Updated: Jul 18, 2019
Two years have passed since the NCAA D1 XC Championships have been at the historic LaVern Gibson course in Terre Haute, Indiana. Since 2002, Indiana State has played host to 11 cross country championship meets for NCAA's.
Terre Haute is where the Northern Arizona men won their first national title which sparked an ongoing winning streak and the creation of today's current dynasty as we know it. In that same year (2016), the Oregon women won the team title in dramatic fashion by edging the Michigan Wolverines by one point.
The LaVern Gibson course may be one of the most highly respected stretches of grass loops in the country, much like Wimbledon is for tennis or Augusta National is for golf. The cross country course is where Indiana high school athletes toe the line for their state cross country meet and it's also where Nike Cross Country Regionals (Midwest) is hosted. Outside of the high school realm, Indiana State often holds their home meets on the course, while college teams often flock to Indiana for Pre-Nationals.
And of course, the NCAA championship meet is the highlight of what the course plays host to.
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LaVern Gibson is deemed difficult because of the long straightaways, hills, and sharp turns. Right from the beginning, athletes are forced into a quick start thanks to a 900 meter slight downhill start. Runners need to assert their position at the start, but also ensure that they do not get out too hard and waste energy because, at that point, the race isn't even close to being over.
After the first turn, athletes will maneuver up and down hills while running loops. Do not forget about the long, drawn-out 400 meter straightaway finish where an athlete must find that last gear to kick away from the competition. That final stretch was responsible for one of the more exciting individual finishes that we've seen in recent history after Missouri's Karissa Schweizer kicked past a battling duo of Erin Finn and Anna Rohrer to win the 2016 national title.
Yet, what may have been even more shocking was seeing Patrick Tiernan and Justyn Knight simply out-run Edward Cheserek at the 2016 national meet to pull off what may be one of the biggest upsets in collegiate history.
In other words, even the all-time greats and expected favorites can struggle to handle the challenges that this course throws at them.
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Geographically speaking, the course isn't always the most ideal location for competitors who hail from schools in warmer climates. After all, the midwest in November is not always the most pleasant to be. Reflect back on the 2018 NCAA XC Championships in Madison, Wisconsin where freezing cold temperatures and snow welcomed the runners during the morning of the race. Clearly, that favored individuals and teams in the Mountain and Great Lakes regions such as the Northern Arizona men, the Colorado men and women, Morgan McDonald, Dani Jones, and the Michigan women (who secured the last spot on the podium).
There have been plenty of years where mud, whipping winds, snow, and brutal temperatures have affected the outcome of the races in Indiana, so it's not entirely crazy to suggest that it could happen again.
The NCAA D1 XC Championships never disappoints fans and this year will be no different, especially with the developing storylines we are expected to have.
The NAU men will be seeking their fourth straight national title (and will have a good chance to repeat), but Geordie Beamish is the only one in their projected lineup who was on that 2016 title squad. Meanwhile, the Colorado women will look to defend their title with a completely revamped squad that is mixed with star transfers and established veterans.
On paper, those two teams should be perfectly suited for the grueling LaVern Gibson course. Still, this year seems wide-open when it comes to NCAA gold and if there is anywhere in the country that brings more uncertainty to a cross country race, it's Terre Haute, Indiana.