The ACC is one of the strongest conferences in the nation, but is undergoing a bit of a power-shift. For a few years, Syracuse was completely dominating the conference, scoring under 30 points in both 2016 and 2017. However, it was Notre Dame who ended up dethroning the Orange in 2018, beating them by only four points.
This year, the team race is far more open and could go a variety of ways. Uncertainty is not something this conference has been particularly familiar with over the past few years, so it will be interesting to see how things are shaken up with no clear favorite. This Friday, 15 teams will convene in Blacksburg, Virginia to kick off their postseasons.
With the depth this conference has seen this year, the team race will likely come down to six teams: Notre Dame, NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State and possibly Syracuse who is coming off of an underwhelming performance at Nuttycombe.
The Notre Dame men (TSR #17) come in as the reigning champs, but don't necessarily look like a true favorite this year. The Fighting Irish recently finished 15th at the Nuttycombe Invitational, ahead of Virginia, Syracuse, and Wake Forest. They were the top ACC team in that race. Prior to that, they took 5th at the Joe Piane Invitational on their home turf. In that race, NC State edged them by only 10 points.
Much like 2018, Notre Dame has once again been led by Yared Nuguse (TSR #26), the reigning NCAA 1500 meter champion. His season has been highlighted by a standout 6th place finish at Joe Piane where he ran 23:28 over the five mile course. Teammates Andrew Alexander, Dylan Jacobs, Anthony Williams, and Matthew Carmody fill out a very strong top five, albeit with a few inconsistencies.
Danny Kilrea has struggled this year after earning an All-American finish last fall as a true freshman. If Kilrea is back in top form for the ACC Championships, Notre Dame could significantly raise their chances of repeating as champions.
The NC State Wolfpack (TSR #14) have had an interesting season that leaves their potential unknown. They only had three men finish at Nuttycombe, seemingly in an attempt to avoid producing a team score. Prior to that, they produced a strong 3rd place finish at Joe Piane, ahead of Notre Dame. Ian Shanklin (TSR #29) led the way for them, finishing 7th overall in what was a huge statement result for him.
JP Flavin has been another key contributor for the Wolfpack, but after a DNF at Nuttycombe, there are rumors circulating that he may be injured. If this is the case and he is out for Friday, NC State may be disadvantaged and fall slightly in the team standings.
Joe Bistritz, Hannes Burger, and Gavin Gaynor round out a very strong top five, but if Flavin is out then they may have some trouble filling his shoes. One of those three athletes could step up and produce a solid #2 finish, but NC State’s #6 man was about 40 seconds off of Gaynor at Joe Piane. If this gap is not closed, that could spell trouble for the Wolfpack.
The Virginia Cavaliers are a very strong team that might have as good of a chance to win the ACC title as anyone. Despite never appearing in our XC Top 25 teams this season, they have a very deep squad which could bring home the title thanks to a tight spread in a deep field.
A disappointing 18th place finish at Nuttycombe does not look good compared to Notre Dame and NC State, but with legendary coach Vin Lananna now at the helm, it would be surprising if Virginia is not ready when it matters. A 42 second time spread at Nuttycombe is Virginia’s worst of the season, but still better than many other similar caliber teams. At their home meet, the Panorama Farms Invitational, the men of Virginia won handily with only six seconds between their first five runners.
Ari Klau has led the Cavaliers for much of the season, but when he faltered at Nuttycombe, AJ Ernst stepped right in to fill his shoes. This type of scoring dynamic is crucial in what will almost certainly be a tight race for the ACC title, and Virginia has plenty of guys who can step up if need be.
Peter Morris, Alex Corbett, Rohann Asfaw, and Spencer Dodds have all looked good this season and have perfected the pack-running technique. Lachlan Cook came into this season looking like a potential All-American, but has not lived up to that so far. If he starts looking like the 29:10 10k runner we saw in the spring, he could be a game-changer for the Cavaliers.
This is a dangerous team because they can squeeze so many guys across the line so quickly. They lack a true low-stick in the sense that we probably won’t see an individual winner from Virginia, but they don’t necessarily need one in a smaller field.
A somewhat surprising threat to Virginia’s hunt for an upset title could be in-state rival Virginia Tech. After building one of the deepest middle distance squads in the country over the past few years (Neil Gourley, Vincent Ciattei, Drew Piazza, Patrick Joseph) the Hokies are looking to show that they can produce strong results on the grass as well.
A 7th place finish at Pre-Nationals, as well as two wins on their home course, puts Virginia Tech in a very comfortable position heading into the postseason. The advantage of being able to train on the championship course may be a difference-maker for the Hokies as well.
Led by the reigning ACC cross country champion Peter Seufer (TSR #40), Virginia Tech’s depth will propel them towards the front of the team standings. 8:40 steeplechaser Fitsum Seyoum has also been running well this season and has been acting as a very reliable supporting scorer. Middle distance specialist Bashir Mosavel-Lo has also stepped out of his comfort zone and has made himself known on the cross country course while veterans Jack Joyce and Diego Zarate have established themselves as serious contributors to this squad. It's not the flashiest group, but they are quietly very strong throughout their top five.
Potentially the biggest question mark heading into ACC's is Syracuse. The Orange (TSR #22) won the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown back in September over most of their Northeast rivals (excluding Iona) and established themselves as a virtual lock to qualify for NCAA's.
More recently, however, Syracuse fell all the way back to 24th place at Nuttycombe. This is a troubling result for the Orange, as they were without star ace Aidan Tooker. Was Tooker just resting up to be sharp for the postseason, or is he out with an injury? That is a major question that we're still unsure about.
If Aidan Tooker is sidelined, then Syracuse will be looking at their other scoring options for some help. Joe Dragon (4th) and Kevin James (11th) put together very encouraging performances at Beantown, but struggled quite a bit at Nuttycombe. Nathan Henderson was 50th in Wisconsin, but was also a DNF at Beantown.
Other guys like Noah Beveridge, Nathan Lawler, Simon Smith and Matthew Scrape have also been in scoring positions this year, but with the exception of Smith, most of these men lack experience.
Syracuse has options, but if Aidan Tooker (or anybody else for that matter) is out of the lineup, they'll be at a significant disadvantage. Capturing another title may be difficult for the Orange, but a long history of success may suggest otherwise.
How about Florida State? This team has a better shot at winning than some people may realize, especially thanks to Kasey Knevelbaard’s arrival. The Seminoles finished 6th at Pre-Nats, led by Knevelbaard's impressive 15th place finish. He has been their best runner by far and the rest of their scoring five have put together underappreciated performances.
Sophomore Paul Stafford has been a very respectable supporting piece for this lineup while Pottorff and Cross bring reliable experience and consistency to the middle portion of their top lineup.
However, what makes this FSU team so sneaky good is having Lipscomb transfer Silas Griffith who has given the Seminoles a lift on the backend of their scoring five. He's been a major reason why they have been competitive on the nation's biggest stages this year.
A lot of people are going to be surprised by this, but I think the UVA men are capable of pulling off the upset. Their depth, specifically in this field, is far more valuable than some may realize. With teams like Notre Dame, NC State, and Syracuse showing vulnerabilities, I think the stars are aligning for yet another shocking upset this year...
2. Notre Dame
3. NC State
4. Florida State
5. Virginia Tech
1. Peter Seufer (Virginia Tech)
2. Emmanuel Cheboson (Louisville)
3. Ian Shanklin (NC State)
4. Yared Nuguse (Notre Dame)
5. Kasey Knevelbaard (Florida State)
6. Albert Kosgei (Louisville)
7. Ari Klau (Virginia)
8. Nathan Henderson (Syracuse)
9. AJ Ernst (Virginia)
10. Zach Facioni (Wake Forest)
As one of the deepest conferences in the NCAA, the ACC is shaping up to produce some fireworks tomorrow. The NC State women have won three titles in a row and look primed to take a fourth - but it will not be easy.
Last year, the Wolfpack won by a single point over Notre Dame. This year, it looks a lot more clear-cut in the idea that NC State is the favorite. We may see a return of the dominance we saw from NC State in 2016 and 2017 when they won by 66 and 21 points; much more comfortable margins.
The team race looks like it will be between NC State, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Virginia Tech. Some other teams have outside chances at the win, but with the strength that NC State has shown, the title is theirs for the taking.
NC State (TSR #6) further solidified their position as a podium contender at Nationals with their recent 3rd place finish at Nuttycombe. Although Arkansas and Stanford handily beat them, NC State still showcased their depth incredibly well.
NC State also took 4th earlier in the season at the Joe Piane Invitational, but the Wolfpack actually lost to Florida State by 10 points in that same race. Luckily for them, they have picked up some good momentum since then.
Elly Henes (TSR #10) has led the Wolfpack all season and has shown why she is a solid All-American candidate. After all, she did finish 16th at the national meet last year. What NC State has been able to take advantage of is that after Henes, they have a bunch of women who are essentially interchangeable in terms of scoring.
Freshman sensation Kelsey Chmiel (TSR #38) has been having a fantastic season. At Joe Piane, she was NC State’s #2 runner and was their #3 option at Nuttycombe. For a true freshman to find herself in that position on such a high caliber team is no joke. A lack of experience has not seemed to be much of an issue for her so far.
Meanwhile, veterans Julia Zachgo and Dominique Clairmonte have also been critical scorers for the Wolfpack this season.
The Wolfpack’s #5 runner, Samantha Bush, is the one who makes all the difference. At Joe Piane, she was just one second behind Zachgo, but she was 20 seconds off from Clairmonte at Nuttycombe. If Bush can keep that gap small between her and the other scorers, then NC State looks nearly unstoppable.
Florida State (TSR #14) is the only ACC team to beat NC State this season, and they may have the best chance to do so again. 3rd place at Joe Piane and 5th at Pre-Nats shows that the Seminoles are the real deal. The four teams that beat Florida State at Pre-Nats are all potential podium contenders and FSU was not all that far off of 4th place Michigan (40 points). If the Seminoles can perform like they did at Pre-Nats, NC State might have something to be worried about.
Elizabeth Funderburk (TSR#39) has acted as a strong low-stick for Florida State this season. She crossed the line in 11th at Pre-Nats, a drastic improvement from her 54th place finish from last year. If she can keep this momentum going, there is no reason that she can’t be vying for a top five spot at ACC's. Addison Coggins, Maudie Skyring and Megan Mooney make up a pretty tight trio that got across the line within 18 seconds of each other at Pre-Nats.
Keep in mind that Skyring finished 17th at Joe Piane earlier in the season to lead this team. If she's at the top of her game, then the 'Noles could have a scary good pair of low-sticks this Friday.
If their #5 runner (Rebecca Clark or Lauren Ryan) can close the gap on Mooney (15 seconds at Pre-Nats) then they look almost as good as NC State (and that's exactly what we saw at Joe Piane). Their bottom two varsity runners have been solid this season as well, so we could see them displace a few scorers.
Notre Dame (TSR #18) might have the best 1-2 punch in the conference. Anna Rohrer (TSR #9) and Maddy Denner (TSR #28) finished nearly side-by-side at Nuttycombe for 10th and 11th place finishes, respectively. The team as a whole, however, was only 12th which was somewhat disappointing, but the field was admittedly super stacked.
The Fighting Irish were also 8th at Joe Piane in what was a somewhat underwhelming result, especially considering that Rohrer was 6th overall and that the team was racing on their home course.
What Notre Dame lacks is depth. If they can clean up their final few scoring spots and/or have Jacqueline Gaughan return to her 2018 form, then the Irish could see some substantial improvements. Neither of those scenarios are entirely unrealistic, leaving this Notre Dame team with some unique upside.
After those three teams, things get interesting.
Virginia Tech (TSR #23) and Georgia Tech (TSR #25) come into this meet looking rather similar in terms of lineup structure. For Virginia Tech, it is Sara Freix and Sarah Edwards who will do most of the work up front with Elizabeth Brush and Kyra Lopez not too far behind.
However, it's the #5 spot that leaves us with some questions.
Unless the Hokies have somebody who can close the gap on their top four, then they might not have what it takes to challenge for the likes of NC State, Florida State, and Notre Dame (but hey, we've been wrong before).
Georgia Tech, led by Nicole Fegans, has five quality runners who are all pretty close in ability. Their top five were separated by 48 seconds at their most recent race at Penn State. Just like Virginia Tech, the Yellow Jackets will need to minimize their time spread to move up in the final team standings.
Boston College and Syracuse leave some questions to be answered in terms of their depth and their ability to compete against the best in the conference. Both have significant gaps to close, but look strong overall.
For Syracuse, they looked surprisingly good at Beantown earlier in the season, beating out teams like Georgia Tech and Boston College rather handily. However, their performance at Nuttycombe was far from ideal and it began to bring back memories of the 2018 postseason where they struggled quite a bit.
We've already spoken about all of the big-name individuals, but one of the biggest questions to be answered is whether or not Louisville's Dorcas Wasike will race. She has not made a race appearance since the outdoor ACC meet in May, so it seems unlikely that the reigning champion will defend her crown. If she does show up though, she should not be counted out.
1. NC State
2. Florida State
3. Notre Dame
4. Virginia Tech
6. Georgia Tech
7. Boston College
1. Anna Rohrer (Notre Dame)
2. Elly Henes (NC State)
3. Maddy Denner (Notre Dame)
4. Kelsey Chmiel (NC State)
5. Sara Freix (Virginia Tech)
6. Dominique Clairmonte (NC State)
7. Elizabeth Funderburk (Florida State)
8. Maudie Skyring (Florida State)
9. Amanda Vestri (Syracuse)
10. Nicole Fegans (Georgia Tech)