The Capital Cross Challenge, hosted by Sacramento State University, will serve as a great preview of the course that will host this year’s D2 NCAA Championships. Top-ranked teams and individuals in Division Two will be attending as we see the first real preview of what nationals could look like for both men and women.
On the men’s side, we will see four of our TSR XC Top 10 ranked teams: Chico State (TSR #7), Alaska Anchorage (TSR #8), Cal St. San Marcos (TSR #9), and Queens (N.C.) (TSR #10).
Chico State comes in as our top-ranked group and as the defending champions of last year’s Capital Cross Challenge. The Wildcats have had a great history on this course as it also served as the host to the West Regional Championships where they took home the crown last season. Returning All-American Wyatt Baxter (TSR #21) leads the way for Chico State after his 2nd place finish at the Stump Invitational a couple of weeks ago. Teammate and TSR #24 ranked individual Jhavan Holston will look to assist Baxter and the Wildcats as they attempt to be the top team once again on this course.
What makes Alaska Anchorage so dangerous is the potential of Wesley Kirui. This is a guy that could quite possibly take home the individual title in November. Previously Kirui and the Seawolves completely dominated their first race of the season with a near perfect score of 17 points at the UAF Invitational. Kirui won the seven kilometer race with a time of 21:59, a clear 12 seconds ahead of the 2nd place finisher. The duo of Wesley Kirui and Felix Kemboi could be very lethal as they look to challenge for the individual crown this weekend.
Cal State San Marcos has been the surprise team this season in D2. After impressively beating a top-ranked team in Queens (N.C.) at the Cougar Challenge just a couple of weeks ago, they look to return in full force to prove that their win was no fluke. At the Cougar Challenge, their spread was very close as they had runners finish 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, and 12th. Not to mention all five of their scorers were way below the 25 minute 8k barrier. If the Cougars are able to stay in a pack, they should have no problem as they continue to prove how good they really are.
The men of Queens (N.C.) will seek vengeance as they look to best Cal State San Marcos this time around. The Royals are led by TSR #6 ranked individual Anthony Raftis and All-American Seb Anthony. The last time out, Raftis and Anthony paved the way for the Royals at the Cougar Challenge as Raftis finished 2nd with a time of 24:11 and Anthony finished 6th with a time of 24:29. With teammates, Erick Sanchez (10th), Nick Kipkemel (11th), and Yannik Dupppich (18th) right on their heels with just as quick times, the men of Queens are a legit threat to win the whole meet. With such depth and experience, they should have no problem with that task.
Individual to Watch: UC San Diego’s Samuel Blake is a name to watch. Blake made his way into our rankings after not being ranked in the preseason (he's currently at TSR #13). Having never broke the 25 minute barrier in his career, Blake quickly changed that at the Cougar Challenge, running 24:11 for the win. The redshirt senior is a strong runner with experience that will test individuals such as Anthony Raftis, Wyatt Baxter, and Wesley Kirui to take home the win.
On the women’s side, there is a strong ranked team and multiple individuals that can challenge for a top spot. The big-name team everyone is eager to watch in the meet is the #3 Chico State Wildcats.
It will be interesting to see how Chico will fare as they have only run one race this season at the Stump Invitational. While they were there, the Wildcats had a 3rd place finish with Talia Swangler leading the way in 11th, followed by Haley Boynton (16th), Nora Pizzella (23rd), Alexandria Tucker (28th), and Desirae Jones (34th) to cap off their scorers.
The interesting part was Chico’s numerous runners that were unattached in the race. This included Destiny Everett in 18th place, Gracie Dupis in 35th, and Katie Kawley in 36th. It will be very interesting to see what team is lined up this weekend. The depth and experience that the women of Chico State have gives them a great chance at making a huge statement.
All eyes will be on Chico State this weekend, but this does not mean we should take our eyes off the women of Alaska Anchorage. They are not currently ranked in our XC Top 10, but the Seawolves do have two heavy-hitters in Emmanuelah Chelimo and Nancy Jeptoo. Both are in our TXC Top 25 individual rankings, whereas Chelimo is ranked #15 and Jeptoo is ranked #24. This dynamic duo had a great outing at their first race of the season a couple of weeks ago at the Blue and Gold Run Fest where the two women went 1-2 in a sprint finish together. Chelimo and Jeptoo look to be in fantastic form this early in the season and it would not be surprising if these two women are together again crossing the finish line this weekend.
Colorado Mines women will be making the trek West and they currently sit as TSR’s #5 team after the most recent update. This will be a strong test for them. Chloe Cook and Zoe Baker had strong opening meets at UCCS. They’re the TSR #8 and #9 runners early on this season and will be the backbone of this Oredigger team. Seeing how they perform against this level of competition early on will give us an idea of which direction they’ll trend as the season progresses. Scorers like Madeline Geesen (TSR #22), Brooke Eberle, and Morgan Molesworth will be essential in a podium finish for Mines in November and their performances at Capital Cross will be a strong indicator of their ability to help this team.
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This jam-packed meet will give us a great insight into how fast this course will run for Nationals. It will also show us how good both Chico State squads are, the rematch between Queens and Cal State San Marcos, and how the duo of the women of Alaska Anchorage will fare against stout competition.