By: Ben Weisel
What is the goal of early season cross country meets for D1 programs?
Integrate new members of the team? Measure fitness? Get a good workout in? Kolas Points? The Commodore Classic should hold all of these elements as teams from a variety of different standards arrive to Nashville, Tennessee.
Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, and USTFCCCA ranked Middle Tennessee State will arrive at Percy Warner Park this weekend for an early season race with possible postseason significance. With MTSU ranked 19th and 2nd in the South Region by the coaches’ poll, there is potential for a rare early season Kolas point. We could also see the debut of some new top talent from EKU and MTSU.
Let’s look at some of the favorites as well as a few underdogs who could score a big upset at the demanding Vaughn’s Gap course.
Middle Tennessee State
Last year’s South Region champions come into 2018 with high expectations of bettering their 23rd place finish at Nationals from. As of right now, The Stride Report doesn't have this team ranked, but that could change depending on the results from their newest recruits and transfers. This team still has All-Americans Jacob Choge and Kigen Chemadi, two individuals who are ranked in TSR's Preseason Top 50.
However, if MTSU wants to get back to Nationals, they will need to see their newcomers step up. This will be the first opportunity to see projected scorers Thobile Mosito, Denis Kipkorir, and Caden Hercules match up against top-tier competition. The development of these three men will determine how successful the Blue Raiders can be in 2018. With two other national caliber teams right behind them, MTSU will need Mosito, Kipkorir, and Hercules to close the gap behind their top two. An early win against this team could prove helpful if MTSU improves throughout the year and qualifies for the national meet.
Eastern Kentucky comes to Nashville after Hurricane Florence cancelled their previous plans. Cory Erdmann is in his first season of coaching after taking over for his father Rick who had decades of success with the Colonels. Besides the loss of their head coach, EKU also lost Jamaine Coleman who finished 2nd at NCAA's in the steeplechase.
The most intriguing runner at the meet may be James Sugira. Listed for the first time as an EKU athlete on the entry list, Sugira could be the best new addition in the country. The runner from Rwanda recently finished 7th in the 5000 meters at the Commonwealth Games last summer, just behind some of the best professional runners in the world. With personal records of 13:46 and 3:44, along with a 49th place finish at the 2017 World Cross Country Championships, Sugira should be seen as a potential All-American. A match up with Choge and Chemadi will be a great opportunity for Sugira to show the NCAA his enormous talent.
As for the rest of Eastern Kentucky, look for Erick Rotich (14:08) to be in the lead pack. Behind him, Jaime Romo, Fred Kanda, and Samuel Abascal should make up the rest of the top five. Abascal had a strong spring track season which saw him qualify for Eastern Regionals in the steeplechase, although he narrowly missed qualifying for Nationals. Romo struggled with injuries in the spring, but had a promising indoor season after running a personal best of 14:19. Kanda had an inconsistent season last year, but had a solid showing at the OVC Championships in the spring which saw him finish 2nd and 3rd in the 5000 meters and 10,000 meters behind Erik Rotich. Belgians Remi Schyns (5:55 2k steeple) and Antoine Senard (3:47) could provide EKU with some much needed depth.
Starting the year on The Stride Report’s Honorable Mention list, Illinois will arrive to Nashville without their top runners. Sitting this meet out is Jon Davis, Jesse Reiser, and Zach Smith. As mentioned in their preseason preview, Illinois has the luxury of a low stick in Jon Davis. However, they will need the rest of their top five to come alive if they want to qualify for Nationals.
Despite not having their probable top three, this is a great opportunity to see how the rest of the roster has progressed over the summer. Look for Dan Lathrop (14:02) and Billy Magnesen (29:42) to lead the charge for the Fighting Illini.
Another point to mention is that this could be an opportunity for some teams to score a rare early season Kolas point. With Illinois not at full strength but still running 11 of their 15 runners on their roster, it is likely that a win against this Illini team would count for a Kolas point if Illinois makes it to the Big Dance. Even without their top three runners, Illinois is probably running four of the runners who will be on the team’s regional squad.
An up-and-coming team, Belmont comes into this meet ranked 7th in the South Region. After a 5th place finish at Commodore last year, the team looks like they could challenge for a top three finish. The Bruins will be led by Kaleb Mcleod and Matt Edwards who finished 5th and 6th at last year’s meet. Belmont has also added a few new weapons to their roster which includes Jacob Mcleod (8:52 3200m) and Aiden Thompson (14:36) from Scotland. These additions along with existing team members Dec McManus and Kaden Eaton should improve the team’s performance from last year. After running the same course two weeks prior, Belmont should be ready to use their course knowledge to chase some of the favorites.
Lipscomb come into the Commodore Classic on the heels of a dominant performance at the Fordham University Fiasco Cross Country Invitational. The times, however, were not quick, so it will be interesting to see how the team performs on the difficult Vaughn’s Gap course. Ranked 8th in the South Region, Lipscomb will want to prove that they deserve a higher ranking than their in-town rival Belmont who are ranked one spot ahead. Led by Silas Griffith (14:42), the Bison will look to use their knowledge of the course to surprise some teams and improve upon their 3rd place finish at last year’s meet.
As you can see, there is plenty to follow at the Commodore Classic. It’s time to stop looking at previews and start watching some of the action unfold!