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.
50. John Aho, Junior, Michigan
The Michigan men lacked firepower throughout most of the 2018 cross country season, but they slowly improved over time, in part due to the progression we saw from John Aho. The rising junior was the surprise leader of this team last fall and he now has a chance to build upon his 2018 postseason success.
I'll admit, from a Top 50 perspective, most of Aho's 2018 cross country season was very underwhelming. He finished 61st at the Nuttycombe Invite before placing 53rd in the Pre-Nats Cardinal race. His BIG 10 performance wasn't anything special either, with Aho finishing 22nd at the conference championship meet.
However, things began to turn at the Great Lakes Regional Championships. Aho secured a respectable 10th place finish to help the Wolverine men secure a spot to the national meet. Once he was there, Aho had the race of his life, finishing 35th overall and earning an All-American honor.
Aho would go on to post a handful of respectable marks on the track with times of 7:57 and 13:59. It wasn't anything jaw-dropping, but running under the eight minute and 14 minute barriers are two huge milestones for any competitive runner.
Yes, his regular season was unexciting, but I find it difficult to leave off an All-American from last year who peaked at the right time. The great thing about Aho is that he is only entering the second half of his collegiate eligibility. He has a ton of room to grow, and he also has the potential to give Michigan a lethal low-stick on a consistent basis.
49. Olin Hacker, Junior, Wisconsin
Over the past year, the Wisconsin men have garnered a ton of attention thanks to the electric performances that we've seen from Morgan McDonald and Oliver Hoare. And yes, while most of the Badgers success came from those two, rising junior Olin Hacker has quietly posted strong results of his own.
Last fall, Hacker kicked off his season with a win at the rust-buster known as the Badger Classic. He would later come back to his home course one month later and finish 19th overall at a loaded Nuttycombe Invite race. Suddenly, Hacker was a viable top scorer who nicely bridged gap between Wisconsin's top two and the rest of their lineup.
However, the BIG 10 Championships left something to be desired after Hacker finished 19th in that race. After a 5th place finish at the Great Lakes Regional Championships (where the focus was likely just on qualifying for Nationals), Hacker ended his season with a 56th place finish at the national meet.
Overall, Olin Hacker has proven that he can hold his own in large, nationally-competitive meets. His 7:53 3k from this past indoor season shows us that he has enough raw talent to stick with some of the nation's best.
His consistency and reliable scoring value - with the potential to improve even more - makes Hacker a clear-cut candidate for our Top 50. I'd like to see a few more performances like his 2018 Nuttycombe race, but then again, so would Mick Byrne.
48. Aidan Reed, Senior, Southern Utah
Southern Utah wasn't supposed to qualify for Nationals last year after deciding to redshirt Kasey Knevelbaard and Josh Collins. Then again, no one thought Aidan Reed was going to be as good as he was.
2018 was a big breakout season for the then-junior who had a solid performance at the Nuttycombe Invite, finishing 27th overall. However, it was his result in the Pre-Nats Cardinal race that really defined him as a true low-stick. In a field that was loaded with powerhouse programs like Northern Arizona, Stanford, and Colorado, Reed walked away with a huge 13th place finish. In that race, the Thunderbird ace beat out top names such as NAU's Grijalva, Beamish, and Ferro, as well as Colorado's John Dressel and Colorado State's Cole Rockhold.
After a pair of respectable finishes at the BIG Sky Championships (6th) and the Mountain Regional Championships (4th), Reed shifted his focus to the main event: Nationals. He didn't finish as an All-American, but the SUU standout showed that his regular season performances were for real thanks to a 51st place finish at the national meet.
Reed is clearly one of the better distance runners in the country and his consistency is undervalued. He never had a bad race in 2018 and showed a glimpse of his exciting potential when he placed 13th at Pre-Nats. He'll need to replicate that Pre-Nats performance on a more consistent basis, but I think Reed is a safe pick to stick around in our Top 50 for the entire season.
47. Carlos Villarreal, Senior, Arizona
While most fans of the sport may know Villarreal as a middle distance superstar, the Arizona veteran has proven that he can do more than just run a fast 800 or 1500.
Last fall, Villarreal caught fire and put together a streak of races that would impress even the best distance runners in the country. After finishing runner-up to the GVSU duo of Zach Panning and Enael Woldemichael in late September, Carlos threw down a monster 10th place finish in the Pre-Nats White race. A quick ending to the race left Villarreal to utilize his speed and make up some serious ground on the rest of the competition.
The PAC-12 Championships was another respectable performance for the Arizona low-stick after he finished 15th overall. It wasn't anything jaw-dropping, but it showed that his race at Pre-Nats was no joke.
The West Regional Championships was, on paper, the best race of Villarreal's career after throwing down a sub-4:30 last mile to finish 2nd overall. It's important to note that many top programs were likely conserving their efforts and simply aiming for a national qualifying performance. But for Villarreal, it was clearly validation for his long distance talents.
After ending his season with a 78th place finish at Nationals, Villarreal took to the track where he displayed even more surprising endurance. He ran 7:52 for 3000 meters at the MPSF Championships, a time that put him just out of reach for national qualification (although he would end up as an All-American in the mile).
Villarreal can do it all and he has proven on numerous occasions that his long-distance strength is the real deal. After such a successful 2018 campaign, don't be surprised if Villarreal makes a jump in the rankings this year.
46. Talon Hull, Junior, Washington
The addition of incoming transfer Andrew Jordan, as well as an elite recruiting class, certainly makes Washington a legitimate threat to win the national title this year. However, part of that can also be attributed to Talon Hull who quietly put together one of the better cross country seasons of 2018.
As a sophomore, the Washington low-stick began his season at Beantown with a respectable 12th place finish. However, that performance was nothing compared to his 14th place finish in the Pre-Nats White race which was enough for the Huskies to edge out Syracuse for 2nd place overall (finishing behind BYU).
Yet, the defining race of Talon Hull's collegiate career (so far) has been his race at the PAC-12 Championships where he pushed Grant Fisher to the line in a mad dash for the finish. His runner-up performance immediately gave him a spot in our Top 50 and threw Washington into the podium conversation.
After a 12th place finish at the West Regional Championships, Hull would go on to have a slightly underwhelming performance at Nationals (finishing 80th overall). Even so, the 3:59 miler has raw talent that absolutely warrants a ranking among the best collegiate cross country runners in the nation.
Admittedly, his best races of the 2018 season were either tactical or ended with fast finishes - something that greatly benefits Hull due to his middle distance speed. If Hull can further build upon his overall endurance, he'll be a force to be reckoned with in 2019.
45. Morgan Beadlescomb, Rs. Junior, Michigan State
Beadlescomb may be a forgotten name of the past, but his talent is still very much prevalent in today's NCAA. The Michigan State standout was redshirted during the 2018 cross country season, but rallied this past spring with an impressive 5000 meter time of 13:47. He was the dreaded First Man Out of national qualifying at the East Regional Championships.
Back in 2017, Beadlescomb was one of the better talents in his conference. He finished 6th at Roy Griak before posting a very respectable 40th place finish at the Nuttycombe Invite (which was arguably far deeper than the 2018 race). The Spartan ace later went on to have a successful postseason where he finished 5th at both the BIG 10 Championships and the Great Lakes Regional Championships.
Beadlescomb was primed to be an All-American at the 2017 National Championships, but faltered on the big stage, settling for a 91st place finish instead.
It's clear that Beadlescomb is one of the better talents in an already stacked BIG 10 conference and his recent 5k PR indicates that he's still in top shape. He hasn't run a cross country race in two years, so I'm staying on the cautious side and keeping him outside of the top 40 (for now), but he is more than capable of securing a higher ranking later this fall.
44. Emmanuel Cheboson, Sophomore, Louisville
The ACC and the Southeast region are home to some of the best young talents in the country (many of which will be mentioned later on in these rankings). However, the one name that was overlooked throughout the fall of 2018 was Emmanuel Cheboson.
As just a freshman, the Louisville youngster never really had a poor performance. He was runner-up to James Sugira at the Commodore Classic before going to Pre-Nats where he placed 8th overall in the White race.
The "worst" race of his 2018 cross country season came at ACC's where he still mustered a 15th place finish. It wasn't a great showing, but it was far from a poor performance.
Despite a great race at the Southeast Regional Championships, where Cheboson finished 9th overall, he was still two spots out from making it to the national meet, forcing him to end his season early.
If the Louisville Cardinal was able to succeed with such little experience last fall, he'll likely make significant strides in 2019 with a year of experience under his belt. He'll need to improve his championship racing, but Cheboson's consistency and potential upside makes him too talented to leave out of our Top 50.
43. Chris Olley, Senior, San Francisco
Arguably the biggest breakout star of the 2018 cross country season was San Francisco low-stick Chris Olley who hails from Great Britain. The UK native was a 2nd place finisher at the British University Championships before choosing to compete in the United States.
Olley made a name for himself in just his first year of competing in the NCAA. After placing 38th at the Nuttycombe Invite, Olley better understood what he was up against. He would go to nearly steal the Pre-Nats White race with a narrow 3rd place finish.
Olley quickly became the best distance runner no one had ever heard of, but he made sure to change that narrative after placing 6th at the West Coast Conference Championships and then 9th at the West Regional Championships. Unfortunately, Olley's 9th place finish wasn't enough to earn him a spot to Nationals. Instead, he was the First Man Out.
After a heartbreaking finish to his 2018 cross country season, Olley will look to prove that he can be among the NCAA's most elite distance runners in 2019.
42. Jacob Choge, Rs. Junior, Middle Tennessee State
41. Kigen Chemadi, Rs. Junior, Middle Tennessee State
The Middle Tennessee State duo were arguably the hardest runners to rank in this year's XC Top 50. Both of these men have shown that they are high-level talents, but their lack of racing and inconsistencies are leaving us cautious.
Just like Beadlescomb, both of these men were redshirted during the 2018 cross country season, so the most recent cross country results that we can look at are almost two years old. That, however, shouldn't take away from how impressive their 2017 finishes were.
The MTSU duo dominated their racing schedule during the fall of 2017. After finishing 2nd and 3rd at the Commodore Classic, they shifted their attention to the Greater Louisville Classic where Choge finished 6th overall. Chemadi, however, struggled in that race and had to settle for a 28th place finish.
The Crimson Classic was a bit better as Choge proved that he was the real deal thanks to an overall win over the elite Alabama trio. Chemadi placed an unexciting 7th in that same race.
After cruising through their conference and regional meets, Choge and Chemadi took to NCAA's and made some serious noise. Chemadi had a monster 23rd place finish while Choge held his own and finished 34th overall. The pair of All-American finishes validated that the small school stars could hang with the powerhouse standouts.
Yet, even with all of this great cross country success, there are still some valid concerns.
Since the 2017 cross country season, Choge has struggled to match his prior personal bests. Despite running PR's of 13:39 and 28:42 in the spring of 2017, Choge has yet to run faster than 13:54 and 29:24 since then. He's never run faster than 8:11 for 3000 meters and he has been unable to qualify for a national meet on the track. In fact, Choge didn't even race after the Raleigh Relays this past outdoor track season. Instead, he ended his season before the month of April even began.
Chemadi is a different story as his track PR's are beyond impressive. This past spring, Chemadi ran personal bests of 13:46 for 5000 meters and 8:38 for the steeplechase. It's clear that he has maintained his fitness since 2017. However, Chemadi lacked consistency during that 2017 cross country season and wasn't always in the mix with the top stars (even though his performance at Nationals would suggest otherwise). That's why we are keeping him out of top 40...for now.
There is a ton to like about this Middle Tennessee State duo, and their talent is simply too great to ignore. Still, they both need to prove that they can hang with the best on a consistent basis if they want improve their Top 50 rankings.