Updated: Oct 4, 2018
With the first major weekend of competition now in the books, there is so much to discuss that it's nearly impossible to cover it all. However, the conversation always comes back to the guessing game of which teams will be able to qualify for Nationals (and which won't).
On Sunday, we released the first edition of our Kolas projections. The season is still young and those projections will undoubtedly change. However, we were able to get a better understanding of the position certain teams are in from a qualifying perspective. Below, we mentioned a few notable teams/groups who might be in jeopardy of staying home if thing don't go their way over the next few weeks...
Kolas projections are very fluid. We will probably see significant changes after Pre-Nats. This article is based on current projections and point logistics. They are subject to change.
Middle Tennessee State (Men)
The Blue Raiders entered the season with high expectations from many fans around the running community. They boasted two accomplished low-sticks (Choge and Chemadi) and added numerous recruits to their roster during the summer (Kipkorir, Hercules, Mosito). However, Choge and Chemdi have yet to race and the other recruits have been lack-luster to say the least. Hercules has struggled to adjust to collegiate competition while Kipkorir finished 221st against a very average field at the Louisville Classic.
We have yet to see what Thobile Mosito can do, and we are still waiting for Choge and Chemadi to debut. This team has talent, but they are far more vulnerable than we expected.
I'm confused as to why to this team didn't run their best lineup at the Commodore Classic. If this team is as good as people think they are, they should have contended with Eastern Kentucky for the win. At the very least, they would have defeated an Illinois team who didn't race their top three runners (which is still technically an A squad).
Shouldn't Middle Tennessee be fighting for any (possible) Kolas points they can get? Wasn't the Commodore Classic a potential opportunity to help their chances of qualifying nationally? Do they believe that they can secure a top two spot in the South region which is also home to Alabama and Ole Miss?
To make matters even more complicated, Middle Tennessee State is entered to run at Pre-Nationals. Instead, they will be racing at the Crimson Classic where they will have to beat the men from Alabama if they want to earn a single Kolas point. A weak conference also offers essentially zero chances to better their national qualifying situation.
With limited opportunities to score points, the Blue Raiders may be in jeopardy of not qualifying for the national meet in 2018.
West Region (Women)
Each and every year, the teams that come out of the West region are often some of the best in the NCAA. It isn't a surprise to see both the men and women produce five or six qualifiers (each) in the same year.
However, 2018 could be a time where multiple teams are blocked from qualifying. Although we expect programs like Washington and Oregon to have big performances at Pre-Nats and PAC 12's, it's possible that other squads got enough of a jump start on their Kolas point accumulation at the Nuttycombe Invite.
If some of these teams have a bad race at the West Regional Championships, they could fall out of qualifying when we begin to measure the teams who have the most Kolas points. An early-selection push scenario (where the 4th place team pushes in the 3rd place team) could block other programs from a qualifying spot despite having a huge amount of points (i.e. Oregon State).
With some teams delaying the start of their season until Pre-Nats, and only a handful of meets responsible for the distribution of Kolas points, some of the best teams in the West region could be left out of the Big Dance if they aren't careful.
Princeton (Men)The Princeton men stunned everyone when they decided to enter the "B" race at Nuttycombe and use it as a workout. Their motive behind this decision is still unclear, but at face value, it doesn't make much sense. Does Coach Vigilante feel confident that his team will finish in the top two of their region? They aren't scheduled to run at Pre-Nats and there doesn't appear to be any teams who could give the Tigers any Kolas points at the Ivy League Championships.
If Princeton falls out of the top two in the Mid-Atlantic region, the teams finishing behind them would likely be Penn and Navy. As of right now, we don't expect those programs to earn any Kolas points. The only way Princeton would be able finish 3rd in the Mid-Atlantic region AND qualify for Nationals is if Georgetown or Villanova finished 4th and pushed the Tigers into qualifying. That, however, is extremely unlikely. If Princeton isn't in the top two, Georgetown and Villanova will be.
Right now, we have the Lady Friars finishing 4th in their region and taking the 10th At-Large qualifying spot in our projections. That may hold for now, but finishing that far behind in your region with so few points is usually a recipe for an early end to your season.
So far this season, Providence placed11th at Beantown and 20th at Nuttycombe. As of right now, they are projected to have only one (potential) Kolas point. Not only that, but the teams they did beat will probably not yield any points.
With Pre-Nationals not on their schedule, the BIG East Championships may be their only opportunity left to earn a few more crucial points. That, however, will be difficult to accomplish. Villanova is at another level right now after their 4th place finish at Nuttycombe while Georgetown does not (currently) look like a team that will qualify for Nationals. There is still potential for Providence to qualify if they get pushed in, but that is not a scenario you want to rely on.
Southeast Region (Men)
Prior to this weekend, we made the bold claim that at least six teams could qualify for Nationals out of the Southeast region. After the results came in, we realized we may have been a bit too aggressive with that prediction. Aside from Eastern Kentucky and the groups who raced at Beantown, most of the Southeastern teams didn't look great. Furman struggled at Joe Piane, falling to teams such as Wyoming and Notre Dame. NC State had a somewhat respectable 16th place finish at Nuttycombe, but Charlotte failed to meet expectations. In Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech couldn't catch Utah State at Paul Short, losing by three points.
Simply put, the teams who we thought would make up a heavy portion of our national qualifying field are now vulnerable when it comes to Kolas points. However, Eastern Kentucky and Virginia look like relatively safe picks to become automatic qualifiers.
As for NC State, they may be in a great position as well. Currently, we are projecting them to have three Kolas points, but that number could be as high as five if our projections hold. We're not even considering Pre-Nats which is in two weeks.
Even if NC State were to finish 4th in their region, they could easily push in another team who has little to no Kolas points (much like last year when NC State pushed in Virginia). If NC State were to finish 3rd, other teams will need to have earned multiple points at Pre-Nats to stay in the national qualifying conversation. Based on what we saw this past weekend, there won't be any teams with enough Kolas points to push each other in (but that could easily change).
It's an intricate system, but in simpler terms: Either get pushed in by NC State, or hope that you and the teams ahead of you have enough Kolas points.
Notre Dame (Women)
The Fighting Irish women did not have a great start to their season after finishing 4th at their Joe Piane home meet (only one point behind 3rd place Florida State). The good news is that that they have the potential to improve. Allie Heffernan dropped out of their race this past weekend, hurting Notre Dame's team score by a notable margin.
However, the problem with Notre Dame is more with their competition than themselves. A lack of crucial Kolas points this weekend is emphasized even further when you consider how good other teams in the Great Lakes region are. Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Indiana all finished in the top 10 at Nuttycombe while Michigan is still ranked among the top 10 nationally (TSR #7) after their win at Louisville. The Irish are a talented team with a lot of potential, but it would be a bit surprising to see them finish ahead of these teams at regionals given what we've seen so far.
If Notre Dame wants to qualify for Nationals, it won't be from an automatic qualifier and it probably won't be from one of those top four teams pushing them in. If they qualify, it will most likely be from Kolas points they earned at Pre-Nats OR being pushed-in by the 6th place regional team (which we project to be Purdue).