21. Tulsa Hurricanes
Coach: Steve Gulley
Notable Departures: Luke Traynor, Dallas Elmore
Notable Additions: Henry Williams, Isaac Akers, Scott Beattie
Projected Scoring Five:
Benjamin Preisner (SR), Henry Pearce (Rs. SR), Adam Roderique (Rs. SR), Isaac Dobos (Rs. JR), Issac Akers (FR)
What impresses me about the Tulsa Hurricanes is that no matter who they graduate, they always find a way to stay competitive and make it to the National Championships. A lot of that success can be credited to Steve Gulley who has taken respectable recruits and turned them into absolute studs. There aren't many coaches who can maximize the production they get out of their athletes like Gulley does.
When we look at Tulsa's 2016 season, you could argue that the Hurricanes were in the same situation they were in now. Their reliable ace, Marc Scott, had just run out of cross country eligibility. The rest of the team was deep and they had a great pack, but they needed to find another low-stick.
The first meet of the season came at the Cowboy Jamboree where the Hurricanes would have to face their Mid-West regional rivals, Oklahoma State. The task would prove to be a difficult one as OSU out-ran Tulsa and defeated them by 20 points. It may have been a tough loss for the 'Canes, but they could at least argue that their pack running was strong and showed potential.
Next on the schedule was the Wisconsin Invite where we got to see what this Hurricane squad was really made of. Luke Traynor was the highlight of the team after placing 11th overall. Luckily, his low-stick finish helped make up for the gaps throughout the rest of the scorers who placed 61, 71, 95, and 129. The Hurricanes would finish 13th in the team scoring.
The team transitioned to the post-season where they easily cruised through their conference meet (AAC) to secure the team title. The real test wouldn't be until the Mid-West Regional Championships where Tulsa would once again battle Oklahoma State and other quality opponents like Illinois, Iowa State, and Minnesota. Of course, that didn't matter as Luke Traynor took the individual title while his teammates placed 10th, 11th, and 12th through four men. In fact, the Hurricanes had the best top four in the entire region.
Unfortunately, Tulsa's 5th man would place 55th overall, dashing any hopes of an Oklahoma State upset. Still, the Hurricanes would place 2nd overall and secure the 2nd auto-lock spot for Nationals.
It was clear that Tulsa was beginning to reach their peak at the right time and there was no race more evident of that than at NCAA's, their best race of the season. Once again, Luke Traynor was the low-stick who gave Tulsa the edge they needed with a 13th place finish. Preisner, Roderique, and Pearce continued to stay reliable by finishing 72, 76, and 106.
Yet, that 5th man continued to be an issue with the final Tulsa scorer coming in at 159th.
When the final team scores were tallied, Tulsa walked away with an 11th place team finish. They had blown away expectations in the post-season and established themselves as a threat in 2017.
We are now only a month out from the official start of the cross country season and the narrative for Tulsa is still the same. Much like 2016, they lost a huge piece in Luke Traynor who was responsible for the team scoring never getting out of hand. With Traynor now out of the picture, the Hurricanes will be looking for a new low-stick to lead their team. Will they be able to find a legitimate replacement? They've done it before, but it's certainly not going to be easy.
Yet, even with the loss of Traynor, this team is deep and returns the rest of their squad from 2016. Preisner, Pearce, and Rodrique are a formidable top three who kept a tight pack throughout the 2016 season. One of these three could emerge as the front-runner that Tulsa needs, but even if they don't, their experience and consistency will prove to be very valuable at the bigger invitationals.
However, the final two Tulsa scorers is where things become a little obscure. Dobos and Ort traded turns being the 5th scorer last year and although they had their off days, I expect them to improve with age.
Even if Dobos and Ort don't make noticeable improvements, some people forget just how talented some of these younger guys are. Two incoming freshmen from England are Isaac Akers and Scott Beattie who have run personal bests of 8:18 and 8:28 for 3000 meters. Imagine what they could do with a collegiate program...
If you count the freshmen who were redshirted last year, Tulsa has 12 names that have never raced collegiate cross country before. I would be very surprised if the Hurricanes couldn't find a pair of reliable scorers to complete their top five scorers.
It's easy to undervalue Tulsa. We did it last year and they ended up as the 11th best team in the nation. While I do think that the loss of Traynor will hurt, I still see this squad staying very competitive and possibly defending their auto-lock spot that they earned at last year's regional championship. With a vast supply of depth and exciting new recruits, the potential upside of this team is at an all-time high.