First Thoughts: Joe Piane Invite

One of the most exciting races of the year thus far is now complete and my goodness do we have a lot to talk about. Due to how many top teams were in this race (on both the men's and women's sides), we won't be able to cover every result or each major takeaway.

Don't worry though! We'll discuss a little bit of everyone in our newest release of rankings which are coming this Sunday.

Alright. Deep breathes. Here we go...

Utah. Utes. WOW.

In our TSR Preseason Top 25 teams, we listed the Utah women at #25. We liked their young core, were encouraged by the return of Poppy Tank, and liked what we had seen at the backend of their lineup.

However, there were concerns about their overall level of fitness. Many of these women lacked experience and struggled to offer any legitimate scoring potency in 2018. We knew they could be a respectable group, but we didn't think too hard about it.

That, however, was a bad decision.

In what may be the single biggest cross country upset since Tiernan shocked Cheserek in 2016, the unranked Utah women took down TSR #2 Colorado, 110 to 116. The Utes strung together a top five that finished 11-16-19-27-37 in what was a phenomenal instance of team running.

The star of the show was Bella Williams who had the race of her life to finish 11th overall. Following her were veteran low-sticks Poppy Tank and Sarah Feeny in 16th and 19th, respectively. Cara Woolnough and Scarlet Dale wrapped up the scoring in 27th and 37th overall.

On paper, the Colorado women actually had a better performance. The Buffaloes had the better #1, #2, and #4 runners of the meet, but their #5 runner was too far back, finishing 53rd overall. It's also important to keep in mind that the Colorado women didn't run Emily Venters. Had she run (at full strength), then Coach Wetmore's squad likely takes home the W.

Still, that shouldn't take away from the fact that the Utah women just pulled off an absolutely monster performance. They beat a slew of teams with their combination of veteran low-sticks, reliable depth, and a spark from breakout individuals.

I have no idea what this team did over the summer to get to this level, but whatever it was, it worked EXTREMELY well.

Colorado Men Lessen Concerns

We knew Klecker was good. We knew Dressel was good. We knew Herrera was good.

But their bottom two scorers? Well, we didn't really know how good they were going to be.

There were legitimate concerns about Colorado's depth, but they were quickly put to rest this past weekend as true freshman Kashon Harrison finished 18th overall while senior Alec Hornecker placed 26th. The Buffalo men ended with day with a total score of 71 points, over 30 points ahead of 2nd place Ole Miss.

This is an excellent sign for Coach Wetmore's squad as we progress through the season. The youth and inexperience of #4 runner Kashon Harrison and #6 runner Gabe Fendel is still something to stay cautious about, but the youngsters have proven that they can be the impact scorers that the Buffaloes need them to be.

Multiple Teams Shatter Expectations

Sure, Utah was a huge surprise, but what about the other teams?

The Florida State women pulled off a stunner in South Bend, finishing 3rd overall, only 13 points behind Colorado. Maudie Skyring looked like a legitimate low-stick with her 17th place finish. She was flanked by teammates Jodie Judd and Elizabeth Funderburk who placed 22nd and 23rd overall. Addison Coggins and Villanova transfer Lauren Ryan shut down the scoring with 33rd and 34th place finishes of their own.

Through five scorers, this was extremely an impressive result and it suddenly makes the Seminoles favorites to take home the South regional title (again). Their depth dropped off a bit after their #5 runner, but Lauren Ryan is proving to be an extremely valuable addition as she gives her new team a complete top five.

And how about the NC State men? We knew they would be respectable, but we were concerned about their 2018 regular season and their ability to develop front-runners. That was clearly an oversight after they finished 3rd this past weekend behind a huge 7th place finish from Ian Shanklin. Their newest transfer (JP Flavin) gave them another top 30 finish (in 26th) while Bistritz, Burger, and Gaynor placed 38-43-62. Their depth dropped off quite a bit after their #5 runner, but they did everything they needed to do in order to make themselves the obvious favorites for the Southeast regional title (again).

Finally, let's chat about the Ole Miss men. I hope people realize just how strong of a race this was for them. The track-centric program with a plethora of a middle distance low-sticks ran perfectly on a fast course that favored their speed.

Farah Abdulkarim gave us another glimpse of his low-stick potential with a 12th place finish. He was closely followed by teammate Waleed Suliman in 17th. The backend of their top five was also strong with Cade Bethmann and Mario Garcia Romo finishing 22nd and 24th, respectively. Parker Scott, who returned to the team after being sidelined during the fall of 2018, quickly closed down the scoring with a very key 32nd place finish.

This group has a very unique roster dynamic that varies between middle distance stars and long-distance supporting scorers. I haven't ever seen a team with this kind of lineup structure before, but it's clearly working for them.

Alabama Men Leave Us With Even More Questions

The Crimson Tide have been a competitive team for the past few years, but ever since bringing in their iconic "Crimson Tri" trio of Kiprop, Kigen, and Chelanga, they have been unable to find a reliable backend.

Despite a killer 1-2 punch from Kiprop and Kigen, the team only finished 16th overall at Notre Dame this past Friday. However, it's important to note that the team did not run new addition Eliud Kipsang or sub-14 minute 5k runner Noel Rotich. Those two were the biggest question marks coming into this season, but we still haven't seen them toe the line for a cross country race.

However, concerns about their #5 scorer are still valid. The rest of their lineup finished 133-157-161-162-163 out of 166 finishers. They also had a DNF.

Were they just tempoing? Was this actually a bad race? Was this the best they could do? Where are Kipsang and Rotich? Are they injured? Are they being redshirted? Are they just waiting until later in the season to make their debut?

We're still left with a ton of questions, but that just makes the rest of Alabama's 2019 season much more interesting.

Don't Worry About New Mexico, They'll Be Fine

The New Mexico women finished 7th overall in a race where they were originally thought to be one of the favorites. With Kelati taking the win and Kurgat finishing 5th, the Lobos had the firepower that we expected to see from them. Negron finishing 36th and Nuttall placing 48th were also nice results. However, an 87th place finish from their #5 runner is what ultimately held them back from a better team result.

The good news for Coach Franklin's squad is that they didn't run Adva Cohen. Not because she was injured or redshirting, but because she was just in Doha, Qatar for the World Championships. Having her in the lineup would have likely given the New Mexico women an overall win.