Updated: Jan 13
Note: Keep in mind that what our writers value for the men's rankings varies from the criteria that we use to rank the women.
5. Amon Kemboi, Junior, Campbell
Kemboi seemed to fly under the radar last cross country season. Perhaps it was because he had another teammate, Lawrence Kipkoech, who was an All-American or maybe it was because he from a smaller school. He certainly had a noteworthy fall of 2018, starting with his win at the Battle at Beantown against some tough competition from Syracuse, Ole Miss, and Washington. He lated finished 9th at Pre-Nats (Cardinal) and 4th at Southeast Regional Championships which don’t necessarily scream being a top 10 runner at Nationals. However, when NCAA's rolled around, it was Kemboi who earned a 7th place finish overall in a meet where many top names failed to meet expectations. If his cross country season wasn’t enough to prove that the Camel was elite, then his indoor season certainly did.
There was a strong argument to be made in the middle of the indoor season that Kemboi was the best runner in the NCAA outside of McDonald and Fisher. The Camel star ran 13:33 and 7:44 coming into Indoor Nationals, but wasn’t able to match those performances at Nationals where he finished 6th in the 5k and 13th in the 3k. Still, his indoor performances proved that Kemboi had put himself into a different tier on the track.
Unfortunately, we did not see him run outdoors as he redshirted, so like Sugira, it is unclear how healthy he will be entering this fall. Regardless, he clearly has enough talent to put himself into the national title conversation and, with no McDonald and Fisher, this could be Kemboi’s year.
4. Joe Klecker, Rs. Senior, Colorado
One of the most disappointing parts of this past outdoor season was seeing Klecker go down with an injury. Before getting hurt, the Buffalo looked like one of the favorites to win the 10k after a sparkling indoor season that saw him finish 2nd and 3rd in the 5k and 3k, respectively.
Assuming Klecker is back healthy this fall, he is going to be a handful for the rest of the NCAA. The senior has been a consistent runner on the cross country course for most of his career, finishing as an All-American twice during his time at Colorado. However, last year was when we saw the senior take a step up.
In his first race of the season, Klecker finished 5th at Pre-Nats behind Fisher, Baxter, Day, and Templeton before eventually placing 5th in a tactical PAC-12 Championship race. He later went on to win the Mountain Regional Championships. It was at Nationals that Klecker and the rest of Colorado surprised the country. The Buffalos finished 8th, 9th, and 11th with Klecker leading the way. For Colorado to replicate their unexpected podium finish from last year, Klecker will need to be a low-stick for a team that has some question marks after their top three.
Will Klecker be the first American to win an NCAA XC title since Galen Rupp in 2008? He certainly will have a good chance, since most of the runners who finished ahead of the Buffalo graduated. When his indoor track season is factored into the equation, his case for winning a title picks up considerably. The real question will be if he can produce a kick that is as strong as our top choice for this year's Top 50.
3. Vincent Kiprop, Rs. Senior, Alabama
2. Gilbert Kigen, Rs. Senior, Alabama
The two remaining members of the Alabama Trio are coming back this fall after redshirting cross country last year. Gilbert Kigen comes into the season as a much safer bet than Kiprop. This year’s runner-up in the 10k ran well during both indoor and outdoor seasons. While Kiprop ran well indoors and finished 5th in the 5k, his only race during outdoors was a DNF at Bryan Clay. Overall, it was a tough year for last year’s runner-up in the 10k.
However, it is worth remembering that both have an obscene amount of talent as evidenced by their performances at Nationals two years ago. Kigen finished 4th with Kiprop only three places behind him. As both are heading into their last year’s of eligibility this year is very important for them as they look to sign professional contracts. This year is also pivotal for Coach Dan Waters’ Crimson Tide team. He swung for the fences bringing in two more Kenyans last year, Noel Rotich and Octopias Ndiwa, to fill in the back of the lineup behind the Crimson Tri. Unfortunately, Alfred Chelenga was the only one who was able to stay healthy, and he used up the rest of his eligibility. It will be fascinating to see if Kiprop and Kigen, along with an improving distance side, will be able to bring Alabama back to Nationals.
Whether or not the team can squeak into Nationals, Kiprop and Kigen will be major factors in the individual title race and will give the top man on our list all they can handle. They have been so close to winning a national title for the past few years. Could 2019 be the year where one of them finally comes out on top?
1. Edwin Kurgat, Senior, Iowa State
Earning the top spot is the top returner from last year’s NCAA XC Championships. Kurgat is coming off of a solid track season where he finished 5th in the 5k at Nationals. However, it was in cross country, though, where the Cyclone really put his name on the map. Iowa State certainly hopes that he will produce another stellar cross country season as they look to secure a podium position even after losing Andrew Jordan to Washington.
Kurgat has had one of the most interesting collegiate careers of any NCAA cross country favorite. In 2016, he finished 11th at the OVC Cross Country Championships while running for Tennessee-Martin – not exactly what you would expect from a future national title favorite. But in 2017, he was an All-American, finishing 21st at NCAA's. This improvement continued in 2018 when he transferred to Iowa State.
After opening up his cross country season at the Hawkeye Invitational where Iowa State swept the top five places, Kurgat finished 2nd at Nuttycombe. This race elevated Kurgat into the national title picture, losing to Morgan McDonald by only one second.
Once the postseason started, the Cyclone started winning. First was a victory at the BIG 12 Championships followed by a 1st place finish at the Midwest Regional Championships. Riding the momentum of those two wins, Kurgat came into NCAA's as a challenger to Fisher and McDonald. Sure enough, the Iowa state runner threw in a massive kick to put himself ahead of Fisher and just behind McDonald before petering out a bit to finish 3rd.
The top returner from last year will certainly have plenty of competition from the rest of the top 10, but he won’t have to deal with all-time talents like McDonald and Fisher this year.
Kurgat’s consistent development is another reason for the rest of the NCAA to fear him going into this season. Will he be able to cap off his collegiate career by improving two more spots and earning his first national title? My bet is yes, but anything is possible in cross country…