As a preface, I will withhold all thoughts on the South Dakota State men due to my affiliation as a member of the team. This is not to say that I would or would not have included them in any predictions as a team or individually.
With how the Kolas points have been divided up throughout the season, the Midwest region will come down to only two teams moving through to NCAA's. Both Iowa State and Oklahoma State look untouchable while neither Bradley, Tulsa, nor Iowa have the potential to get an at-large bid. Unless someone manages to put together the perfect race and beat ISU or OSU, the team qualifiers are all but locked in for the region.
Iowa State are the defending champs and they have only gotten better since last fall. The transfer of Edwin Kurgat added another low-stick to go alongside Andrew Jordan and Dan Curts this year. Kurgat was 21st at NCAA's last fall while competing for Tennessee-Martin before transferring to Iowa State between semesters. This year, he has been their number one all fall and had an incredible performance where he narrowly finished runner-up to Morgan McDonald at Nuttycombe. After taking the individual win at BIG 12's, Kurgat will be the favorite going into regionals, but should have plenty of teammates close behind.
Behind Kurgat is the group of Festus Lagat, Andrew Jordan, and Dan Curts, all of whom should not be too far behind. Jordan and Curts were both top five in the region last fall and recently finished 5th and 6th at BIG 12's. Lagat has not raced since Nuttycombe when he was 23rd, but assuming he returns, the Cyclones could easily put four runners in the top 10.
Milo Greder should round out their scoring five and given he was 24th last fall, it is hard to see him not bettering that this season. With how talented Iowa State’s top four are, unless Greder really blows up, this is the Cyclones race to lose.
After losing multiple runners to transfers and graduation, Oklahoma State came into the season looking like they might not be headed back to NCAA's this season. Skip ahead to November and that doubt is long gone.
Last winter, the team gained Iowa Central transfer Ashenafi Hatte, who quickly took over the role as the number one Cowboy. Hatte was 13th at Nuttycombe and won the Arturo Barrios Invitational earlier this fall. He has shown his ability to hang with the best in the NCAA and could be looking for his first All-American accolades if he can replicate his Nuttycombe performance.
Another new Cowboy has been right alongside Hatte this fall, giving OSU a great 1-2 duo. Redshirt freshman Isai Rodriguez was absent from the Nuttycombe lineup, but finished right with Hatte at both Arturo Barrios and BIG 12's. The pair edged out Jordan and Curts at the conference meet and will need a similar performance on Friday if OSU hopes to come away with a win.
Behind the top two, the Cowboys are a little uncertain as to who will round out the scoring. Senior Luis Martinez started the year with a rough showing at Nuttycombe, but is coming off a 4th place finish at BIG 12's where he finished right behind Hatte. Jorge Perez and Alec Haines were their final two scorers at their conference meet, but sophomore Ryan Smeeton could find himself as a scorer if someone has a bad day.
The Cowboys biggest concern is their separation at the backend of their lineup. At BIG 12's, Oklahoma State outscored Iowa State through three runners, but gave back 11 points from their four and five runners to eventually lose by eight points. While this gap is not enough for another team in the region to catch them, it does drastically lower their chances of taking the team win.
The rest of the field is essentially competing for 3rd place on Friday. Tulsa comes into the meet ranked #3, but after losing their top three from last fall, they seem to be in a rebuilding year. The team won the American Athletic Conference with relative ease. but the meet lacked any competition to truly test Tulsa. In their only meeting with ranked opponents, Tulsa wound up 21st at Nuttycombe with their top runner finishing 69th.
Coming into regionals, Tulsa looks to have the third position locked if they run similar to how they have this fall. That said, the team has a history of showing up big at the regional meet and surely will be looking to sneak by Oklahoma State if any Cowboys slip up. That said, with how strong OSU’s front three are, it would take a near miracle for Tulsa to upset.
The third position is much more open than the top two and Bradley will be looking to show out on their home course. After losing some of their top runners from 2017 to graduation, it appeared Bradley could have a tough year. However, the return of some key runners off redshirt seasons has put the Braves in a much better position than last fall and the team should challenge Tulsa for 3rd.
The return of Michael Ward, William Anderson, and Luke Hoffert have been huge for Bradley this fall. All three have consistently scored for the team alongside key scorers Jake Hoffert and Haren Dunderdale. Ward has provided a strong presence up front, finishing runner-up at the Missouri Valley Conference championships a few weeks back. Both Jake Hoffert and Dunderdale have kept Ward close, finishing only a few spots off one another in their recent competitions.
This team is coming off of a win at the MVC championships and has the potential to run with Tulsa on the right day. Earlier this season, the team blew up at Nuttycombe, falling all the way back to 30th and barely placing a runner in the top 100. Bradley should come in with added confidence from running on their home course and should contend for 3rd if they run a smart race.
Iowa is coming off of a surprising 6th place finish at BIG 10's and could be in the mix with Tulsa and Bradley. The team finished 11th here in 2017, but return all seven runners and appear to have improved substantially since then.
Nathan Mylenek had an impressive run at BIG 10's to finish 11th and has been the top Hawkeye all season. Iowa’s two through five runners all finished close together at the conference meet, finishing between 32nd and 39th. While Mylenek will likely run near the front in hopes of getting an individual qualifier, the pack behind him will be the key to the Hawkeyes team finish. This group of four will need to run well and focus on beating the groups from Bradley and Tulsa who should be in the mix around them.
None of these three teams have substantial low-sticks, meaning the team race will come down to these larger packs. Iowa has been on the rise this season and if they can continue that trend into regionals, they will have a chance to challenge Tulsa and Bradley.
The Midwest region is pretty open this year on the team side and there are a number of other teams who could finish anywhere from 3rd to 10th. Minnesota has had some strong showings, finishing 2nd at Roy Griak and were just behind Iowa at BIG 10's. Kansas recently finished a close 4th at BIG 12's, only nine points out of 3rd. They should be in the mix as well.
The individual race is Edwin Kurgat’s to lose. His runner-up finish at Nuttycombe and dominant win at BIG 12's indicate that he should win on Friday. In addition to those finishes, he is also the top returner in the region from NCAA's. Given he has already beaten the majority of his top competition at previous meets this fall, Kurgat should come into this race ready to take the title.
The race for 2nd should be a barn-burner as there are a number of guys who could finish runner-up. Both Isai Rodriguez and Ashenafi Hatte of Oklahoma State recently finished close behind Kurgat at BIG 12's and will be looking for a similar performance on a fast course in Peoria. The Iowa State duo of Andrew Jordan and Dan Curts will surely be right there as well after finishing 3rd and 4th at this meet a year ago and narrowly losing to Hatte and Rodriguez and BIG 12's. Iowa State’s Festus Lagat could also be in the mix after not racing since Nuttycombe where he finished 23rd.
One name to keep an eye on is true freshman George Kusche of Nebraska. He had a solid run at Pre-Nats to finish 24th, but his biggest performance this fall came at BIG 10's where he was 3rd behind the Wisconsin duo of Morgan McDonald and Oliver Hoare. At that meet, Kusche had a gutsy performance, challenging the Wisconsin duo throughout the race before eventually settling for bronze. He will enter this weekend looking for an auto-qualifying spot and should leave with a trip to NCAA's if he runs similar to BIG 10's.
Michael Ward of Bradley should also be in the mix for an individual qualifier. Ward qualified for NCAA's back in 2016 when he was 9th at this meet and he appears to be in better shape this fall. However, his consistency is my only concern after he finished behind multiple teammates at the Bradley Classic before rebounding to a runner-up showing at the MVC Championships.
One name that has not been mentioned yet is Josh Maier of Southern Illinois. Maier took the win over Ward at the MVC Championships and also finished ahead of him at the Bradley Classic. He notably won the "B" race at Nuttycombe by a large margin of 20 seconds as Southern Illinois did not enter the "A" race. Maier was 23rd at this in 2017, but based on his performances this season, he should be looking to improve that finish on Friday.
Besides these men, there are a handful more who should be looking for qualifying spots. Jake Hoffert was 9th last fall and has been back-and-forth this season with Ward. Nathan Mylenek of Iowa is coming off a strong performance at BIG 10's, as is Alec Basten of Minnesota. Kyle Mattes of Illinois State is the top-returner (not on OSU or ISU) from last fall and finished just behind Ward at MVC's.
1. Iowa State Cyclones
2. Oklahoma State Cowboys
3. Bradley Braves
4. Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
5. Iowa Hawkeyes
1. Edwin Kurgat (Iowa State)
2. Isai Rodriguez (Oklahoma State)
3. Andrew Jordan (Iowa State)
4. Ashenafi Hatte (Oklahoma State)
5. George Kusche (Nebraska)
6. Dan Curts (Iowa State)
7. Festus Lagat (Iowa State)
8. Alec Basten (Minnesota)
9. Nathan Mylenek (Iowa)
10. Jake Hoffert (Bradley)