Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. We have finally reached the most exciting time of the year for all of us (and for many of our readers) at The Stride Report.
Summer cross country rankings!
The summer months can only provide us with so much content, so it makes sense for us to glance at the upcoming cross country season and attempt to figure out who the best men and women in the NCAA will be.
Will there be disagreements? Almost definitely. Even so, providing you all with a (very broad) idea of how our rankings are constructed seemed like the right thing to do. That way, you at least (sort of) know where our heads are at and why we made certain ranking decisions.
Yes, some of the language that you're reading below has been recycled from the last time we did summer rankings (the summer of 2020). However, I have made a few tweaks and have added a section or two to offer greater clarity.
So with that, let's dive right into it...
Our Preseason D1 XC Top 50 Individuals will be posted starting on July 18th or July 19th. Our D1 Honorable Mentions and Just Missed names will likely be coming on July 17th or July 18th.
In other words, these rankings are starting VERY soon.
Our Preseason D2 XC Top 25 Individuals and our Preseason D3 XC Top 20 Individuals will be starting the following week, so don't worry, those are on the way!
This schedule will give our readers some consistent analysis/content over the next couple of weeks instead of just transfer updates and news.
As for our XC team rankings, we're still working on those, but they should be coming shortly after our individual rankings.
Creating Rankings Despite Eligibility Uncertainty
Trying to create these summer rankings has been, as we fully expected, a nightmare.
Trying to figure out who has cross country eligibility, who doesn't have cross country eligibility, who has cross country eligibility but isn't using it and who is appealing for additional eligibility makes these rankings extremely difficult to craft.
We have counted the seasons of used eligibility for all of our listed names via TFRRS. We have searched tirelessly for articles, interviews and notes indicating who has eligibility and who does not. We have messaged athletes throughout the country on social media and we have emailed a ridiculous number of coaches.
To put it simply, we have done everything in our power to ensure that these rankings are as accurate as possible. On paper, I feel pretty confident about our rankings and I think we have a very good chance of getting every returner (and every departure) correct.
However, there is a possibility that someone is actually not returning who we didn't catch. There is also a possibility that someone IS returning and we didn't catch them.
Still, for the most part, I like to think that we did an excellent job of catching eligibility. Sure, not every coach or athlete got back to us, but all things considered, I'm not sure where we could have done much more.
Alright, now let's actually talk about the ranking criteria...
Nationals Does Not Entirely Dictate Season Success
Let's suppose that Runner X comes into the 2022 cross country season and absolutely dominates. The athlete easily dusts a handful of elite talents during the regular season, cruises through their conference meet and wins their regional meet with no one close by.
Then, all of the sudden, that runner unfortunately has an "off" day at the NCAA XC Championships and falls back to 200th place.
Are we really going to say that Runner X wasn't a top-five or top-10 runner that season?
Not all examples are as extreme (or as easy) as that, but one performance at the national meet is not going to be the driving factor of where someone is ranked.
That meet obviously holds the most weight when it comes to the order of our rankings -- and there is something to be said about those who perform well on the big stage -- but the cross country season is so much more than just one meet.
Consistency Is A Major Factor That We Consider
This ties into the above section, but one great race or one bad race isn't going to drastically alter someone's ranking for the entire season.
Reliability can make runners extremely valuable. Coaches know what they are going to get out of their athlete and can have the comfort of knowing that they will likely not perform below a certain standard.
Did you perform well in a smaller meet? Did you perform well in a larger meet? Have you defeated top talents on more than one occasion? Have you shown that you can be competitive in multiple race scenarios?
Runners in our Top 50 (or Top 25) (or Top 20) don't necessarily need to hit all of that criteria, but it certainly helps when they show time and time again that they can produce strong results regardless of the races that they are in.
And yes, consistency applies to poor performances as well (not in a favorable way).
Progression, Momentum & Peaking
It sometimes takes a while for certain athletes to get in a groove. Some athletes perform at a much higher level after they get a few races under their legs. Some coaches are experts at ensuring that their team peaks for the postseason. Some athletes are younger and simply become more comfortable with racing at the collegiate level as the season goes on.
If an athlete can show an upwards trend in a positive direction, we are going to take that into consideration. Momentum is a very real thing when it comes distance running. Athletes on a hot streak are often difficult to take down (i.e. Bryce Hoppel on the track).
The Weight of Regular Season Meets & Postseason Meets
Each meet needs to be put into context. If we take a look at last year, you could make the argument that meets like Nuttycombe, Joe Piane and Pre-Nationals were more competitive than most of the conference meets in the country (although maybe not all).
It would also be unfair to compare the PAC-12 or BIG 10 to conferences like the A-10 or the Sun Belt. The competition in certain conferences is simply more competitive than others. The same can be said for regional meets (although there is usually less disparity).
This brings me to our next point...
Varying Levels of Competition
Some teams can't always travel to larger invitationals like Nuttycombe or Pre-Nationals. We completely understand that. However, we are then forced to put things into perspective.
There have been multiple instances where athletes have dominated every meet that they have entered, but then get to the national meet and completely blow up.
It's one thing to go undefeated and run super fast during the regular season. However, things are going to be extremely different on the national stage when you're facing a stampede of the greatest collegiate runners that the country has to offer.
Lack of Emphasis for Regional Championships
Speaking of postseason meets, let's chat about the regional cross country meets for a moment.
The regional meets are tough to gauge, mainly because a lot of the best teams in the country don't always put forth their best effort in an attempt to preserve themselves for the NCAA XC Championships.
On the hand, some teams and individuals are going all-out to extend their seasons, fighting for the last few national qualifying spots and hoping that the Kolas system swings in their favor.
Generally speaking, we don't look at the regional meets too heavily (especially at the D1 level). In our opinion, those meets aren't truly indicative of what the overall cross country season actually looks like as far as competition is concerned.
While we certainly take outstanding performances into consideration, it's rare for us to really look at the nine regional meets and have them be a significant part of our rankings.
Analyzing Performances on the Track
Traditionally, our cross country rankings haven't looked too closely at performances on the track. However, that's not to say that results from the oval don't play a key role.
We absolutely use those track marks as indicators of someone's improvement or where they'll go. However, performances during the cross country season are the main (but not entire) driver behind someone's ranking.
That said, there are going to be instances where someone had a decent cross country season, but didn't really breakout until the track season started. Some performances are just too good to ignore and for that reason, someone will usually sneak into our rankings thanks to their fast times on the oval.
Absences, Down Years & Injury History
Runners are human. Not everyone is going to make massive improvements or even match their performances from a year ago. If an athlete had a great 2019 cross country season, but struggled/underwhelmed in 2020/21, we'll still consider them for a spot in our rankings.
Talent rarely just disappears and injuries are typically to blame for "down" years.
That said, not everyone who was great in 2019 or the winter of 2021 will automatically get a spot in our rankings. Does this athlete have a history of injuries? How good were they in 2021? Have they raced at all recently? If so, were their performances encouraging?
These are the questions we ask ourselves when trying to rank runners that we a) haven't seen in a while or b) have seen struggle as of late.
Rising freshmen often draw plenty of debate. Every year, there are always a couple of high school superstars who enter the collegiate ranks and conjure discussion about whether or not they deserve a preseason ranking.
There are two trains of thought on this...
College is obviously a wildly different and new experience for almost everyone transitioning out of high school. In a lot of instances, it takes time for these incoming freshmen to get adjusted to their college workload and new environment. They don't have the experience of racing at the collegiate level while other collegiates are simply more proven against NCAA competition.
On the other hand, some high school athletes have set all-time marks which indicate that they will be superstars in the future. Sometimes, historically great talents need to be recognized as such before they even toe the line for an NCAA race.
Our TSR writers who are responsible for constructing our women's rankings may also view how we rank freshmen differently from our men's group (and vice versa).
We don't often crowd our rankings with freshmen, but there are certainly instances where a couple of true freshmen will make appearances inside our Top 50...
Athletes who are coming into the NCAA from overseas or another country are truthfully difficult to rank. It's tough to know what their competition was like prior to joining the NCAA and no one is 100% sure how they'll handle the rigors of a competitive cross country season.
That said, some athletes have track times that are just too good to ignore or have championship experience and finishes that we believe make them game-changers for the upcoming fall.
Now, admittedly, we simply don't know about each and every international athlete that is coming into the NCAA. We've done our best to track all of the recent moves and transfers that have taken place this offseason, but it's boarderline impossible to know about all of them.
Still, we'll continue to evaluate every name that we can in order to ensure that our research is extensive and exhaustive.
The 2021 Winter XC Season
The pandemic forcing the 2020 cross country season to actually happen during the winter of 2021 was admittedly a bit awkward. That season of cross country competition was unlike any other season of cross country that we had seen before.
And yet, we still got some high quality cross country races out of that season!
To suggest that the winter cross country season* shouldn't have an influence in our 2022 preseason XC rankings seems unfair. There were a lot of men and women who had fantastic performances, specifically at the national meet, but they didn't necessarily deliver that same firepower last fall (which ties back to a few sections above).
That season of competition certainly plays a role in our rankings, but the weight we put on those performances will be relatively less than what we saw from last fall (although in some cases, there may not be a massive difference).
*I know the 2021 NCAA XC Championships are technically classified as the "spring" championships, but there wasn't a single cross country race that officially happened in the spring. It all happened in the winter. Just work with me here.
Difference of Opinions
We have a variety of different groups overseeing each of our rankings. We have a D1 women's group, a D1 men's group, a D2 group and a D3 group. Naturally, not everyone is going to agree on a ranking.
Some writers will want to place a greater emphasis on championship performances while others will want to rely on consistency. Others will place a significant amount of importance on injuries and absences while others will think it's not a big deal. Oftentimes, we debate about an athlete's potential versus what the athlete has actually done.
The debates are endless, but my point is clear. Just because we have this ranking rubric doesn't mean that everyone is going to place the same amount of weight on each category.
But then again, that's what makes this so much fun.