Men's Way Too Early XC Preview (Part Two)



Read up on Part One here


I want to kick-off Part Two by talking about the teams that lost a significant amount of firepower. Teams such as Colorado, Iowa State, Wisconsin, Portland and Stanford are all going to be missing numerous low-sticks and key scorers from last year. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that they won't be competitive.


In fact, I think you could argue that Colorado may still be in the podium conversation this year. Yes, the loss of Klecker and Dressel will hurt, but the trio of Kashon Harrison, Alec Hornecker and Eduardo Herrera could all finish as All-Americans later this fall. Plus, the team just brought in 8:42 steeplechaser Stephen Jones who finished 80th at the cross country national meet in 2019.


As for the latter half of this lineup, that part is still unclear, but the Buffaloes roster is loaded with young, untapped talent which could be pieced together to form a very competitive group.


Admittedly, the Harrison-Hornecker-Herrera trio will need to all run well on the same day if Colorado wants to be on the podium. Plus, there's no guarantee that some of the younger guys on the team will be able to match the same jumps in fitness that Hornecker and Harrison showed last year.


Of course, most of us have learned at this point that it's never a good idea to bet against Mark Wetmore and his coaching staff. If someone needs to step up, they probably will.


* * *


I want to talk about Stanford. I think it's easy to look at all of their departures from this offseason and be concerned about their upcoming cross country season. However, in the grand scheme of things, they really only lost one major name.


Alex Ostberg didn't have any cross country eligibility remaining and he joined UNC as a graduate transfer. Isaac Cortes was also a graduate transfer and a middle distance specialist who left for UC Riverside. Matt Rizzo -- while certainly a great long-term piece -- was more of a middle distance guy who wasn't going to have the same impact on the grass that he was on the track.


Of course, we can't pretend that the loss of Thomas Ratcliffe doesn't hurt. Steven Fahy graduating isn't going to help either. That said, I think it's important to look at this Stanford team and recognize that they still have a ton of talent.


Alek Parsons is a two-time All-American who can lead his team later this fall. Connor Lane is a 13:42 5k runner who made only one appearance last year in Stanford's top seven. Clayton Mendez and Callum Bolger both showed a ton of underrated promise as middle lineup scorers and each own strong personal bests on the track. DJ Principe is a veteran who has held his own on the national stage before (77th in 2018). Michael Vernau has a PR of 29:06 for 10,000 meters, but hasn't run cross country since 2018.


And of course, how could we forget about the endless list of young, superstar talents that this team has? The last few recruiting classes have given the Stanford men an elite group of underclassmen which could lead to multiple breakout seasons later this fall. Between Devin Hart, Liam Anderson, Charles Hicks, Evan Burke and Ryan Oosting -- as well as incoming recruits Cole Sprout, Thomas Boyden and Ky Robinson (an Australian with a 14:32 5k PR) -- this team will likely be a whole lot better than some people may realize.


It's still unclear what this top seven will look like, but that's why I'm so excited to see them race in a few months time.


* * *


In my mind, the Iowa State men, Portland men and Wisconsin men are all in the same boat this year. Each team had plenty success throughout the 2019 cross country season, but each team also loses a handful of top talents coming into this fall.


For the Iowa State Cyclones, losing veterans like Edwin Kurgat and Addison DeHaven is going to be difficult to rebound from, but there are still plenty of underrated men on this roster who could really make some noise. The trio of Chad Johnson, Milo Greder and Mitchell Day weren't entirely out of reach from All-American finishes last year (Johnson especially) and they all displayed plenty of consistency in each meet that they toed the line for.


Not only that, but Iowa State is also adding JUCO standouts Wesley Banguira and Nehemia Too to their roster this year. Banguira ran 7:51 (3k) and 13:43 (5k) this past indoor season while Too has run 8:12 (3k) and won three NJCAA titles during the spring of 2019 (1500, 5k, 10k).


Bringing in a pair of potential low-sticks like Banguira and Too won't entirely make up for the loss of Edwin Kurgat and others, but it will certainly make the transition into this season a lot easier.


The conversation is somewhat similar for Wisconsin. The Badgers will be losing two key veterans in Oliver Hoare and Ben Eidenschink, but still have a nice core of returners that should keep them competitive.


Leading the men from Madison, Wisconsin this year will be Olin Hacker. He'll be a valuable low-stick that Wisconsin can rally around later this season after he finished 7th at BIG 10's last fall and ran a new PR of 7:52 for 3000 meters this past indoor season.


Other names such as Jackson Sharp and Shuaib Aljabaly showed us that they can contribute as impact scorers for their team while veteran Seth Hirsch displayed plenty of encouraging progress last fall and this past winter. It also helps that the Wisconsin men will be adding two outstanding high school distance runners -- Caleb Brown and Evan Bishop -- to their roster later this year.


And then there is Portland. The loss of Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse, Caleb Webb and Michael Teran-Solano is certainly going to force the Pilots to take one step back this year. However, this is a team that has experienced roster casualties before and come back just as strong.


Evert Silva looks like he can be a true low-stick for his team this year while Riley Osen and Reuben Kiprono seem like reliable supporting scorers. Not only that, but the addition of Jacob Klemz (a transfer from Washburn and multi-time D2 All-American) and Zak Kirik (all-region in cross country last fall), should give the Portland men a complete (and quietly competitive) top five. It also doesn't hurt that Matt Strangio -- an 8:47 3200 meter runner and 4th place finisher at NXN -- will also be joining the team.


I don't necessarily expect Iowa State, Wisconsin or Portland to be at the same level that they were last year, but to think that they won't be competitive in the fall of 2020 would be a mistake. You could also say the same thing about teams like Indiana and Villanova.


* * *


The Ole Miss men. Let's chat about them for a moment. Everyone is naturally going to be talking about Arkansas when it comes to SEC cross country this year, but the Rebels have a very respectable squad of their own. In fact, they return six of their top seven from last year's varsity lineup (according to TFRRS).


A lot of people may see Waleed Suliman as a middle distance specialist on the track, but he's had just as much success on the grass. The two-time XC All-American will once again lead the Mississippi men this fall, but he will now be without fellow low-stick Farah Abdulkarim who has finished his cross country eligibility.


Still, the rest of this team was relatively young in 2019 and they should all benefit from an extra year of experience, especially rising sophomore Cole Bullock who finished 9th at SEC's last fall.

There are also a few other pieces on this Ole Miss roster who could play a role within their team's top seven later this year. Guys like Nick Moulai and Dalton Hengst are two underrated talents who could emerge as a key names to watch come October and November.


Arkansas may be the team to beat, but Ole Miss should not be forgotten about.


* * *


How about Washington? What are we supposed to think about this team? They were supposed to be favorites to make it onto the podium last fall, but they struggled a bit and never really found their groove.


Now, with both Andrew Jordan and Jack Rowe out of cross country eligibility, the team will turn to a group of exciting young talents to fill the gaps in their lineup.


Maybe this is the optimist in me, but I have a feeling that Washington will be better than they were last year, even after losing two key scorers. Both Talon Hull and Tibebu Proctor didn't seem to be at 100% last year, especially when you compare their performances in 2018 to 2019.


Now that they've had a year to reset and rebound, I would imagine that both Hull and Proctor will be able to replicate the fitness that we saw from them two years ago.


As for the rest of this lineup, it will be interesting to see who fills what gaps. It's hard to imagine a scenario where guys like Luke Houser, Sam Affolder and Joe Waskom don't make an appearance this season. Incoming recruits Leo Daschbach and Cruz Culpepper could also find a spot within Washington's top seven.


There is so much uncertainty with this team, mainly because a lot of their expected scorers for this fall haven't raced a ton at the collegiate level. But with uncertainty comes potential, and there may not be any team in the country with more potential than the Huskies.


* * *


I have the same question for Syracuse as I do for Washington. What should we expect from the Orange this year? Unlike Washington, the loss of numerous top scorers isn't really an issue for the team from upstate New York. And just like Washington, I see the Orange being notably better than they were last year.


Aidan Tooker should be back. JP Trojan has a 13:48 5k PR and is transferring into the program. Key names such as Nathan Henderson and Joe Dragon will be returning. Certain members of Syracuse's lineup will now have valuable experience under their belt.


Last year's team wasn't very consistent, but this group will be much older and wiser compared to their 2019 squad. With age comes experience, and with experience comes an understanding of what to expect when you toe the line.


I would expect the Syracuse men to be far more consistent this year and to see less variability in their results throughout the season. They won't be perfect, but the Orange will have a very good chance at defending their ACC title despite the firepower that Notre Dame may bring to the table.


* * *


Let's wrap things up by talking about the men of NC State. The women's team has understandably gained plenty of attention as of late thanks to their elite recruiting class and their recent addition of Hannah Steelman.


However, this year's men's team also looks promising. They'll return six of their top seven from the national meet, including All-American Ian Shanklin who proved that he could be a true low-stick for the Wolfpack throughout last fall.


Admittedly, the 2019 cross country season wasn't always ideal for the men of NC State. The high of their season was finishing 3rd in the loaded Joe Piane Invite, while the low of their season was finishing 26th at the National Championships.


In fairness to NC State, the lineup that they had at the beginning of the season looked very different compared to the lineup that they had at the end of the season. Injuries and unexpected absences -- specifically to #2 scorer JP Flavin -- put the Wolfpack in a tough position at times, but their ability to rally and qualify for the national meet was awfully impressive after a tough showing at the ACC Championships.


In the fall of 2020, things are looking up for the men from Raleigh, North Carolina. The Wolfpack will bring back a heavy portion of last year's lineup, they will be one of the most veteran and experienced teams in the country, and they will (hopefully) have everyone at 100% by the time October and November rolls around.


I also have to wonder what will happen to JP Flavin, the Dayton transfer who appeared in only one race last fall before an injury cut his season short. Will he appeal to the NCAA and be granted an additional season of eligibility? That's just speculation, but if that were to happen, then you can expect to see a very strong NC State squad later this year.