Updated: Jan 13
Every program goes through transitions. In the life cycle of team building, it is inevitable that there will be highs and lows. The key to building a successful program is minimizing those lows while maximizing the highs. Coach Ihmels will look to do just that in 2019 with a Boise State team that finished 10th last year, but lost four of their top seven.
The first team announced as part of our Preseason Top 25 rankings does return a strong top three. Miler Haller, who just missed out on our Top 50 rankings, returns alongside two key support pieces in Ahmed Muhumed and Elijiah Armstrong. However, the Broncos no longer have the core of the team that succeeded on a high level in 2018.
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Last year’s team started out with a strong (and maybe slightly surprising) 5th place finish at Nuttycombe behind Iowa State and Portland. Haller had a strong race (placing 26th) while fellow returners Muhumed and Armstrong earned top 50 finishes of their won. However, now departed runners Addison DeHaven and Yusuke Uchikoshi were what really helped Boise State put themselves among the top-tier programs.
The Broncos went on to win a Mountain West title over nationally ranked teams in relatively dominant fashion. Teams such as Air Force, Colorado State, and Wyoming were running extremely well, but Boise State was simply better through five runners. Muhumed had a breakout race to finish 4th while Armstrong and Haller finished 12th and 13th, respectively. The returning trio replicated their strong performances at the West Regional Championships to earn Boise State a trip to Nationals by virtue of their 3rd place run.
While Boise State earned a well-deserved top 10 finish at Nationals, but it was largely due to runners who are no longer on the team. Muhumed and Haller had the worst races of their season (188th and 217th, respectively) while Armstrong crossed the line in 112th place.
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For the Broncos to make it back to Nationals and justify their #25 ranking, their top trio will need to run better than they did last year at NCAA's. However, based on their 2018 regular season performance, I am optimistic that they will be much higher come November. They aren't always the most consistent relative to each other (i.e. Nuttycombe vs Mountain West Championships) but they all provide good enough scoring value that makes the front of Boise State's lineup a non-issue.
As for the rest of the lineup, well, there’s a reason why Boise State is ranked #25 and not #9 like they were last year. The loss of Addison DeHaven to Iowa State really hurts as he was a spectacular performer at NCAA's over the last two years, earning All-American finishes in both 2017 and 2018. He would have given the Broncos a low-stick as well as more depth in their top five.
As it stands, Boise State will be relying on a lot of fresh faces and some big improvements from underclassmen.
Two of the top returners behind the aforementioned top three are Leif Everson and Israel Anaya Carmona. Everson had a decent cross country season last year which saw him finish 41st at Mountain West Championships before he went on to run 14:42 in the 5k on the track. Carmona ran 9:18 in the steeple last year in his debut for the event. The steeple generally translates well to cross country, so there is hope that he could take a big step forward for Boise State.
However, the Bronco fans won’t have to put all their hope in these two guys as they have numerous reinforcements on the way.
One of them, Henry Mong, enrolled at Boise State last January and ran 3:45 for 1500 meters this past spring. While he did not run well during his one season of cross country at San Francisco, his speed gives you reason to believe that he could grow into a solid cross runner.
Yet, maybe the more important news is that Boise State is bringing in four transfers from Britain: Lewis Jagger, Logan Rees, Nathan Dunn, and Johnathan Shields. Jagger has some impressive PRs' in the 3k (8:11) and 5k (14:10) which, along with strong performances in cross country races, indicates that he will slide right into the Broncos top five.
At the 2017 British University Championships, he finished right behind Jack Rowe who last year finished 134th at NCAA's. Obviously, we can’t say that he will finish right behind him again, but I think that is a good place to start expectations for Jagger.
As for Logan Rees, he looks to be more of a long distance runner as he has focused on running the 10k on the track and the roads. He has run 29:28 on the roads and has had some solid - if not spectacular - finishes in British and Scottish cross country races. Like Jagger, Rees looks like he will be an important part of Boise State’s lineup as they try to earn another spot at Nationals. With enough refinement, we could see one (or maybe both) of these men evolve into legitimate low-sticks.
The pair of Nathan Dunn and Johnathan Shields will give the Broncos some much needed depth to pair with Rees and Jagger. Dunn has a PR of 14:22 in the 5k and has run decently on the cross country course the past few years. Lastly, Shields owns PR's of 8:08 and 14:34 in the 3k and 5k, respectively. Based on his personal bests, he is a little behind the rest of the transfers, but he has outperformed most of them on the cross country course. He has earned two top 20 performances at the British University Championships over the last two years which indicates that his true talent may lie on the grass and dirt. Look for him to really help the Broncos this fall.
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After experiencing the highs of the team life cycle last year, Coach Ihmels will try to ensure that, even in a transition year, Boise State can earn another spot at Nationals. It certainly won’t be easy and there isn’t a lot of room for error, but the Broncos have proven that they can compete at the top level, and they aren’t starting totally from scratch.
One final note. As we continue to release TSR’s rankings for the upcoming season, it is important to look at a team’s ceiling and floor and try to find the sweet spot in between those two. In Boise State’s case, the floor is very low this year. An injury or bad performance at the wrong time from one of their top three could be very problematic because, at the moment, they don’t have a lot of depth (or at least, not a ton of established depth)
The Broncos’ ceiling, on the other hand, is a little higher than most teams in the #25 spot. Because of the talent that Boise State is bringing back in their top three, the team could exceed expectations. If they can get solid contributions from newcomers in the #4 and #5 spots, then this could very easily be a top 20 - or even top 15 - team come November.
With such a wide variety of outcomes, the Broncos will be a fascinating team to watch this fall as they try to integrate new members and build the next top 10 finisher at NCAA's.