WHO WILL LEAD the NAIA?
The UBC Thunderbirds (U. of British Columbia)
This team has only one runner graduating from last year's 3rd place team at the NAIA national meet, but that one runner happens to be their 4th place finisher at that very same national meet. However, they do return their 5th place finisher, John Gay. He should be ready to lead this team throughout the 2017 season.
John Gay: 8:36 (3kSt.) / 24:18 (8k)
In addition to Gay placing 5th at the NAIA Cross Country Championships, he won the NAIA 3k steeple this past spring. Gay had a very impressive cross country season in 2016, but he dominated on the track by winning the Oxy Invite and the NAIA Championships by (approximately) four seconds. To sum it up, Gay has been on a different level than pretty much the whole NAIA and he has a good shot at taking the national title for himself. In fact, he could potentially lead his squad to a team title.
Kieran Lumb: 14:40 (5k) / NAIA's (XC) 26th place
Kieran Lumb made huge improvements from cross country to track. He was 26th at the NAIA XC Championships and had an inspiring performance at the NAIA Outdoor Championships where he ran himself to a 4th place, 14:56 5k finish. Lumb could be a huge help to this team as he attempts to once again earn All-American honors. Don't sleep on Lumb and what he brings to the table.
Christophe Taylor: 3:53 (1500) / NAIA O. Nationals 15th (1500m) / NAIA's (XC) 62nd place
Taylor is much more of a mid-distance guy, but last year was only his first collegiate cross country season. I believe that it takes time to transition from track to the grass, especially if your track season was centered around the 800. Taylor is a rising senior and started running the 1500m for the first time in college as a junior. As Taylor adds a bit more endurance training to his resume instead of just the 800, I expect to see some major strides in his performance.
Lukas Jarron: 1:49 (800) / 3:48 (1500) / NAIA O. Nationals 4th (800) / NAIA O. Nationals 3rd (1500m)
At first look, I was shocked by Jarron's track times. After looking at his resume, I began to realize the incredible depth that this UBC team has. With those quality track times, it is hard to believe that he won’t be able to contribute to this year’s cross country team.
Charlie Dannatt: 3:48 (1500) / 8:15 (3k)
These are great times by themselves, but what really makes the difference for Dannatt is that he is an incoming freshman! With a 1500 PR that is nearing sub 4 in the mile and a 3k that equates to an 8:48 3200m, these are some crazy fast times and definitely a guy to look for in some of the top-tier meet results. You could argue that Dannatt is one of the best ever to come from the province of British Columbia. Look for him to contend with the D1 freshmen this year.
Tyler Dozzi: B.C. High School XC Champion / 8:15 (3k) / 14:34 5k.
Dozzi is the other incoming freshman stud with some exceptional track times. He has already run 14:34 on the track in high school and has complimented that with a win at his Province XC championships. He is sure to do great things this upcoming season.
Southern Oregon University
The SOU team had a great 2016 season by winning the NAIA national meet by 26 points. They are only losing one runner from last year's very successful squad, but they may have a very tough time finding someone to fill the 5th man gap. This team does not have a superstar, but they are very close and can race together.
Connor Cushman: NAIA (XC) 16th / NAIA O. Nationals 6th (10k)
Cushman is a pure distance runner with a first team All-American finish in the 10k under his belt. He finished 16th at Nationals last year and is undoubtedly looking for a top 10 finish after having five seniors graduate from last year's top 15 at Nationals.
Noah Oberitter / Ray Schireman / Kevin Poteracke: They placed 37th, 44th, and 47th respectively. This is just another example of the loaded depth SOU brings to the NAIA year-in and year-out.
Caleb Diaz: Diaz will most likely act as SOU's 5th man in 2017. He finished 126th place at the NAIA XC Championships while also qualifying for Nationals on the track. Diaz is a good runner, but if SOU wants to be great and win another championship then they will need to close up the gap between their middle three scorers and Diaz.
College of Idaho
C. of I. was able to put together a 4th place finish at Nationals last year and, just like UBC, only lose one runner to graduation. They also have their stud runner Billy Godfrey returning after finishing 14th at Nationals as a sophomore last year.
Billy Godfrey: NAIA's (XC) 14th place / NAIA O. Nationals 3rd (3kSt.)
Godfrey had steady success from his freshman to sophomore years, but he only did cross country sophomore year in college. There's a lot of untapped potential with Godfrey and I think that he could have a breakthrough season after a pretty much stagnate sophomore year.
Alex Martin: HIGH SCHOOL- 4:01 (1500) / 8:31 (3k) / 15:13 (5k XC) COLLEGE- NAIA's (XC) 42nd place
Martin had a solid freshman year, but I believe that he has a lot more in the tank judging from his high school times. Look for Martin to make a big jump as he further adjusts to college training.
Andrew Sutton: Sutton is a veteran leader and has the ability to lead a solid pack-running squad. Last year, College of Idaho had three runners within three seconds of each other over 8k.
Josh Frey & Quinn Radbourne: Both men ran exactly 25:56.4 last year and are very competitive in both cross country and track. These are two of the three men who can run together and rely on each other throughout the season. Pack-running does give some teams a mental edge...
3 Teams to watch
Carroll has a low-stick with Chance Hyatt who placed 10th last year as a junior. Hyatt has one more year to go all-in at the National XC meet and I think he can shock some people with his great 8k strength as well as 1500m speed.
After Hyatt, the team is not super solid and falls off a bit. However, they do have Layne Ryerson who has been to the national meet before and qualified last year as an individual. He can bring some veteran leadership to this Carroll team.
1. Chance Hyatt: NAIA's (XC) 10th / NAIA O. Nationals 5th (1500)
2. Layne Ryerson: Despite being a marathon runner, Ryerson was a DNF at Nationals. Still, he has marathon strength that can be very useful during a long and grueling cross country season.
3. The next three runners could be a variety of combinations between multiple guys. Although that may be useful, a couple of them will have to step up if they want this Carroll team to qualify and go for a top 10 showing at Nationals.
Northwest Christian University
Why do I think that a team who didn’t qualify for Nationals last year could crack the top 10? My evidence can be found in their most recent meet, the Ashville Creek Invite. It may only be one race, but they excelled at that meet and finished as the top NAIA team. Over 6.4k (3.97 miles), here are the results of their top five guys...
1. Garrett Kraal: 18:57 / 14:48 5k pace (SR)
2. TJ Wright: 19:25 / 15:10 5k pace (SR)
3. Corban Phillips: 19:38 / 15:20 5k pace (FR)
4. Conner Covey: 19:57 / 15:35 5k pace (JR)
5. Jacob Truitt: 20:10 / 15:45 5k pace (FR)
This team has a solid top five, especially considering that two of them are freshmen. This race was only a 6.4k, but it is a good predictor for what this team could accomplish. Their top two runners have the ability to each be top 20 at the NAIA National Championship meet, a cushion that not many teams have.
Olivet Nazarene will return from last year’s 12th place finish. However, you have to consider that their top runner (Jeremy Brassard) had an off day. Luckily, Brassard will be returning as a junior with more experience and a goal to lead his team to the NAIA National Championship meet. Although Olivet Nazarene lost one senior last year from their top seven, they reload with Ty Banks who opened up the season as their #2 man.
1. Jeremy Brassard: Top runner from 2016-17
2. Ty Banks: HIGH SCHOOL- 4:21 (Mile) / 15:50 (5k XC)... Banks opened up the 2017-18 season as ON's #2 runner.
3. Ryan Larkin: NAIA's (XC) 51st / NAIA O. Nationals 4th (3kSt.) as a freshman... Redshirted sophomore outdoor track season.
4. Matt Meehan: NAIA's (XC) 98th (2016) / NAIA's (XC) 59th (2015)... Expect Meehan to come back after an off-year and be a major contributor.
5. Zach Hulliberger: Hulliberger has never broken 27 minutes in an 8k, but he ran 33:03 in the 10k last track season. That 10k PR pace would put him at a time of 26:26 for 8k, a clear jump in fitness. I expect Hulliberger to have a breakout season and really push this Olivet Nazarene team to a top 10 team finish.