would narrowly take the win, 59 to 62. Still, it's hard to be too upset about that loss. The team ran very well and Jacob Choge established himself as the team ace after pushing Kibichiy to the line once again.
GLC would be the last major invite before the post-season where things certainly wouldn't get any easier. At the Conference USA Championships, Middle Tennessee State battled with UTEP in what was one of the more underrated matchups of conference week. When the scores were tallied, UTEP emerged as the victor by 12 points with the both teams having individuals scattered throughout the top 15. However, Jacob Choge did take the win over established distance star, Jonah Koech.
Luckily, the Raiders would be able to bounce back at the South Region Championships. Choge and Chemadi took the top two spots and led their team to an automatic qualifier, 15 points behind the Ole Miss Rebels for the title.
As the team toed the line at the NCAA Championships, my expectations for MTSU were high (especially for Jacob Choge). Unfortunately, their inexperience got the best of them. Choge finished 31st overall (in the team scoring) while the rest of his team placed 119, 161, 189, and 197. Middle Tennessee would finish with a score of 697 and place 28th overall.
Why do I like the Blue Raiders in 2017? They return a heavy portion of their squad, have younger guys who are on the rise, and now have experience on the big stage. Jacob Choge has shown that he can be a reliable ace and Kigen Chemadi looks like an excellent #2 man. Don't sleep on the point scoring potential of this duo. At the same time, the final three scorers are all set to be seniors. Their veteran status and experience brings a great sense of security and reliability. They rarely struggled in 2016 with relatively consistent performances across the board.
Overall, this is a very solid team and there isn't much else to say besides that. They have a complete scoring five and all of the pieces that make up a future regional champion. However, if they want to be a top 10 team, I am looking for this group to tighten their time spread and improve their overall placement. If they can accomplish that, then don't be surprised when MTSU pulls off a string of upsets.