Predictions are of the writer's opinion and may not match our site's official Kolas projections
On paper, the women’s team race is substantially closer than the men’s. Two teams are currently ranked in our TSR XC Top 25, with Illinois at TSR #21 and Minnesota at TSR #24. Oklahoma State just missed the list, but have a compelling case after winning the BIG 12 Championships. The Pokes will also be motivated to run well on their home turf.
The women of Illinois are the highest-ranked team heading into Friday and have shown solid consistency throughout this fall. They most recently finished 6th at the BIG 10 Championships where they edged out Minnesota by only a single point. Illinois already faced off with Oklahoma State once this fall at Pre-Nationals, finishing 6th overall and 112 points ahead of the 11th place Cowgirls.
Junior Rebecca Craddock has been the top runner for Illinois this year and will likely lead the team come Friday. She has put together a string of solid performances, including a 33rd place finish at Pre-Nationals and an 18th place finish at BIG 10's. She was 38th at this meet a year ago, but should be on the bubble for a top 10 finish on Friday.
Behind Craddock, junior Allison McGrath and sophomore Madison Marasco have put together solid seasons of their own and have been a reliable 2-3 pairing for Illinois. Emma Milburn continues to run with Marasco and was able to place 11 spots ahead of Minnesota’s #4 runner at BIG 10's to swing the race in Illinois’ favor.
The x-factor for the Fighting Illini’ will be their #5 runner. That spot has belonged to three different athletes throughout the season and almost cost Illinois the team race against Minnesota. Emma Wilson was their #6 runner at the BIG 10 Championships, but had finished as the team’s #2 option at both the Buckeye Preview and John McNichols Invitational. Junior Nicki Cast was Illinois' final scorer at the BIG 10 meet, but was three spots behind Minnesota’s #5 runner.
Illinois will need a solid run from whomever their final scorer is on Friday if they want to safely secure an automatic bid to NCAA's.
As for the other ranked team, Minnesota is coming off of a narrow defeat to Illinois, but has plenty of reason to believe that they can upset the Illini’. The Gophers are led by sophomore Anastasia Korenowski who is coming off of a huge performance at BIG 10's where she finished 7th overall, only two weeks after finishing 79th at Nuttycombe.
Korzenowski has been solid throughout the season, but her run at BIG 10's was clearly a big step forward. Assuming she can replicate a similar performance this Friday, she has a very good chance to finish in the top 10 and give the Gophers a huge boost up front.
Abby Kohut-Jackson and Jaycie Thompson have been a solid 2-3 duo for the Gophers and that shouldn't change much heading into Friday. The pair has been very consistent this season and should be aiming for top 30 performances to give Minnesota a shot at winning the team race.
Last fall, the top two squads had their #2 and #3 runners both within the top 25 which should give the Gopher pair a benchmark for where they need to be on Friday.
Some order of Sarah Werking, Lindsey Greenlund, Carissa Dock, and Olivia Hummel should round out Minnesota’s top five tomorrow. That group has been somewhat interchangeable this season which could give the Gophers a bit of confidence, knowing that they have a handful of runners to rely on.
If the Gophers want to beat Illinois and Oklahoma State, they will need to win all of their head-to-head battles. At BIG 10's, Minnesota’s #2 and #3 runners each finished two places behind Illinois’ respective athletes. The Gophers lost substantial ground (11 places) at the #4 spot, but were able to make up for some of that scoring thanks to Korzenowski’s great run.
While Korzenowski is expected to run well on Friday, Minnesota can’t rely on her having as big of a gap on Craddock given the lack of depth up front at this meet. They will need the rest of their scorers to all step up if they hope to be headed to Terre Haute this year.
The wildcard of the group is the hometown favorite Oklahoma State. While they come into Friday unranked, they also just won the BIG 12 Championships and should have extra incentive to win at home.
OSU is led by the best 1-2 duo in the region with TSR #32 Taylor Somers and TSR #34 Molly Born leading the charge. Those two will undoubtedly lead Oklahoma State on Friday and should battle with Cailie Logue and Winny Koskei for the individual win. Both Somers and Born should essentially be locks for top four spots which will be huge for Oklahoma State.
Although the Pokes were dominated by Illinois, a lot has changed since then. At Pre-Nationals, Oklahoma State’s #3 runner was Kaytlyn Larson who finished 60 seconds behind Born. That gap was the difference of 85 places.
Since then, Larson has made big improvements by closing that gap to only 27 seconds at the BIG 12 Championships. Last year, finishing roughly 30 seconds behind the 4th place runner at this meet would put an individual around 12th place. If Larson can put together a similar performance on Friday, Oklahoma State has a good shot at putting three runners ahead of both Minnesota's and Illinois' #2 runner.
The big question for Oklahoma State will be how does freshman Taylor Roe perform in her first regional meet. Roe has had an up and down season in 2019, with strong runs at the Chile Pepper XC Festival and the BIG 12 Championships, while also dropping out at Pre-Nationals.
Gauging where Roe is at is a bit difficult given that both of the races she finished were not very deep fields, but she has churned out solid runs at both meets.
Ariane Ballner looks like a very reliable #5 runner for OSU after finishing close to Larson all season. Ballner was 28th at this meet in 2018 and a similar (or better) performance on Friday would likely put her ahead of the final scorers for Illinois and Minnesota. If Roe can put together a solid race and finish near Larson and Ballner, Oklahoma State has a very good chance to win this entire race.
Outside of these three teams, there are not many others who have a realistic shot at qualifying for NCAA's this year. If anyone could make a surprise run, Tulsa would have the best chance after dominating their conference meet.
Tulsa has run well enough this fall to put themselves on the national qualifying bubble - finishing only 32 points back of Minnesota at Nuttycombe and 14 points behind Oklahoma State at the Chile Pepper XC Festival.
Junior Caitlin Klopfer is the best runner on the team and has a chance to qualify individually (if the team does not) after finishing 13th in 2018. Only one of their seven runners graduated from last year and while the team has not put up any huge results, they have been quietly hanging around in every meet that they have toed the line for.
In many other years, Tulsa would have better odds of making NCAA's based on Kolas points, but based on the way our projections have played out, the only way for the Golden Hurricanes to get to Terre Haute will be via a top two finish.
If you look at our predictions, you'll see that we have Oklahoma State and Illinois finishing as the top two teams in the region with Minnesota placing 3rd. If that order turns out to be true, then all three of these teams will be going to Nationals. That leads us into our potential individual qualifiers...
With Somers and Born out of the conversation, two spots are largely up for grabs on Friday. Iowa State's Cailie Logue and Wichita State's Winny Koskei should essentially be locked in for the first two automatic spots to Nationals as they are the top-ranked individuals and have looked solid all season. The other two spots are nowhere near as clear and could be taken by any number of runners.
Kelby Anderson of North Dakota State University might be the dark horse in this field. Although North Dakota State is not a distance powerhouse, they have produced a few respectable talents over recent years including Maddie Van Beek and Olympian Erin Teschuk.
Anderson appears to be the heir to the throne and has been lighting it up this fall. She is coming off of a win at the Summit League Championships where she ran wire-to-wire and went uncontested for the whole six kilometer race. On top of that, she was only seconds behind the redshirting Hasz twins of Minnesota at Griak, where she finished over 30 seconds ahead of Korzenowski. After finishing 9th at this meet a year ago, Anderson looks poised to make NCAA's for the first time in her collegiate career.
While Anderson may be the dark horse, Ashley Tutt of Northern Illinois University could also hold that title. The NIU junior was 14th at this meet a year ago and has looked phenomenal this fall. She has won three of her four races and was 17th in a strong Pre-Nationals field. With little to race for on the team side, Tutt should bring a “go big or go home” mentality to this race.
Caitlin Kopfer (Tulsa) and Rebekah Topham (Wichita State) are also having strong seasons and should be in the mix on Friday. Both were top 20 finishers at this meet in 2018 and appear to be even better this season.
1. Oklahoma State - Team Automatic
2. Illinois - Team Automatic
3. Minnesota - Team At-Large
6. Iowa State
7. Wichita State
8. Northern Illinois
1. Taylor Somers (OK State)
2. Cailie Logue (Iowa State) - Individual Qualifier
3. Molly Born (OK State)
4. Winny Koskei (Wichita State) - Individual Qualifier
5. Kelby Anderson (North Dakota State) - Individual Qualifier
6. Ashley Tutt (Northern Illinois) - Individual Qualifier
7. Anna Korzenowski (Minnesota)
8. Caitlin Klopfer (Tulsa)
9. Rebecca Craddock (Illinois)
10. Kaytlyn Larson (OK State)
On the men’s side, the race should be much more clear-cut for which teams are headed to Terre Haute. Iowa State comes in ranked at TSR #5 in our TSR XC Top 25 rankings with Tulsa not far behind at TSR #9. Both programs dominated their respective conference meets and should be headed into Friday ready to roll again.
A large part of the Cyclones success this fall can be attributed to TSR #1 Edwin Kurgat. The senior has not yet lost a race this season and that streak does not look it will end on Friday. He has taken down quality fields at both John McNichols and Nuttycombe, as well as holding off TSR #14 Isai Rodriguez at the BIG 12 Championships. Kurgat is the undisputed favorite to win the Midwest region and shouldn’t be too troubled by the competition.
Coming in behind Kurgat at every meet this season has been redshirt senior Addison Dehaven. The former Boise State runner has had strong showings this season, placing 11th at John McNichols and 33rd at Nuttycombe. While he was only 6th at BIG 12's, he only lost ground over the final kilometer and tends to favor the 10k distance.
At face value, his 33rd place finish from Nuttycombe does not appear to be that strong. However, keep in mind that in the past two seasons, he was 37th (2018) and 110th (2017) at that meet. In both of those years, he went on to earn All-American honors with 28th and 31st place runs.
Dehaven should be in the mix up-front, but he only needs to run well enough to move Iowa State through, so don’t expect some heroic performance from a team that has their eyes set on the national meet.
After their top two, the Cyclones have a ridiculous amount of depth. At BIG 12's, the group of Chad Johnson, Milo Greder, David Too and Mitchell Day finished 8-9-10-11, separated by only seven seconds.
The other program likely to earn an automatic qualifier is TSR #9 Tulsa. The Hurricanes have blown away expectations this season after a huge 3rd place finish at Nuttycombe where they beat regional rival Iowa State by a mere five points. Tulsa relies heavily on a strong pack to run well, keeping a spread of less than 20 seconds at Nuttycombe.
Outside of Nuttycombe, Tulsa has yet to race much competition. They essentially tempoed their conference meet, placing 2-3-4-5-6 and scoring only 20 points for an easy victory. All five men finished within a second of one another in that race.
With little high-caliber racing on the schedule, the only knock on Tulsa would be assuming that their one big run at Nuttycombe is how all of their races will go. Although they have looked solid in their other races, Nuttycombe was the only real test they have had in 2019 which could leave a few people skeptical heading into Friday.
That said, it’s hard to bet against a team who has beaten Wisconsin, UCLA, and Iowa State this season. Peter Lynch has looked like a solid low-stick and the group of Scott Beattie, Patrick Dever, Isaac Akers, and Cameron Field have filled out a strong front five. Friday will be a good chance for the Hurricanes to prove that Nuttycombe was no fluke and that they mean business heading into NCAA's.
Similar to the women’s race, the men’s race also has a wildcard and it happens to be the same team - Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are coming off of a runner-up finish to Iowa State at the BIG 12 Championships and are led by 2018 NCAA 4th place finisher Isai Rodriguez.
The team also saw the season debut of Ryan Smeeton at BIG 12's where he opened up with a strong 3rd place run behind Kurgat and Rodriguez, putting himself into the All-American conversation. Bryce Quigley and Alex Maier are seemingly making improvements at the right time in the season, finishing 14th and 20th at their conference meet.
The biggest uncertainty for Oklahoma State is the status of Ashenafi Hatte. Last fall, Hatte was a major player for the Cowboys, finishing 27th at NCAA's and earning his first D1 All-American honors since transferring from NJCAA powerhouse Iowa Central.
But this year has been a different story.
Hatte has now dropped out of two of the three races that he has started this season (Pre-Nationals and BIG 12's) and will now have to run two more kilometers if he hopes to finish the race on Friday.
For Oklahoma State to move on, the only real option is to finish in the top two. Neither Iowa State or Tulsa look particularly vulnerable and unless Hatte comes back strong (or Quigley, Haines, and Maier all have huge runs), the chances for Oklahoma State qualifying for Nationals don’t look great.
Like the women, the men should benefit from “home course advantage”, but it likely will not be enough to boost them into 2nd, given how strong the other squads have looked this season.
The remaining teams in the field will be racing for 4th. While there are certainly plenty of solid Midwest programs, the top three have separated themselves this season and shouldn’t face much of a challenge from the others. Of the teams in that next group, Bradley has a very strong case to finish 4th.
After a disappointing run at Nuttycombe, Bradley bounced back in a big way at the Missouri Valley Conference meet and won the team title with only 17 points. Led by Jake and Luke Hoffert, Bradley should bring plenty of confidence into this race. After all, they have historically done very well at the regional championships.
Like the women, the team predictions need to be established before individuals can be determined. Iowa State is a lock for the top spot and will win the meet. While their lack of depth after their five concerns me, Tulsa has looked solid this season and should take the second automatic qualifier, leaving Oklahoma State on the outside looking in.
Since the Cowboys will not be heading to NCAA's as a team, both Isai Rodriguez and Ryan Smeeton will take two of the four individual spots. Rodriguez is currently ranked as TSR #14 and was 4th at NCAA's last fall. He has looked very solid all season and should put pressure on Kurgat for the individual title on Friday.
Smeeton has only raced once, but appears to be right on track for an individual qualification. His 3rd place finish at the BIG 12 Championships was a great way to open his season and given that the two men ahead of him are also two of the NCAA's best, he looks like a lock to move through to Terre Haute.
George Kusche is ranked at TSR #17 this season and is coming off of a huge runner-up finish to Oliver Hoare at BIG 10's. The Nebraska sophomore hasn’t finished outside of the top five in a meet this season and was 4th at this meet a year ago. Barring disaster, Kusche should join Smeeton and Rodriguez and easily move on.
With one spot left, there are a handful of men who could earn a trip to NCAA's.
Nathan Mylenek of Iowa was 3rd at this meet a year ago and recently finished 10th at BIG 10's.
Jake Hoffert of Bradley is another runner who has previously qualified out of this region and after redshirting 2018, should be a man on a mission in his final season. Brother and teammate Luke Hoffert was 12th last year and has also looked solid this season.
Alec Basten of Minnesota had a very strong run at the BIG 10 Championships and will be another name to watch at this meet.
*Due to potential bias, Garrett made the following predictions for the men's race*
1. Iowa State - Team Automatic
2. Tulsa - Team Automatic
3. Oklahoma State
6. South Dakota State
1. Edwin Kurgat (Iowa State)
2. Isai Rodriguez (OK State) - Individual Qualifier
3. George Kusche (Nebraska) - Individual Qualifier
4. Ryan Smeeton (OK State) - Individual Qualifier
5. Addison Dehaven (Iowa State)
6. Alec Basten (Minnesota) - Individual Qualifier
7. Peter Lynch (Tulsa)
8. Milo Greder (Iowa State)
9. Jake Hoffert (Bradley)
10. Nathan Mylenek (Iowa)