By: Michael Weidenbruch
Now that the NCAA track season has officially concluded, I have found myself anxiously awaiting the arrival of cross country season. This spring we saw a ton of incredible performances on the track, many of which came from athletes who will be around next year as well. Cross country brings in the team element that track doesn’t have; every runner on the team matters. In track, championships can be won by a few individual athletes who place high in multiple events, and it isn’t always devastating if one member of the team has a bad day. In cross country, everyone has to bring their A game which makes things a little more interesting. For example, BYU’s athletes struggled greatly at NCAA. It didn’t matter as much from a team perspective because they simply didn’t score points. However, if this had been cross country, they would have scored a ton of points (which is not good in cross), effectively pushing them back behind other teams.
What I like about cross country is that a team like Portland, who scored one point at NCAAs last weekend and only sent two athletes, can place second in cross country simply due to their depth and chemistry as a team.
It’s still very early, and I’m sure many of the athletes who competed at NCAAs outdoors are still on a break from running. However, I’m going to dive right into the upcoming cross country season with some predictions and general thoughts on how things will go come November.
My first thought on the team battle is that there are a ton of teams that could take the title. Northern Arizona looks like a strong contender for a three-peat, as we should be seeing the same lineup from 2017 minus Andy Trouard. It’s hard to bet against a team that is returning the number two and three finishers from last year’s race.
BYU should also be strong, although they didn’t perform that well at NCAAs last cross country season. They were predicted to be battling for every spot with NAU, but ended up placing third. They’ll be taking some losses, including Casey Clinger who was last year’s top freshman finisher but will be taking a leave of absence as he has embarked on a two year mission. Portland will likely be in the hunt for a title again, as they have always showed impressive results in the last couple years despite consistently graduating top seniors.
In our article Wins & Losses that was posted earlier this week, the PAC-12’s distance running was listed as a loser this past year. I think that is going to quickly turn around in the fall and they will dominate the top of the results at NCAAs. If Oregon can translate their 1500m dominance from this outdoor season to the cross country course, they will be a lethal force. Four guys under 3:40 is no joke, and they will have a slew of other guys including Cooper Teare, Blake Haney, Tanner Anderson, and Matthew Maton (if he returns) competing in the fall. They’ll lose Sam Prakel, but the addition of recruits such as Brodey Hasty could begin to fill that void. This certainly looks like a dangerous team.
Colorado may also be a contender, assuming that Joe Klecker and John Dressel return from redshirting. Klecker just ran 13:30 at the Portland Track Festival, so he should be in great form if he maintains his health and fitness into the fall.
One team that excites me perhaps more than any other is Stanford. They’ve struggled to put it together in the past year or so, but capped the season with Sean McGorty and Grant Fisher taking first and third at NCAAs in the 5K. McGorty won’t be back next year, but the Stanford team is so stacked with talent it might not matter. Guys like Alex Ostberg, Thomas Ratcliffe, Brandon McGorty and DJ Principe are incredibly talented, but we haven’t seen a whole lot of them lately. Stanford seems to have a very conservative approach to having younger athletes compete, and this may be the year that they have their whole arsenal ready and racing. This group could certainly be running for a title in November. They’ve come close in the past few years, but haven’t quite broken through to that legendary status that they may have the potential to.
Some other possible contenders are Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas. These teams all have some firepower up front, but as of this past season, are missing some of the pieces necessary to really be considered contenders at this point.
Next up are some teams that I think will underperform from last year. Syracuse immediately comes to mind. Last fall, with Justyn Knight taking first overall, they still only finished 14th. Respectable, but completely out of contention. Losing Knight will be a major hit, but they won’t be entirely devoid of talent. Younger guys like Aidan Tooker, Noah Affolder, and Joe Dragon could certainly step in, but they’ll also be losing Colin Bennie and Philo Germano. At the very least, I could see this team pulling off a close ACC victory, then grabbing one of the last spots to NCAAs. However, I anticipate there may be a changing of the guard in the ACC. Watch out for Notre Dame and NC State to take that title.
Virginia Tech has been known for their middle distance running the last few years, but they’ve put together some impressive cross country results as well. They’ll be losing a lot of their firepower though, and I’m not sure that all those guys are replaceable in their lineup. I can see this being a bit of a rebuilding year for them, and wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t make it to NCAAs.
Another team that I have a big question mark next to is Furman. They finished in a disappointing 26th last fall after being ranked higher all season. This team is rarely known for having a superstar to carry them, but they’re incredibly deep and can put all their guys across the line in very close proximity. Last year at NCAAs, they had a 19.1 second spread. That’s seriously impressive, and if they can maintain that while having their guys move up in the results, they could make a big mark. They lose a lot of experienced seniors, but they have a few men that could step up and put together a competitive squad.
The last team that I see as being up in the air is Wisconsin. Oliver Hoare just won the outdoor 1500m title in a pretty major upset over Josh Kerr. Finishing speed like that could prove to be lethal at the end of a cross country race if his legs still have it in them. Hoare finished 185th at last year’s championship, but his Great Lakes title shows that he can do a whole lot more. Wisconsin’s biggest card at the moment is Morgan McDonald. McDonald ran 13:19 very early in the outdoor season to win the Australian national 5000m title, and then didn’t really do much else for the rest of the year. After many redshirt seasons, will he be able to pull it together this fall? McDonald would certainly be a contender for the individual title, and NCAAs are on his home course this year. It would be awesome to see him take it in front of a home crowd. The rest of the Wisconsin team is looking strong, and they could have a major breakthrough year.
I’ll be releasing more cross country content as the summer goes on and competition season approaches. In the meantime, keep an eye out for our rankings that will be coming out soon! It should be a great season.