This Friday, Boston College hosts The Battle of Beantown at Franklin Park, which will provide one of the many exciting races of the weekend. With a start list made up primarily of northeast-based teams, this race will serve as the initial test for several top programs in the country.
Syracuse (TSR #17) will look to repeat as champions, but will face a stern test as Washington (TSR #3) rolls into Boston with their sights set on the win. Other potential team challengers include three pre-season TSR honorable mentions including Army, Harvard, and Arkansas, along with the best programs that the Northeast region has to offer.
With rust-busters now out of the way, teams will look to unload their full squad to see how they stack up against elite competition. Franklin Park is a relatively slow course with changing terrain; expect times not to get too far south of 24 minutes.
In the team race, Washington arrives as the meet's heavy favorite. The Powell’s took the keys to the Washington cross country and track programs in 2018 and it is already paying dividends. Facing an identity switch, Washington proved last year that the Powell impact is real with a 6th place finish at Nationals. Although they lost strong leaders in Tanner Anderson, Andy Snyder, Mahmoud Moussa, and Fred Huxham, the Huskies brought back a strong group of returners, added a top-ranked recruiting class, and introduced a handful of key transfers earlier this year. Their top three should be formidable and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Huskies put five in the top 10.
Of course, all of this is assuming that they will be running a full "A" squad. There have been rumblings as to whether or not the team will redshirt certain runners this season, including Andrew Jordan. The lineup we see at Beantown will likely be the first real indication of whether or not that plan will come to fruition.
Hoping to complete the upset is the Syracuse Orange who will be led by Aidan Tooker, Joe Dragon, and Kevin James. Having three potential top 10 athletes could help displace the Huskies, but their depth will be tested in this early-season meet. Losing Noah Affolder is likely going to hurt the Orange’s chances of pulling off the win. Still, their solid nucleus of depth and experience could be enough to play spoiler to Washington, especially if some of the top Huskies sit out this weekend.
Other teams trying to play spoiler include Army, Harvard, and Arkansas. Expect pack running from Army while Harvard and Arkansas will have a larger spread throughout their top five runners. If Army’s pack can stay close behind their lead-man Roman Ollar, and close enough to Syracuse's top three, then we could potentially see an upset scenario unfold. After finishing in 3rd at the Northeast Regional Championships last year, this Army team has a chip on their shoulder to take out some elite competition.
Along with the entertaining team race, this year offers a strong core of individuals striving for their first major win of the season. Returning from a runner-up finish last year is Aidan Tooker (TSR #17) who looks to rebound from last year's national meet where he finished 123rd. He was a bit inconsistent last fall and is coming off of an injury from the 2019 spring track season. However, his overall talent is incredibly undervalued and he will likely be considered the favorite come Friday...but it won't be by much.
Along with Tooker comes the string of Washington runners: Andrew Jordan (TSR #27), Tibebu Proctor (TSR #30), and Talon Hull (TSR #46). This trio is essentially interchangeable and we expect them to dictate the pace early. Again, this is assuming that they will even run, but if they do, any of these men could cross the line in 1st.
Of course, we can't forget about Arkansas' Gilbert Boit. One of the purest long distance runners in the country has personal bests that can match anyone in this field (13:37 and 28:26). He is incredibly consistent and outside of last year's national meet, Boit never finished outside of the top five in any meet he toed the line for. Expect him to be a major factor in this race.
The dark horse of the race won't have to travel too far to toe the line tomorrow afternoon. Although unranked in the TSR Preseason Top 50, Harvard's Kieran Tuntivate was last year's Ivy League champion before he went on to finish 47th at NCAA's in 2018. You may also remember him as the guys on Sports Center and in SI Magazine after winning the Ivy League 3k while losing a shoe in the process (proceed with caution). This kid has guts and you shouldn't be shocked if you see his name near the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day.
Expect a fast finish on the men’s side and don’t be surprised if the winner is decided in the final 100 meters.
1. Aidan Tooker (Syracuse)
2. Andrew Jordan (Washington)
3. Tibebu Proctor (Washington)
4. Gilbert Boit (Arkansas)
5. Kieran Tuntivate (Harvard)
6. Talon Hull (Washington)
7. Joe Dragon (Syracuse)
8. Kevin James (Syracuse)
9. Paul Luevano (Boston U)
10. Jack Rowe (Washington)
On the women’s side, there is a strong group of teams who all have a shot at winning. Expect Providence, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Dartmouth to battle it out for the top spot.
The Friars should come into this season hungry. Led by coach Ray Treacy and senior Abbey Wheeler, the Friars hope to get back on the national stage after a disappointing 2018 campaign. They will need to keep their time spread tight if they want to make a statement early in the season. Maria Coffin is a decent #2 option for the team, but the rest of this lineup will determine whether or not they can be any better than last year.
As we transition to Georgia Tech, we see that the Yellow Jackets return four of their five runners from last year's squad; which is the same group that took 2nd at this meet in 2018. In the eyes of some, the Yellow Jackets should come in as the favorites based off of last year’s performance, but they do lose their #1 scorer in Mary Prouty. They'll need to replicate last year's depth and/or find someone who can replace the missing firepower that Prouty left behind. Expect Nicole Fegans to become the team's newest front-runner as she attempts to lead Georgia Tech to a high team finish.
The Orange, like their men’s team, comes in as one of the favorites thanks to the addition of Iowa State transfer Amanda Vestri. Add in women like Rachel Bonner, Laura Dickinson, and Madeleine Davison, and the Orange pose a serious threat to win it all this Friday.
Similar to Providence, this team needs to prove that their bottom two scorers can handle the big stage. With the exception of the ACC Championships, this team struggled throughout the 2018 cross country season. On paper, they're a great squad with all of the right pieces to do something special, but they need to put those pieces of the puzzle together when they toe the line. Beantown will be the perfect opportunity to do so.
Another team hoping to make a statement is the Dartmouth Big Green. They bring back four of their top seven from last year's team and are led by senior Lauren Sapone. This team is deep, but they need their front-runners to place high if they want a chance to contend with Syracuse and Georgia Tech.
Individually, expect Abbey Wheeler to control the race from the front. Wheeler won by seven seconds over a more competitive field last year, so don’t be surprised to see her dominate from the start of the race. Expect times above 17 minutes with the majority of runners coming in the 17:30 to 18:00 range.
A strong returner from last year’s race is Samantha Halvorsen of Wake Forest who brings experience as the new leader of Demon Deacons. She should be able to mix it up with Wheeler early in the race. Maya Smith (Brown) returns from strong freshman campaign and given her year of experience, she should be the Bears top runner.
Amanda Vestri is an interesting name to consider. She was phenomenal on the track during her time at Iowa State, running a personal best of 15:55 for 5000 meters. Her cross country performances were also respectable, but maybe not quite as strong as what we saw from her in the winter and the spring. She is a big name to watch this fall and Beantown will be the first real test to see if she can translate her success on the oval to the grass.
Last but not least, watch out for Nicole Fegans who takes the reins of the Georgia Tech program. She placed well in a competitive field last year and this race should be no different.
1. Georgia Tech
1. Abbey Wheeler (Providence)
2. Samantha Halvorsen (Wake Forest)
3. Nicole Fegans (Georgia Tech)
4. Madeline Davison (Syracuse)
5. Maya Smith (Brown)
6. Amanda Vestri (Syracuse)
7. Hana Herndon (Georgia Tech)
8. Lauren Sapone (Dartmouth)
9. Rachel Bonner (Syracuse)
10. Maria Coffin (Providence)