Written by Maura Beattie and Ben Weisel
With the first weekend of point-scoring meets wrapping up, we wanted to look at a few teams and individuals who made some early-season statements. Next week, we will update our team and individual rankings, so keep an eye out for that! As for the action that happened this past weekend, let’s take a look...
1. Middle Tennessee State Surprises Indiana
In 2018, MTSU decided to redshirt their top three runners (Jacob Choge, Kigen Chemadi, and Lebo Mosito) in hopes that they would be more competitive come 2019. As expected, last year was tough for the Blue Raiders, but they did see Brian Rono develop into a relatively solid scorer. He was 43rd at the 2018 South Regional Championships which meant MTSU just needed to bring in one more runner to complete their top five.
Enter Hillary Kimaiyo.
The freshman ran with MTSU’s top pack two weeks ago at the Memphis Twilight meet, but we weren’t sure how good he was until this past weekend at the Commodore Classic. A 12th place finish with a time of 24:47 validates the idea that Kimaiyo is a legitimate supporting scorer who can suddenly make the Blue Raiders a major problem for their future opponents. This turned out to be enough to edge Indiana (TSR#7) this past weekend by seven points.
For a team that wasn’t in our preseason rankings, beating Indiana is an extremely impressive start to the season. Still, there are a few important things to keep in mind.
Dustin Horter struggled this past weekend with a 35th place finish in a race where he should've been inside the top 10. Yes, Indiana's depth is something that may need to be addressed, but if Horter runs to his actual ability then Indiana walks away with the win.
But Indiana isn't the only team that needs to worry about depth; Middle Tennessee State shares the same vulnerability. They're #6 runner finished 94th in the team standings while their #5 runner (Brian Rono) - who finished 27th in the team scoring - was actually seven team scoring spots away from Indiana's #5.
For the Blue Raiders to succeed this season, they need all five of their top guys to run well and stay healthy. But if they do? Well, then MTSU is a top 15 team in the country. They have the upfront power, and so far, it's proven to be wildly effective.
2. Ole Miss Women Finish On Top
The Vanderbilt Commodore Classic not only turned in notable men’s finishes, but it also produced a strong women’s race. Ole Miss took down five other SEC teams and two BIG 10 programs on their way to scoring 76 points. A 30 second time spread separated their top five with finishers who placed 10th, 12th, 15th, 16th, and 23rd. Junior Madeleine King paced the Rebels and was closely followed by sophomore Courtney Hopkins.
Yet, maybe the most impressive aspect of this performance was that Ole Miss didn't even field top runners such as Clio Ozanne-Jaques, Ylvi Traxler, and Lisa Vogelgesang. Once these three are added to the lineup, Ole Miss begins to look scary good.
The team won’t return to the grass until the Joe Piane Invitational on October 4th, but with the way the season has started, it's exciting to think about what the Lady Rebels could do a month from now.
3. ACC Programs Give Us First Look
There were a lot of interesting takeaways from the Cavalier Classic this past weekend. On the men's side, UVA pulled away for the overall win and were led by Rohann Asfaw who secured the individual win as well. It was a nice start to the season for the Cavaliers, but it looks like they'll have their work cut out for them this year as they look to fend off a rapidly rising Duke team.
The Blue Devils were a respectable and consistent team last fall, but didn't have enough firepower or depth to contend with the upper portion of the ACC. However, 2019 may be a bit different. They had a really nice performance this past weekend by finishing 2nd overall, only eight points away from UVA. They had three in the top seven and five in the top 13. In the grand scheme of things, their top five wasn't that far off from what we saw from UVA's top five. I can't help but think of how that will translate to a larger invitational or championship meet.
As for the women's race, we were treated to a very nice battle between Tennessee and UNC. Given the recent coaching change this past summer, most of the attention entering this race was understandably on the UNC women. The Lady Vols, however, played spoiler to the much anticipated Tar Heel debut.
Tennessee's Katie Thronson came out of nowhere, having a breakout race by taking home the individual crown. Behind her were UNC's Ilse and Hofstad who gave the Tar Heels a strong 1-2 punch. However, the Volunteers had enough backend support to give them a win over UNC, 36 to 42.
Both teams still have a long way to go before they validate themselves against the powerhouse programs of their respective conferences. Still, this was a nice early-season glance into what each of these teams are packing.
4. Georgetown Women Stun Penn State
The women of Georgetown took down Penn State at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe
Invitational this past weekend. Georgetown was led by Madeline Perez’s 2nd place finish while the next four Hoya women to cross the line were in the top eight.
What surprises me about Georgetown’s finish is that runners #2 through #5 consisted of three sophomores and one freshman. If these four youngsters can keep their composure in big races and finish close together, special things could happen for a Georgetown team that looks awfully similar to last year's Penn State squad. Scoring 25 points - 16 points fewer than the Nittany Lions - is a promising start to the season for Georgetown as they work to return to NCAA's after missing out on the meet last fall.
As for Penn State, they will have some work to do if they want to remain as one of the top teams in the Mid-Atlantic region this fall. Still, let's not overlook the fact that Julia Paternain wasn't in their lineup this past weekend. If/when she reenters this lineup, Penn State becomes a much better team, especially in larger invitationals.
Despite the loss, there were still a lot of encouraging results that the women from State College could walk away with. Kathryn Munks looked really strong up front, winning the race by 11 seconds, while Allison Willingmyre backed up that performance with a 3rd place showing of her own. The team's 1:05 gap among their top five would prove to be the major source of pain from a scoring perspective, but it's important that we don't overreact to early-season meets such as this.
5. Gonzaga Men Are On a Mission
With Gonzaga being located in the West region, they need to be sharp from the get-go to score enough Kolas points to earn themselves an at-large bid. They did not show any rust this weekend as they just annihilated the rest of the field at the Washington State Cougar Classic. The men scored 22 points to beat Washington State by 23 points, but would have had a perfect score if their unattached runners were included in their score. Reminder: Washington State is a team that could have (should have?) made it to the national meet last fall. The Cougars are, for the most part, a consistently respectable program.
James Mwaura led the way, winning easily while teammates Peter Hogan and Phillip Fishburn were right behind and were the next two runners to score for Gonzaga. Riley Moore and Evan Bates ran unattached for Gonzaga, but finished 2nd and 3rd overall.
Again, this is an early season meet, but I feel like we shouldn't dismiss what was quietly a very strong performance. The road to NCAA's will always be tough, especially with Stanford, Washington, Portland, UCLA, and Oregon competing in the West region. Even so, Gonzaga looks primed to not miss out on extending their season in 2019. They'll be hungry to avenge their missed qualification from last fall...