Updated: Jul 9, 2018
There are few teams in the NCAA capable of sustaining the level of success that Oklahoma State has had. Ever since Dave Smith's promotion to head coach in 2006, the Cowboys (and Cowgirls) have dominated the longer distances. Up until last fall, Oklahoma State had set a streak of nine consecutive BIG 12 conference titles to complement the three NCAA cross country titles which were won within four years (along with a runner-up finish). Over the past 10 to 15 years, they have easily been one of the best teams in the nation.
With that in mind, powerhouse programs aren't without their flaws.
Some would argue that the 2017 cross country season was the beginning of a decline for the Cowboys or "Pokes" as they are sometimes called. Last fall, Iowa State defeated Texas and Oklahoma State to secure the BIG 12 title for the first time since 1994, a date that isn't even in the online record books. Despite the loss, Oklahoma State would still go on to qualify for the national championships. Unfortunately, that weekend ended with a sub-par 29th place finish, the worst national championship performance in the Dave Smith era.
With the 2018 season now on the horizon, the men from Stillwater, Oklahoma may need to prepare for a three month span with even more obstacles and challenges. Except this time, they'll have to do it with depleted roster...
Over the past few months, Oklahoma State has had multiple men transfer out of their program. Eugene Grayson, Ben Butler, Dustan Davidson, and Christian Liddell have all turned in their Cowboy singlets to represent a new university this fall. Admittedly, Grayson and Davidson are mid-distance specialists so their impact during the cross country season is negligible at best.
However, the departure of Ben Butler gives Dave Smith one less building block to develop for the future. As for Christian Liddell, he was expected to be a top scorer for the 2018 cross country season. His exit from the program is a huge blow for a team that is also losing five seniors from last year's NCAA Championship lineup. With Liddell now out of the equation, rising sophomore Ryan Smeeton will emerge as the lone returner from that squad.
We would be kidding ourselves if we said that all four of these men leaving at the same time wasn't odd. For younger guys like Butler, Davidson, and Grayson it's very possible that Oklahoma State just didn't fit what they were looking for. However, for a guy like Christian Liddell, it's hard to wonder why he would suddenly leave the program with only one year of eligibility left. What caused him to go to Georgetown after investing so much time with Dave Smith? It's a fair question, but the answer will have to wait.
As if that wasn't enough, we have to start asking ourselves about Cerake Geberkidane. Whatever happened to him? Has his injury truly held him out of competition for this long? Or has he quit the team altogether? One of the best runners in the Midwest region has been missing in action for well over a year and the realization is now clear that he may not be returning.
Despite the concerns, the Cowboys will still have a handful of young talent to build around. Ryan Smeeton looks like a promising young scorer capable of becoming a true low-stick. Alec Haines showed flashes of potential as a freshman last year after making multiple appearances in Oklahoma State's starting lineup. Rising juniors like Sukhi Khosla and Nic Butts have BIG 12 Championship experience and could find themselves in a scoring role for the 2018 season. We haven't even seen Isai Rodriguez compete in a season of cross country yet. As a freshman, he ran 13:53 for 5000 meters, a clear indication that he can be the top scorer on this squad this upcoming fall.
In fact, having multiple transfers and a huge pool of seniors graduate at once may be a good thing for Oklahoma State's rebuilding hopes. In 2017, Alabama graduated two of their top runners in Antibahs Kosgei and Robbie Farnham-Rose. Their exit from the program most likely opened up scholarship opportunities for the duo of Vincent Kiprop and Gilbert Kigen.
With so many big-time names now gone and off scholarship, Dave Smith may have enough of a budget to recruit some of the best names outside of Division 1. Smith is clearly no stranger to recruiting outside of the high school scene after previously adding guys like Hassan Abdi, Mace Metcalf, and Sylvester Barus from the JUCO ranks.
So far, Smith has already been able to orchestrate two new additions. Isaiah Priddey is an 8:17 3000 meter runner from New Zealand and Jorge Perez is a 14:30 5000 meter runner from Central Arizona Community College. Is this all that we will see in terms of new assets for Oklahoma State? Or will Dave Smith make an effort to attain even more transfers? He may need to when you consider how strong conference rivals like Iowa State and Texas are going to be.
It's clear that Dave Smith is one of the best coaches of his time. His endless winning streaks, national championship appearances, conference dominance, and three national titles have helped the Cowboys reach the status of an elite program. Yet, as successful as this program has been, the true test of coaching greatness starts now. Can Dave Smith turn nothing into something? Can he collect the leftovers of his 2017 squad and turn them into a national qualifying team?
Grab your popcorn. The show is just getting started.