For both the men and women of the BIG East, three teams will compete for the top spot. Those three teams are of course, Butler, Georgetown, and Villanova.
Let’s start with the women...
The ladies of Georgetown have had the most impressive single performance of any team in the BIG East this season when they took home the victory at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational. There, the Hoyas defeated current TSR #20 Penn State rather handily, 25 to 41 with only five teams in the meet.
Madeline Perez has been leading this group throughout the season, taking 2nd at the Spiked Shoe meet and then 11th at Paul Short. However, the challenge facing Georgetown is that they have not performed up to the level they once were when they upset Penn State.
Georgetown placed 19th at the Nuttycombe Invitational and 5th in the Paul Short Gold race, losing to a number of unranked teams including Tennessee, Penn, and Tulsa. The support for Perez, although consistent, hasn't always been reliable which has led to a lack of clarity as to what we should expect to see from this team in the postseason.
Another challenge for the Hoyas will be deciding their championship lineup. Luckily, the BIG East allows for a greater number of competitors than most meets, but there has been a wide range of finishing orders behind Perez. Some of their more consistent runners have been Sami Corman and Alyssa Aldridge, while Meg Mathison, Margie Cullen, Katherine Modrall, and Baylee Jones have slid up and down the team standings throughout the season. If this entire group can come together and race well, then the Hoyas can be considered as the title favorites.
The Butler women, however, may disagree.
The Bulldogs have one of the best shots of overcoming the Hoyas this weekend. Butler has finished 13th and 8th in the team standings at Notre Dame and Pre-Nats, respectively so far this season. Their 8th place finish at Pre-Nats showed us significant improvement as they overtook Boston College and defeated both Ole Miss and Oklahoma State in the process.
Admittedly, the Butler women haven't had much scoring consistency from their top runners outside of Emily Royston who led this group at Pre-Nats. Royston placed 18th at Terre Haute a few weeks ago, beating the likes of established NCAA powers Lilli Burdon and Jessica Drop. However, that wasn't the case at Joe Piane as Royston finished two seconds back of Bulldog leaders Angelina Ellis and Maddie McLain.
Josephine Thestrup is another important runner for this group as she found herself in the #2 scoring position at Pre-Nats, just ahead of teammates Ellis and McLain after being 50 places back from them at Notre Dame. All four of these women will need to perform at their best in order to win the meet this weekend as depth is lacking in the latter portion of their lineup.
Villanova is struggling this year after having to rebuild due to graduation and transfer departures. Still, the Wildcats have managed to stay somewhat competitive, placing 22nd at the Nuttycombe Invitational, only 50 points behind Georgetown.
Freshman Maggie Smith is the star for the Wildcats after taking 35th in Wisconsin. Otherwise, it’s been many of the same supporting faces from previous years holding together the pack with Lydia Olivere and Ann Campbell now settling in at #2 and #3 scoring positions instead of the 5-6-7 spots like in previous years. All three of the women mentioned above defeated Perez of Georgetown at Nuttycombe.
Despite the respectable trio up front, the troubles for this team lie in the gap between their #3 and #4 runners. Freshmen Nikki Merrill and Brynne Sumner placed 198th and 204th at Nuttycombe and both have been thrown into unexpected scoring roles due to the recent departures.
Villanova’s depth has been so weak this year that they could only muster four finishers at Paul Short. If they can find some support in those final two scoring spots, then look for the Wildcats to mix it up with Butler and Georgetown.
The other team that could surprise on the women’s side is Providence. They placed four spots and 70 points behind Villanova at Nuttycombe and are struggling with many of the same issues as the Wildcats.
Abbey Wheeler is an outstanding front-runner and Maria Coffin is a strong #2 option. Lily Tuck was 3rd at Nuttycombe and should in the conversation to be the best #3 scorer in this field.
However, the backend of this lineup simply has simply underwhelmed for the Friars. The four other members of their team at Nuttycombe finished in the final 30 spots with their 5-6-7 runners all within the last 10 place. This is going to be especially troublesome at a smaller meet since the differences between Wheeler and low-sticks from other teams will be minimal at best. Much like Villanova, the Providence women can appear as a surprise contender if they find some supporting at their final two scoring spots.
The only individual contender not mentioned above is Anna Kostarellis of Xavier, who won the Louisville Classic over two strong Middle Tennessee State athletes before finishing 16th at Pre-Nats to be the best finisher in the conference. It is possible that we could see Kostarellis take home the BIG East title this weekend.
1. Anna Kostarellis (Xavier)
2. Abbey Wheeler (Providence)
3. Maggie Smith (Villanova)
4. Emily Royston (Butler)
5. Lydia Olivere (Villanova)
6. Madeline Perez (Georgetown)
7. Maria Coffin (Providence)
8. Ann Campbell (Villanova)
9. Maddie McLean (Butler)
10. Josephine Thestrup (Butler)
For the sake of consistency, let’s begin with Georgetown again. The Hoyas placed 20th at the Nuttycombe Invitational a few weeks back, leaving themselves in a precarious spot. Although they were not far behind ranked squads such as Notre Dame or Utah State, their group was more concretely in the tier of programs who underperformed such as EKU, Wyoming, and Syracuse (who just won the ACC title as we're editing this). Likewise, the Hoyas only finished 11th at Joe Piane, further jeopardizing any major postseason plans from a Kolas perspective.
There is no clear leader for the Georgetown men this fall which can be both a strength and a weakness. Nicholas Wareham, Jack Van Scooter, and Spencer Brown have each crossed the line as the team leader for Georgetown this season and all have the experience to pull together a very strong race in the postseason. Rusty Kujdych and Price Owens have also been very respectable options at the backend of their pack.
The goal for Georgetown here is going to be making sure that their pack moves far enough up the leaderboard. They don't have the same scoring potency as some other teams, so it will be interesting to see how that impacts their race this Saturday.
The Butler men are not quite as strong as their female counterparts, but they can still present a challenge if all goes right for them. Euan Makepeace is in his final year of eligibility after consistently contending for the top spot in the BIG East throughout his career. He most recently finished 24th at Pre-Nats, establishing himself as a potential favorite for the conference title.
Next for Butler is Simon Bedard who was 66th in that same Pre-Nats race. That's a decent finish, but a large gap between their #4 and #5 runners is what will ultimately hold this team back from challenging the top programs in this field.
This is still a conference podium team, but they are likely not going to hang with the top two unless something major changes.
The Villanova men are one of the more difficult teams to predict here since Casey Comber has not quite come to the same form that we've seen from him last winter and spring. Instead, Andrew Martson is the most likely #1 scorer for the Wildcats after a 22nd place finish at Bill Dellinger while veteran Nathan Rodriguez is right behind him.
An entirely separate group competed at Paul Short the following weekend where Haftu Strintzos finished 14th in the Gold race. Josh Philips has also been a lead scorer for this team, finishing 28th at Pre-Nats which helped the Wildcats earn an 8th place team finish (without Comber and Marston).
With such a wide variety of individual talent, it will be interesting to see what tactics are used to challenge a similarly strong Georgetown team.
The Marquette duo of Daniel Pederson and Ryan Burd both ran exceptionally good races at the Louisville Classic, finishing 11th and 19th, respectively. Both men ran times around the 24:00 mark on an insanely fast course with Pederson slipping under that barrier.
1. Euan Makepeace (Butler)
2. Nathan Rodriguez (Villanova)
3. Josh Philips (Villanova)
4. Andrew Martson (Villanova)
5. Nicholas Wareham (Georgetown)
6. Haftu Strintzos (Villanova)
7. Daniel Pederson (Marquette)
8. Jack van Scoter (Georgetown)
9. Spencer Brown (Georgetown)
10. Ryan Burd (Marquette)