Updated: Sep 20, 2018
By: Michael Weidenbruch
Now that our Top 50 individual rankings have been released and updated, there is one factor that stands out about this list: There is only one freshman (James Sugira of Eastern Kentucky) who has made it on. Naturally, the Top 50 is going to be dominated by older, more experienced runners who have established names for themselves in the NCAA. However, it is only a matter of time before we see some more freshmen make a push to get on that list.
Last year, three true freshmen placed in the top 50 at NCAA's; Casey Clinger (BYU), Nadeel Wildschutt (Coastal Carolina), Cooper Teare (Oregon), and Amon Kemboi (Campbell)*. True freshmen who finish in the top 50 are part of an elite group, as many others are either redshirted or simply not developed enough to compete at that level. We'll be taking a look at a few freshmen who we think have the potential to make our Top 50 this season and possibly finish in an All-American spot come November.
*Kemboi joined the Campbell program in January 2017, meaning he did not redshirt the 2016 cross country season and was technically a true freshman when it came to XC season
James Sugira, Eastern Kentucky
James Sugira is the first freshman to make our Top 50 after an impressive performance at the Vanderbilt Commodore Classic where he won in 24:08. His performance also helped push his team into the 25th spot for our team rankings. Sugira is no stranger to high levels of competition. He took 7th place in the 5000 meters while competing for Rwanda at the Commonwealth Games back in April. He also holds a personal best of 13:46 for the event. Sugira could possibly serve as the Colonels’ low stick this season despite the team already having some impressive talent. While Sugira is a true freshman, it is important to note that he is 21 years old according to his IAAF page.
James Mwaura, Gonzaga
James Mwaura is off to a hot start for Gonzaga, winning the Clash of the Inland Northwest Invitational (5.75K) and the Cougar Cross Country Classic (8K), both at the University of Idaho. Mwaura ran 23:54 to win by 15 seconds at the latter meet, a time that few have touched this early in the season. Mwaura will face some stiff competition at the WCC Championships and West Regional meet, but I think he has a chance at grabbing an individual qualifying spot for Nationals in one of the NCAA's deepest regions. With high school PRs of 8:46 for 3200 and 14:00 for 5k, Mwaura does not seem to lack any confidence when it comes to competing with NCAA veterans. He could likely be a name to watch when it comes to postseason races.
Brodey Hasty, Northern Arizona
Brodey Hasty did not race in NAU’s season opener at the George Kyte Classic, so it is unclear whether or not he will be redshirting. If Hasty is competing this season, it would be very difficult to leave him out of this conversation. Hasty made headlines after running 4:00 for the mile last year as a high schooler. He also clocked an 8:00 personal best for 3000 meters. In the past, we have seen freshmen with similar high school times record top finishes at NCAA's (such as Grant Fisher in 2015). There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Hasty at the moment, but we may see him toe the line later this season. If he does, we can expect impressive results.
Chad Johnson, Iowa State
There weren't many high school recruits as dynamic and as exciting as Chad Johnson. The six-time Ohio State champion has explosive PR's of 8:52 and 14:42 from high school, already making him a big name to watch. An 11th place finish at the Footlocker National Championships pairs well with his national title in the 5k during indoors. Simply put, this guy has all of the accolades necessary to make our Top 50. With Iowa State going all-in for a title run this fall, the Cyclones may look to Johnson as the catalyst who will put this team on the podium.
Thomas Witkowicz, Syracuse
Witkowicz hasn't earned the same hype as other top recruits in the nation (which includes guys in his own recruiting class). The Canadian youngster has joined forces with the Syracuse men and could be a legitimate All-American candidate this fall if he isn't redshirted. His personal bests have conversions that are similar to times run by others 'Cuse freshmen such as Nathan Lawler, Matthew Scrape, and Michael Phillips. However, his cross country resume is what truly stands out. According to Athletic.net, Witkowicz has only competed in 10 meets during his high school cross country career. In those 10 meets, he never lost a race, ran 15:21 as a high school freshman, secured a personal best of 19:07 for 6000 meters, and won the individual title at the McQuaid Invite. With proper training and development, Witkowicz looks like he could be one of the best young talents that the NCAA has to offer.
It's still early in the season and anything can happen, but these five freshmen stand out as candidates who can break into our Top 50 rankings. There are other freshmen out there who come to mind as possibilities for this list such as Dylan Jacobs (Notre Dame) and Gabe Fendel (Colorado), but neither of them have raced yet and it is unclear if they will this season.
It is also possible that somebody else could have a breakout freshman campaign and make the list, but only time will tell. We will have to wait and see how many freshmen (if any) can finish in the Top 50 at NCAA's, but this class has me excited.
Get ready for some fireworks over the next few months...