December 1st is almost here and it seems like we’ve been talking about it for much longer than we actually have. We’ve seen plenty of strong performances from teams and individuals that will make up a strong National Championship field. While the parity in terms of team contenders is somewhat shallow on both sides of the meet, we are still in store for another great D2 Championship.
There’s no doubt that the Adams State Grizzlies have the greatest chance of taking home yet another title in 2018. They’ll be aiming for a three-peat (just like NAU), but it’ll be on quieter terms this year. If it weren’t for an upset from Colorado Mines in 2015, we’d be looking at one of the most dominant stretches ever from a cross country team.
The Grizzlies made their presence known at the Stanford Invitational where they finished 3rd as a team behind only Stanford and UCLA. They won their conference meet by over 40 points and despite the "upset" at regionals, they’re clearly still the team to beat. Sydney Gidabuday looks to be back at 100% health and that spells danger for most of the other teams competing.
At the RMAC Championships, the Grizzlies didn’t race Joshua Joseph (a top 10 finisher at Nationals last year) and in the South Central region we didn’t see Isaiah Rodarte (RMAC Freshman of the Year) compete for them. Kale Adams also didn’t finish the 10K race, leaving the Grizzlies just eight points behind the likes of Colorado Mines. Fill in the roster with Joseph, Rodarte, and Adams alongside the likes of Gedyon and Gidabuday, and you have a recipe for success.
I really don’t see anyone knocking the Grizzlies out of the top spot in 2018. Even if the 3-5 scorers have limited success on the day, they are still a deep enough team with Miguel Villar, Paddy Robb, and Danny Dominguez to compete with any other team that toes the line this weekend.
So where does that leave the rest of the field? We’ve got teams in Grand Valley State and the previously mentioned Colorado Mines who both present the biggest threat to the Grizzlies.
Starting with Grand Valley State, we have two extremely talented runners in Zach Panning and Enael Woldemichael. Panning is the runner-up from last year and has led the Lakers throughout the season. Prior to the Midwest Regional Championships, he had gone unbeaten on the year. Panning looks to be the favorite to win the individual title given last year’s race and his newly earned 5000 meter title from the outdoor season.
Enael Woldemichael has been one of the best runners in the country, and in doing, so has played second fiddle to his teammate (Panning). He’s just a sophomore, but he has been living up to the expectations that he set for himself in the 2017-2018 season.
It’s easy to just talk about the two runners who have dominated the headlines for Grand Valley, but without their 3-5 scorers, we wouldn’t even be talking about this team. The Lakers have their own Freshman of the Year in Tanner Chada who has routinely served as their number three man for the second half of the season. Ben Zaremba, another freshman, has also stepped up as the season has progressed. However, Jacob Domagalski and Josh Steible, both upperclassmen, are going to need to have their best races this year in order for Grand Valley to be competitive against Adams State.
The Colorado School of Mines Orediggers is the most interesting team as we enter the weekend. They only raced their best runners twice throughout the season in an effort to make a run at another national title this December.
Grant Colligan is the lead man on this roster and he has been very impressive since he broke out last year during the cross country season. He easily won the Pre-Nationals race which was hosted by Slippery Rock in October. They decided that conference wasn’t worth the effort for their top guys and sent a "B" squad that finished 3rd in the RMAC.
Fast forward two weeks, and we see that Colligan takes home a wire-to-wire victory in the South Central region just like he did in 2017. Despite the fact that he didn’t see any real pushback from the competition, it is pretty clear that Colligan is a viable contender for the individual title, and the most important piece out of any team that toes the line.
Josh Hoskinson has been a very good number two runner this year for the Orediggers as he has transitioned from running miles to 8k's almost seamlessly over the last year and a half. He will serve as a nice transitional placer from Colligan to their number three runner as they try to keep the team score close. Luc Hagen was their third scorer for them at Pre-Nationals, but we saw no sign of him at the regional meet leaving us to believe that the efforts of Logan Ramlet, Derek Steele, Luke Julian, and Jake Mitchem will be heavily relied upon.
It’s going to be huge that Colligan stays with the lead group throughout the race because without his single point score, I don’t see the Orediggers having the depth to track with the likes of Adams State and Grand Valley at the end.
Chico State is a team that is looking to shake off a poor finish from 2017 that saw them finish in 9th place despite having a roster much more talented than that. Eddie King is the man this year for the Wildcats and he won the West regional under two weeks ago, cementing himself as a strong candidate for a top 10 performance this weekend.
Jack Johnson, Wyatt Baxter, Jason Intravaia and Luis Ortega have all performed well throughout the season (these were the four that rounded out the five scorers last weekend). Of those four, Johnson and Intravaia are seniors. Their experience from years past will play a huge role in how this group will perform on Saturday. They scored 39 points at the West regional and a large part of that was due to their 37 second spread. This level of success has been routine for the Wildcats over the last 10+ years, and it is what has made them so successful in the West region.
Last year, the goal was to win the national title and that pressure may have got the best of them. I think this team is capable of being among the top three after it is all said and done.
Three other teams that I think are going to be factors inside the top five include Queens (N.C.), Western Colorado, and Missouri Southern.
We can start with Queens. We’ve talked about them before and they dominated their Southeast region with 34 points. They’re led by the dynamic duo of Daniel Wallis and Felix Wammetsberger who have helped put this team on the national stage.
They have solid reinforcements in Anthony Raftis, Elijah Inuwa, Nick Kipkemei, and Jose Rosas who have finished in different scoring positions this year. The lineup is virtually interchangeable, and I truly mean throughout all five scorers, giving the Royals a small bit of suspense going into the weekend.
Western Colorado is another team that can shake things up. They chose to redshirt one of their best runners in Ahmed Jama earlier in the year, forcing others to step up in 2018.
Taylor Stack has been the most consistent runner for the Mountaineers this season and he’s looking to bounce back from a poor 2017 showing at the national meet. They’ve had two freshmen in Charlie Sweeney and Albert Hesse who have stepped up big time for them. Ross Husch will likely be the swing man on Saturday as a big performance from him could drastically change the outcome for this squad.
Missouri Southern could arguably be the team that shakes things up the most. Led by their upstart freshman in Gideon Kimutai, they surprised most folks in the Central region by upsetting Augustana (S.D.) and Sioux Falls.
Behind Kimutai are experienced runners in Nickson Kiptoo and Cody Berry who finished 3rd and 4th at their regional meet. Josh Webb and Mike Shanahan are solid four and five runners and it seems as if the Lions are certainly capable of surprising people for this upcoming championship meet.
1. Adams State
2. Grand Valley State
3. Colorado Mines
4. Chico State
5. Queens (N.C.)
1. Sydney Gidabuday (Adams State)
2. Zach Panning (Grand Valley State)
3. Enael Woldemichael (Grand Valley State)
4. Gideon Kimutai (Missouri Southern)
5. Grant Colligan (Colorado Mines)
6. Christian Noble (Lee (Tenn.))
7. Marcelo Laguera (CSU-Pueblo)
8. Elias Gedyon (Adams State)
9. Leakey Kipkosgei (American International)
10. Mason Phillips (Sioux Falls)