By: Sam Ivanecky and Sean Collins
Which team has the most to gain from a great race this weekend?
Sam Ivanecky: Syracuse Orange
The team was only 9th at Beantown to open the season, but bounced back to an 8th place finish in the Cardinal race at Pre-Nats. The ACC features ranked opponents in TSR#11 NC State, TSR#12 Notre Dame, and TSR#24 Georgia Tech, all of whom Syracuse could challenge on Friday. The Orange may not be the favorites, but a solid performance this weekend would add give them two good showings in a row and give some consistency going into a tight Northeast Regional.
Sean Collins: Georgia Bulldogs
The Georgia women are currently projected to be pushed into the national meet by Ole Miss in what is an extremely open South region, but the team has had a number of disappointing loses this season. After losing to Georgia Tech at home, Georgia’s season dealt them another loss against Yale at Paul Short Gold. They are, however, on an upward swing after a 9th place finish at the Pre-Nats White race. The 2nd most disappointing part so far is that they’ve earned 0 Kolas points from these races. The most disappointing part has been the absence of Samantha Drop. If Samantha joins her sister this weekend, SEC’s will be a huge confidence boost for the Bulldogs. It would likely push the Bulldogs over SEC and South region rivals Ole Miss and Florida. Beating these teams could provide a big psychological boost and NCAA qualifying wins if regionals does not go perfectly for Georgia.
Which team will have a great conference meet, only to disappoint at regionals?
Sam Ivanecky: Princeton Tigers
Since we’re on the Ivy League theme, Princeton will have a great conference meet only to miss qualifying for NCAA's. Heps features some stronger teams like Columbia and Dartmouth, but it isn’t nearly as deep of a field as regionals or meets like Pre-Nats. They may be able to run well at Heps, but the Mid-Atlantic region features the likes of Villanova and Penn State, neither of which Princeton is capable of beating. This isn’t saying Princeton will run poorly at regionals, but given they won’t make NCAA's, it’s hard to see that as anything but disappointing.
Sean Collins: Yale Bulldogs
Continuing with my Bulldog theme, Yale. I predict that Yale will win the Ivy League title this weekend against a very strong set of teams from Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Brown. That being said, I think Yale’s freshmen may not perform quite as well at regionals after the high of a conference title. Columbia, Dartmouth, and Syracuse all have deeper packs that will be more important at the larger meet. Now I do think that Yale will do enough this weekend to potentially qualify for NCAA's, but the Northeast region will be rough for the Bulldogs.
Which NCAA individual challenger will make the biggest statement this weekend?
Sam Ivanecky: Alicia Monson (Wisconsin)
The statement could go one of two ways; either Monson wins BIG 10's and proves her performance at Nuttycombe was no fluke, or she continues performing similar to Pre-Nats and exits the conversation of being an NCAA individual contender. Right now, she has two wins to her name, but is coming off a 33rd place finish and it remains to be seen how good she really is. This will be her first race away from Madison, and while it shouldn’t factor into her performance, there’s always a chance it does. In the end, I see her being good in November, but not good enough to truly contend for the title.
Sean Collins: Dorcas Wasike (Louisville)
It has been eight months since Wasike finished worse than 3rd and I expect that streak to continue throughout the entire cross country season. Wasike ran an amazing race at Pre-Nats against Kurgat and Kelati, earning bronze. The ACC is not particularly strong individually in 2018; however, Wasike is going to blow the league out of the water. A 30+ second victory is not out of the question and that margin of victory is almost unfathomable in a Power Five conference. She will be dominant unlike any other runner this weekend.
Which conference is tougher: PAC 12 or BIG 10?
Sam Ivanecky: PAC 12
As an individual, PAC 12. As a team, BIG 10. The PAC 12 has a great group of women leading the charge, featuring quite a few runners who should be contending for the title this fall. However, the depth of the BIG 10 teams makes coming away with the team title much more difficult. The BIG 10 has five ranked teams and the PAC 12 features four, but the weight of winning between the two isn’t as equal. The BIG 10 features many teams with stronger 4-7 runners than in the PAC 12 which leaves little room for error for those looking to get the team title. The question really comes down to team vs individual competition but regardless, these are the two best conferences in the NCAA.
Sean Collins: BIG 10
While the PAC-12 is a little bit stronger at the front, the BIG 10 is a tougher conference. The PAC 12 battle will be unbelievable, but a bad race from Colorado, Oregon, or Stanford still leaves those squads at 3rd in the conference. A bad race at Big Ten could drop a team from 1st all the way to 6th and even an average race probably drops a team two spots in the standings. So, if I was a coach, I would be more scared entering BIG 10's than I would PAC 12's. For me, it’s less about which race is more difficult to win, and more about how much uncertainty is present at the meet.
Which individual vying for the NCAA title hasn’t received the credit they deserve?
Sam Ivanecky: Katrina Robinson (Arkansas)
After a great run at Pre-Nats, Katrina Robinson of Arkansas is still flying under-the-radar as far as NCAA favorites go. She quietly won the Chile Pepper Festival back in September and had a huge run to finish 2nd at Pre-Nationals, only to be overshadowed by Jessica Hull’s surprise win. Robinson came into the NCAA relatively unknown, originating from Brisbane, Australia, where she ran PR's of 9:03 for 3000 meters and 16:06 5000 meters. While these times put her in company with the NCAA elites, she was unknown on the cross country course until this fall. I expect her to be top 10 at NCAA's and be in contention for the title.
Sean Collins: Sharon Lokedi (Kansas)
The Kansas Jayhawk has been incredible not only this season, but throughout her entire career. Lokedi’s worst finish in NCAA XC was 44th in 2017 after placing 10th as a freshman and 5th as a sophomore at the national meet. She is also the defending 10k champion on the track. This season, she won the Rim Rock Invitational and was 6th in the Pre-Nats White race, but has been mainly forgotten behind Kelati’s and Kurgat’s Pre-Nats finishes. Kansas’ status as a middle-to-back of the pack team is no help in showcasing Lokedi’s talent. She is almost never the national favorite, but that has not stopped her from winning before.