If you thought the women’s race at the Joe Piane Invitational was stacked, just wait until you read up on the men’s competition. Aside from such a strong group of team entries, there is an even deeper individual field. Some athletes will be using this as their season opener, while others will be racing for their second or third time.
Either way, this is a race that you will not want to ignore.
The Team Race
Attending Teams: Alabama, Arizona, Belmont, Bradley, Colorado, Colorado State, Eastern Kentucky, Florida State, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, NC State, New Mexico, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Purdue, Southern Utah, Weber State, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
The men of Colorado, who finished as the final podium team in 2018, will headline the Joe Piane Invitational this Friday. The Buffaloes are led by the dynamic duo of Joe Klecker and John Dressel, two of the best distance runners in the country.
Klecker is coming off of an injury that kept him sidelined during the outdoor track season, but he should be able rebound well after having all spring and summer to recover and rebuild his base. Dressel had to sit out during the 2017-2018 academic calendar year with an injury, but returned for the 2018 season on a mission and did not disappoint.
Despite having an outstanding top two and another All-American runner in #3 man Eduardo Herrera, the back end of this lineup is where most of our concerns lie for the Buffaloes. We're still unsure who will fill in those last two scoring spots and how well they will do in those positions.
The hosts, Notre Dame, will be looking to take down major teams this weekend on their home course. The Fighting Irish have won both meets they have competed in this season with low point totals, albeit against some relatively easy competition.
Notre Dame is led by Danny Kilrea and Yared Nuguse. Kilrea was an All-American in cross country last fall as a true freshman and Nuguse recently won the 1500 meter national title this past spring. These two men should both be in the All-American conversation later this year, but more importantly, they give their team a solid 1-2 punch.
2017 Foot Locker Champion Dylan Jacobs has already made his cross country debut for the Irish and did so with a win at the National Catholic Invitational. Jacobs should be a top runner for his team this year after redshirting the fall of 2018. The Irish also landed one of the best recruiting classes in the country. Between their star freshmen and established scorers who are expected to improve, this is a team that could make some serious noise in 2019.
Wisconsin has not yet run their full top seven, but that will likely change this Friday. Oliver Hoare and Olin Hacker are expected to be on the starting line tomorrow and will be the men to watch up front. Wisconsin will need to make up for the loss of Morgan McDonald, but there are a lot of really solid pieces who will be supported by an exciting grew of newcomers. McDonald may be gone, but there is still a lot to like about this team.
Colorado State will be looking for a top five finish this weekend after losing a heavy number of top scorers from last year. They have respectable depth, but their firepower is a legitimate question mark. Historically, this is a very strong program, so it would be surprising to see if they weren't somewhat competitive at this meet.
BIG 10 rivals Michigan, Indiana, and Purdue will need superb performances from their entire top five if they want to beat out top teams like Colorado, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame, but they are theoretically good enough to do just that.
Michigan has not raced most of their top runners this season, but that's not to say that they won't this weekend. The Wolverines will likely be leaning on John Aho and Devin Myrer this in order to give them some scoring stability up front. This team has too much depth to not be competitive, but they need to find some firepower if they really want to make an impact.
On the other hand, Indiana has plenty of firepower. Kyle Mau and Ben Veatch are two clear-cut low-sticks, but just like the Commodore Classic where they lost to MTSU, their level of success will depend on how well their 3-4-5 runners perform.
Then we have Purdue who is coming off of a very strong race from the John McNichols Invite where they finished 4th overall in the team standings. Jaret Carpenter is a legitimate low-stick, but it looks like he now has two other front-runners close behind him in Brody Smith and Curt Eckstein. With Tyler Bowling looking like a reliable #4 scorer, there is a ton of exciting upside for this group. They'll need to put together a complete top five to take down some of the top teams, but they are talented enough to do so.
I would say that Wyoming could be a surprise team, but after stunning the country by qualifying for NCAA's in 2018, there aren't many people who will be overlooking the Cowboys this fall. Paul Roberts is one of the best distance runners in the country and will be supported by underrated scorers Christopher Henry and Henry Ewing who are remarkably consistent. Wyoming has a top three that could keep them in contention for an excellent finish, but on paper they lack depth. The performances that we see from their bottom two scorers will dictate how high (or low) Wyoming's ceiling is.
One team that could shatter expectations is Ole Miss. The Joe Piane Invite is held on a flat, fast course and it favors track-oriented and mile-focused runners. Just think back to 2016 when Ole Miss runner Sean Tobin took home the win in a major upset victory. With most of the current Rebels best suited for the middle-distances, this course may play into their favor.
Finally, we need to talk about Alabama. They have the best top two in the nation (when healthy) in Gilbert Kigen and Vincent Kiprop. We know that Alabama is loaded with firepower, but there is still a ton of uncertainty surrounding the rest of their top five. Can Noel Rotich translate his track performances to the grass? How good can Eliud Kipsang be? Are J.P. Brinyark or Elliot Gindi strong enough options at the #5 spot? Alabama has a ton to prove on Friday and we can't wait to get some answers.
A few other notable teams to keep an eye on include NC State, Gonzaga, Southern Utah, Georgetown, Florida State, and Eastern Kentucky.
The Individual Race
There are roughly seven men who could take home the crown this weekend at the Joe Piane Invitational which could make this one of the most exciting races of the year. Two team duos will work together while other men will look to make a statement of their own.
Alabama’s Gilbert Kigen and Vincent Kiprop are the two of the favorites this weekend. Kigen only raced once in 2018 during the cross country season after being sidelined with an injury, but he came back strong for the track seasons. At the NCAA Outdoor Championships this past spring, Kigen was runner-up in the 10,000 meters and will likely use that result as momentum for the fall.
Kigen will be joined up front by teammate Vincent Kiprop who redshirted the fall of 2018 before earning All-American honors during indoors. He was later injured for the outdoor season. If both Kigen and Kiprop are at full strength, the Crimson Tide will see low points on the score board at the end of the day.
Behind Alabama’s two, expect to find Colorado’s pair. Joe Klecker and John Dressel seem to always be near the front in every race they toe the line for. After a phenomenal indoor season, Klecker ran a PR of 13:35 at Bryan Clay before he was hit with the injury bug hit during outdoors. As long as he is at full strength, he can be in contention for the win.
As for Dressel, he has the potential to finish inside the top three this weekend, but he has to stick his nose into the race early on. Despite battling through injuries during the early portion of 2018, he still ended up finishing 9th at last year's national meet. Now, with a full year of training and racing under his belt, he could be a scary good talent who is capable of taking down the best of the best.
Let's transition to Eastern Kentucky’s James Sugira who had a stellar cross country season last fall and finished with All-American honors after finishing 14th (a result that actually underwhelmed compared to his regular season). Sugira did not compete during the outdoor track season, but he could easily contend with some of these elite names in this field if he has a good day.
Then we have Paul Roberts of Wyoming who arrived to the D1 scene last year and immediately took over as #1 option for the Cowboys. If he follows the same path as last year, big things could happen for not only Roberts, but for his team as well.
Wisconsin’s Oliver Hoare ran well on the grass last fall, earning All-American honors, and had a phenomenal indoor season when it came to earning new personal bests. Hoare is expected to be the leader for the Badgers this fall and that will likely motivate him to enter the tier of fitness. Racing against some of the nation’s best this weekend will be the first test for Hoare as the 2019 season gets underway.
Those are just seven runners who are expected to be near the front on Friday. There are countless more, but if I were to continue writing, you’d be reading this for hours.
Some other men you could find near the front of the race are...
- Kyle Mau (Indiana)
- Jack Aho (Michigan)
- Jaret Carpenter (Purdue)
- Ben Veatch (Indiana)
- Kasey Knevelbaard (Florida State)
- Waleed Suliman (Ole Miss)
- Carlos Villarreal (Arizona)
- James Mwaura (Gonzaga)
- Brody Smith (Purdue)
- Curt Eckstein (Purdue)
- Danny Kilrea (Notre Dame)
- Yared Nuguse (Notre Dame)
- Dylan Jacobs (Notre Dame)
- Nathan Mylenek (Iowa).