The Group Chat: Preseason Predictions

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

Which schools that did not make NCAA's last fall will be making an appearance this season? On average, 11 women’s and 9 men’s teams didn’t make it the year prior.

Maura: On the women’s side, I believe that Providence and Georgia will find themselves back at NCAA's in 2019. Providence has such a strong history of qualifying for the national meet, so hopefully 2018 was just an off-year for the Friars. Although the team finished 10th at the 2018 NCAA Northeast XC Regional Championships, they welcome some top freshman and return strong upperclassman. Georgia, on the other hand, has both Jessica and Samantha Drop returning this season after Samantha redshirted last fall. The Drop twins are two solid runners for the Bulldogs upfront and have earned All-American honors. It will be important for the #3-5 runners to keep the pack as close as possible to the Drops.

Ben: For the women, give me NAU. They return 80 percent of their scorers to pair with a very solid recruiting class. Plus, they just added Taryn O’Neill from Villanova. While everyone thinks of the men, the women’s program has been a program on the rise for the last few years and will look to take the next big step in 2019 to NCAAs. It won’t be easy to reach the Big Dance, especially out of the Mountain region, but NAU’s blend of experience and new reinforcements gives me confidence that they will not be shut out of Nationals this year.

Michael: I think the Virginia men will make a return to NCAAs this fall after narrowly missing qualifying last year. They only lose one of their top seven from last fall, Brent Demarest who was a two-time All-American for Virginia. While Demarest will be gone, Lachlan Cook will be back in the lineup after redshirting last cross country season. Cook has All-American potential, so his return will be welcomed. With legendary coach Vin Lananna now at the helm of the program, the UVA men seem destined for success. The Georgetown men also look like a solid pick to make it back to the Big Dance after missing out two years in a row. The Mid-Atlantic region usually only produces two qualifying teams so Georgetown will have to battle teams like Princeton and Villanova, but they are returning a strong core of athletes who can get the job done.

On the women’s side, I am going to agree with Ben and say that the Northern Arizona women will make it to NCAAs out of a deep Mountain region. They have added some key pieces and will look to overthrow teams like Southern Utah and Air Force that pushed them out of contention for a spot last year. Another team I like is the Temple women. Temple is a program that has seen incredible growth over the past few years on both the men’s and women’s sides. The women were the first team out in the Mid-Atlantic last year, and their best shot at qualifying could be to take down a team that will push them into NCAAs if they can’t get a top-two auto bid. Last fall the Owls had a tightly grouped top three at regionals, and they are all returning this fall. If they can improve upon their finishes and drive the score down, then Temple has a solid chance of grabbing a spot at NCAAs.

Ben: The easy answer for the men’s side is Alabama. The Crimson Tide return their two aces that pushed them to Nationals two years ago, and they have added some nice new pieces around them. Plus, James Brinyark has improved throughout his ‘Bama career and could be a solid #5 for the team as they look to qualify for Nationals once again. The South region is a lot better than it has been in the past, so Alabama will have to be better than they were in 2017, but they have more depth this year to pair with the best one-two punch in the country.

Maura: I won’t spend much time with my first pick of Alabama since Ben already went into detail about the Crimson Tide. Alabama will look to Gilbert Kigen and Vincent Kiprop to lead the team to Terre Haute. Last fall, the Crimson Tide were plagued with injuries, so it will be very important for the men to stay healthy if they want to see success. Another men’s team that I see receiving a bid to the Big Dance is Utah State. The Aggies have BYU-transfer Dallin Farnsworth, who has experience racing at the NCAA level, and Luke Beattie, who was 31st last fall in a loaded Mountain Regional. Utah State will need to rack up Kolas points early on in the season to earn an at-large bid after regionals.

Reversing the question, which teams from 2018 will not be coming back in November?

Maura: The Bradley men will not be travelling to Terre Haute for NCAAs this fall. The coaches in Peoria, IL know how to recruit and train their athletes, but sometimes it takes more than that to qualify for the Big Dance. The Braves lose their top two runners from their nationals team and Will Anderson, the team’s #4, has transferred to NC State.

Ben: I agree with Maura that it will be tough for the Bradley Braves to recreate their magical run to NCAAs this year, but another team who will have a tough time earning a spot back at Nationals will be the men of Florida State. I feel crazy saying that because I actually think they will be better this year, but the South region, as I mentioned before, will be much stronger. Alabama is back to full-strength as is Middle Tennessee who redshirted their top three last year including prospective All-Americans Jacob Choge and Kigen Chemadi. Throw in Ole Miss, Belmont, and a solid Georgia Tech team, the Seminoles will face some stiff competition.

Maura: I agree that it will be difficult for the Florida State men to qualify this season, but I will be interested to see how Southern Utah University transfer Kasey Knevelbaard mixes in with the team.

Michael: This may be a very bold pick, but I think this could be the year that the Syracuse men miss the cut. The Northeast region has been getting stronger every year, and it is uncommon for any at-large qualifiers to come from the Northeast. The Iona men are a solid pick as usual, and I am confident that they will make it. If they can beat a Syracuse team that has lost some top runners such as Noah Affolder and Iliass Aouani, the race for the second spot could be tight. Harvard is returning two top-five finishers, Kieran Tuntuvate and Hugo Milner, and they have a strong group that will be coming in behind that duo. Army West Point is always a contender as well. It is possible that Syracuse will simply not be able to match what some of their competitors have added in the past year.

Ben: A bold pick from Michael! It is assumed that Syracuse will always take one of the two spots from the Northeast region, but he is right to point out that they will be facing some tough competition this year to earn an automatic bid. I think the Orange will still qualify because of Aidan Tooker and a deep group of returners, but it might be closer than it has been in the past.

Maura: No team really sticks out on the women’s side for me besides Texas. The Longhorns perform well during the regular season, but they can’t seem to put together a solid showing at NCAAs. Texas is lucky that the South Central Regional isn’t too competitive outside of Arkansas, but I think there could be a surprise team out of that region this fall.

Ben: As for the women, it is hard to doubt Coach Gina Procaccio and the Villanova women, but they just saw a lot of firepower walk through the door. With Rachel McArthur, Taryn O’Neill, and Lauren Ryan transferring plus Nicole Hutchinson graduating, the Wildcats face an uphill battle to make it back to NCAAs. They lack experienced and proven cross country runners. Will they develop some this year? Absolutely, but as for now, the road ahead looks treacherous.

Maura: Villanova is definitely a team to keep an eye on as the season progresses to see how they fare with losing half of their roster.

Michael: Villanova could definitely face some challenges after losing so much. The program has a lot of history and high-level coaching, so the Wildcats could still be a difficult team to keep out. I am going to have to agree with Maura on this one and go with Texas. The Longhorns have a solid roster and are not in an ultra-competitive region, but teams like Texas A&M and Rice have strong returning cores that could take down Texas if the Longhorns aren’t at 100 percent.

Who will be the top true freshman at Nationals this year?

Maura: Michigan’s Ericka VanderLende took command at the 2019 Michigan Open when she finished 22 seconds ahead of second place. VanderLende will be a great addition to a dominant Michigan program. She was a stud coming out of high school and ran at many high school national meets. She was 8th at NXN and 10th at Foot Locker in 2018, and followed those performances up with a 1st-place finish at the 2019 Brooks PR Invite in the two-mile.

Ben: How about Colorado’s Emily Covert? The incoming freshman was 4th at Nike Cross Nationals and 5th at Foot Locker this past year proving how strong of a cross country runner she is. The Minnesota native also has run well on the track earning PRs of 10:05 in the two-mile and 4:47 in the 1600. Put her into Coach Mark Wetmore’s system, and she should thrive this year. We have her ranked in our preseason top 50, so, unless another freshman can crack that list by the year’s end, I feel pretty confident that Covert will be the first freshman to cross the line at Nationals.

Michael: Back when we released our recruiting rankings I made a case that Kelsey Chmiel of NC State is the top recruit in the nation. Last fall she finished second behind Katelyn Tuohy at Nike Cross Nationals and later ran 16:18 for 5k outdoors. With her credentials, she could very likely be contending for an All-American finish. The NC State program has a rich history and a lot of incredibly talented women returning this fall. This should create a perfect environment for Chmiel to adapt to college training and maximize her potential.

Maura: Three very solid picks right here.

Maura: It is difficult to choose a top true freshman male because many coaches have their freshman redshirt to gain some experience and adapt to the program. But if I am to pick someone, it will be Princeton’s Jack Stanley. Stanley is arriving at Princeton with PRs of 1:54, 4:12, 9:05, and 15:09. He was 19th at NXN last fall and later finished 7th at Foot Locker. Princeton’s cross-country program doesn’t usually spark people’s interest, but Stanley has the potential to change that this fall. He is bringing in experience from the national stage, as well as the ability to challenge himself amongst the best in the nation.

Ben: I agree, Maura. It isn’t necessarily the best freshman, but the freshman who will have the best opportunity to compete. With that said, I’m going with Carter Cheeseman of Notre Dame. Coach Carlson proved last year with Danny Kilrea that he can integrate a freshman into his top seven with plenty of success. If anyone can back up Kilrea’s All-American performance from last year, it is Cheeseman. The Tennessee native finished 27th at Nike Cross Nationals and 10th at Footlocker in 2018 while also winning the 5k at the New Balance Indoor Nationals. The longer 8k and 10k distances should benefit Cheeseman. In fact, we already saw what he can do in an 8k when he finished 6th at the U20 USATF Cross Country Championships. Look for him to be on the All-American bubble and help push the Irish closer to the podium.

Michael: Maura and Ben make great points about redshirting, which makes it difficult to select an individual on the men’s side. It almost becomes a guessing game of who will compete in their first season of collegiate cross country. Stanford is known for redshirting their freshmen and giving them time to develop, but it is possible that with new coaches JJ Clark and Ricardo Santos, this philosophy will change. In the past, Stanford has occasionally had a true freshman that joins the team and makes an impact right away, such as Grant Fisher or Thomas Ratcliffe (Ratcliffe only finished one cross country race in a Stanford uniform his freshman year, but he was eighth at PAC-12s). This year that freshman could be Ryan Oosting. The 4:03/8:52/14:36 high school standout has a lot of range, and he is not afraid to push the pace and rub elbows with guys a lot more experienced than he is. Oosting was at the top of the high school ranks for a while and might be able to do something special this fall.

Which non-traditional programs will make the biggest headlines this fall?

Ben: I think the men of Gonzaga are going to surprise some people this year and will make it to Nationals. With a great young stud in James Mwaura, the Bulldogs are going to make some noise this year. Speaking of Mwaura, don’t be surprised to see the sophomore in the top 20 by the end of the year. The ‘Zags were so close to earning a bid to NCAAs last year, and I would be shocked if they were left out of the National field again in 2019.

Maura: Whatever Wyoming did during the 2018 cross-country worked and now they just need to replicate that this season. Paul Roberts joined the Cowboys at the right time and brought with him a new sense of hope for the team. Roberts led the Cowboys to a 12th-place finish at NCAAs. From those that scored, the Cowboys only lose their #5. Could a top-10 finish be in Wyoming’s future this fall?

Michael: I am going to go for the double here and say both the Temple men and women will make huge jumps this fall. I already mentioned that the women are a team that could sneak into NCAAs, and it’s not impossible that the men could find themselves in a similar position. The Temple men finished sixth at the Mid-Atlantic regional last fall, which does not necessarily turn many heads. However, Kristian Holm Jensen finished 13th, Zach Seiger finished 22nd, and Kevin Lapsansky finished 29th. All three athletes will be returning this fall, and Holm Jensen ran an impressive 14:05 5k this spring which puts him in a pretty solid position to make a bid for top-ten this year. Zach Seiger has a 30:43 10k to his name, which he ran in April 2018. Seiger only raced once indoors this past year and did not compete outdoors, so his ceiling may be much higher if he is coming into this season healthy. As for Lapsansky, he ran 30:26 for 10k this past outdoor season and also has a 14:32 5k to his name. This trio will be able to take advantage of being in a Mid-Atlantic region that is lacking in depth compared to other regions and make some noise this fall. The Temple men might not have all the pieces they need to make it to NCAAs this fall, but at the very least we can expect to see Holm Jensen, Seiger and Lapsansky contending for individual spots and putting Temple on the map.

The Temple women, on the other hand, have a very legitimate shot at making NCAAs. Last fall Grace Moore, Kira von Ehren and Michelle Joyce finished 21st, 22nd and 29th at the Mid-Atlantic regional. They all finished within seven seconds. If these ladies can keep that tight pack but all move up ten spots, then they will put their team in much closer contention for a top-three spot (three teams qualified from the Mid-Atlantic last year). Moore has a 9:26 3k to her name while von Ehren and Joyce have run 17:12 and 17:15 respectively for 5k. Not far behind them at last year’s regional meet was Helene Holm Gottlieb in 42nd (18 seconds behind Joyce). She is more of a middle-distance specialist, having run 2:07 for 800m and 4:20 for 1500m. If she can close the gap on her three teammates, the Temple women could have a legitimate shot at making NCAAs this fall.

Ben: As for the women, how about a team that could have two All-Americans? The Shockers of Wichita State could “shock” some people this year. With Winny Koskei and Rebekah Topham, they have two of the top runners in the country. They aren’t ranked for a reason as the rest of their lineup isn’t quite as potent, but if they have a few people step up then they have a solid squad that could surprise teams. Even if they don’t, plan on seeing some Shockers uniforms towards the front of the field come NCAAs.

Maura: I see what you did there! I had the same idea regarding Wichita State. Topham and Koskei have already started the season off strong with a 1-2 finish at their home meet. The Shockers also have Yazmine Wright, a runner with strong potential to gravitate towards the top half of the race with Topham and Koskei.

Which runners who have never been an All-American (track or XC) will earn those honors for the first time this season?

Ben: Honestly, I felt like I could pick most of the Washington Huskies, including freshman Sam Tanner, but I’ll go with Talon Hull of Washington. The junior seems like a good bet to earn his first All-American honors this fall. He was second to Grant Fisher at PAC-12s last year and 12th in the West region before finishing 80th at NCAAs. In year two of life under Coach Powell, Hull is a candidate to break out in a big way and finish well within the top 40 in 2019.

Maura: Another male who could walk away with his first All-American honor this fall is Aidan Reed of Southern Utah. During the 2018 cross-country season and the 2019 outdoor track season, Reed proved he is a championship racer. He placed 51st in Madison last fall and narrowly qualified in the 10k this past spring. This year Reed will look to lead the Thunderbirds back to the Big Dance this fall, and, in the process, he could mix it up with some of the nation’s best runners.

Michael: Earlier in this discussion I spoke of the Harvard men, and Kieran Tuntivate is a great candidate to pick up his first All-American honor. Last fall he finished 47th at NCAAs, only seven spots shy of All-American status. On the track, he went on to run 28:45 for 10k, which shows the type of strength necessary to contend with the best in the nation on the cross country course. Tuntivate made headlines at indoor Heps last year by winning the 3k after losing a shoe in the first lap. If that tells me anything it is that Tuntivate is not afraid to put himself out there and do whatever it takes to win, a mindset that goes incredibly far in a 10k cross country race.

Maura: Well, I feel the obvious answer on the women’s side is Katrina Robinson of Arkansas. Robinson just missed out on All-American honors last fall when she finished 41st. This finish had to be disappointing for Robinson after having such a stellar regular season. It is a little hard to determine where Robinson’s fitness is right now due to an injury forcing her out of the indoor and outdoor track seasons, but either way, she has the ability to race herself into the top 10 at NCAAs this fall.

Ben: I couldn’t agree more. Robinson has all the makings of earning All-American status this year for the Razorbacks. Besides her, I’m going to go back to a pick I made earlier, Emily Covert. The true freshman has all the makings of an All-American this fall. Sure she hasn’t done it on the collegiate level, but the increase from 5k to 6k won’t cause her any issues. In fact, the women’s title race might come down to how well Robinson and Covert run at NCAAs.

Michael: There are so many women who come to mind when answering this question, but one who stood out to me as a freshman last year is Notre Dame’s Jacqueline Gaughan. Gaughan was sixth at the Great Lakes regional and 64th at NCAAs last fall. She was second in the East regional 10k behind teammate Anna Rohrer outdoors, and recorded personal bests of 15:52 for 5k and 33:09 for 10k. She has experience running well in large races and is clearly very talented. Gaughan will make for a great follow up in a one-two punch of Rohrer and herself.