Welcome back ladies and gentlemen! As promised, our contributors have provided their official predictions of the D1 NCAA Championships which are set to take place on Saturday. With such busy schedules, only Ben and Sean were able to provide commentary on their picks.
If you haven't already, be sure to check out all of our Top 40 All-American picks for this weekend. In the meantime, be sure to read up below...
So here we are. Nationals has finally come.
Before I start. This was an incredibly painful exercise. There are so many talented runners and so few spots. I didn't enjoy choosing one guy over the other. With that said, let’s dive in and see what happens...
1. Grant Fisher (Stanford)
2. Morgan McDonald (Wisconsin)
3. Matthew Baxter (NAU)
4. Tyler Day (NAU)
Our pre-season favorites have all run well, so now it is time to split hairs. We will start with the Pre-Nats Cardinal champion, Grant Fisher. Fisher has looked good all year winning PAC 12's and then cruising during the West Regional Championships to finish in the top 20. After barely beating Baxter and Day at Pre-Nats, he deserves a little bit of an edge over them. What separates Fisher from the rest in my mind is his finishing ability. As long as he is there with the top guys with 100 meters to go (and why wouldn’t he?) I think he will have enough to push him across the line first.
Morgan McDonald, winner at Nuttycombe, will run again on his home course. The BIG 10 champion also relaxed at regionals which should leave him fresh and ready to go at Nationals. In my opinion, Fisher and McDonald are 1a and 1b going into Nationals. With McDonald’s accolades collegiately and internationally, he could be the most talented runner on the line. This, in addition to the home course advantage, will prove hard to beat and only someone’s best, maybe the best race of their life, will beat him.
The combo of Matthew Baxter and Tyler Day consistently put themselves in the right position during races. Look for Nationals to be no different. Day nearly beat Fisher at Pre-Nats this year and Baxter chased Justyn Knight to the line at Nationals last year. They are boringly consistent, but the big question is whether one of them can finally break through and give NAU an individual title to pair with their team title.
5. James Sugira (EKU)
6. Edwin Kurgat (Iowa State)
While not as well-known as the top group, James Sugira and Edwin Kurgat both have great chances at stealing the title. Sugira has looked great during his entire inaugural campaign, finishing in the top five at Nuttycombe and then winning every race after that. With Commonwealth games experience, Sugira should not be bothered by the pressure of the National Championship.
Kurgat, running his first season at Iowa State after being an All-American last year for Tennessee-Martin, has been dominant all year. He was the only one who challenged McDonald in the last 100 meters at Nuttycombe, and has gone on to win BIG 12’s and and the Midwest title. His combination of endurance and finishing kick should give him an opportunity to break into the top three or even win.
7. Nick Hauger (Portland)
8. Aaron Templeton (Furman)
9. Peter Seufer (Virginia Tech)
10. Joe Klecker (Colorado)
Nick Hauger is riding a hot streak into Nationals after winning the West Coast Conference race and the West regional. Other than the top four, no one have the quality wins that Hauger does.
Aaron Templeton’s 4th place finish in the Cardinal race at Pre-Nats put him squarely into the National picture. He followed that with a 3rd place finish at Southeast regional behind only Sugira and Seufer. Look for him to emulate his strategy at Pre-Nats where he moved through the pack and pounced at the finish.
The aforementioned Peter Seufer has finished 1st or 2nd in his last four races losing only to Sugira. If Seufer can continue to finish right behind Sugira, then he will guarantee himself a spot in the top 10.
My thoughts on Joe Klecker have been all over the place this year. After a 5th place finish at Pre-Nats, Klecker seemed to be on track for an All-American finish. Following a 5th place finish at PAC 12's, I wasn’t too sure how Klecker would do at Nationals, but after winning the Mountain region race I believe he can compete with the top group.
A Good Race Away from the Top 10
11. Amon Kemboi (Campbell)
12. Peter Lomong (NAU)
13. Connor Mantz (BYU)
14. Rory Linkletter (BYU)
15. Connor McMillan (BYU)
You have probably been wondering when we would get around to the BYU guys. Welp, here they are. The Cougars have packed up well all year, and I expect this to continue at Nationals. For BYU to compete with NAU, they will need their entire top five around this area. This might be unrealistic, but I certainly believe in these three who have consistently been in the top 10 at Pre-Nats, West Coast Conference, and the Mountain region.
As for Amon Kemboi, he has been solid all year with high finishes at Pre-Nats and the Southeast regional. An All-American last year, Kemboi is unafraid of mixing it up with the top pack.
Finally, last year’s biggest surprise (Peter Lomong) has proven that last year was no fluke with a flurry of good runs. After leading much of Nuttycombe, Lomong finished 7th and has been rock-solid for the rest of the year. He will likely run with Baxter and Day for a while, and how long he hangs on could determine his finish.
16. Aidan Tooker (Syracuse)
17. Lawrence Kipkoech (Campbell)
18. Luis Grijalva (NAU)
19. Alfred Chelanga (Alabama)
20. Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin)
Following a breakout track season, Aidan Tooker has been a star for Syracuse. He finished 2nd in the White race at Pre-Nats, but has finished 8th at ACC’s and 6th in the Northeast region (where he likely tempoed). If he comes back to his Pre-Nats form, then he could be looking at a top 10 finish. Even if he doesn't, Tooker should be solidly in the top 20.
Lawrence Kipkoech has run with teammate Kemboi all year and will definitely be running in the top pack for the majority of the race. Luis Grijalva has had a great breakout year after a very good freshman year, and his improvement has made it that much harder for anyone to beat NAU. A 5th place at Nuttycombe solidified Grijalva as an All-American challenger, and he has continued to be solid throughout the year.
Alfred Chelanga, on the other hand, is the last Kenyan standing at Alabama. Following last year’s 37th place finish at Nationals, Chelanga has raced sparingly, but a 10th place finish at Nuttycombe and a win against an underrated field at the South regional shows that he is in shape to pop off a big race this weekend. Like Kipkoech, Chelanga will get out quick and will be part of the front pack for a while.
Lastly, Oliver Hoare has been a consistent number two for Wisconsin all year and has been running alongside McDonald. A nice 15th place finish at Nuttycombe before a 2nd place finish at BIG 10's shows that he is in shape to finish near the top 20 at Nationals.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Not real sure where these guys will finish)
21. Talon Hull (Washington)
22. Andrew Jordan (Iowa State)
23. Alex Ostberg (Stanford)
24. Blaise Ferro (NAU)
25. Jaret Carpenter (Purdue)
Blaise Ferro, like Grijalva, has burst onto the scene this year to make NAU even better. IF Ferro continues running well and finishes in this range, then there is no chance for anyone else to upset the Lumberjacks.
The rest of this group is very interesting as all of these guys have the talent to be in the top 15 at Nationals. Just last year Andrew Jordan came in 15th at Nationals, but has not run to that caliber so far this year. That said, I would not be surprised to see him run well and coming close to where he finished last year.
Alex Ostberg has looked excellent in 2018, running close behind Grant Fisher. 8th at Pre-Nats and 3rd at PAC 12's bodes well for a high finish at Nationals. Talon Hull’s spot on this list is largely due to his impressive finish at PAC 12's where he chased Grant Fisher to the line to come in 2nd.
Lastly, Jaret Carpenter’s performance at Great Lake’s along with a consistent fall impressed me. He definitely has a shot a busting into the top 20.
26. Alek Parsons (Stanford)
27. Tanner Anderson (Washington)
28. Aiden Reed (Southern Utah)
29. Paul Roberts (Wyoming)
30. Eric Hamer (Colorado State)
Parsons has surprised this year as he emerged as Stanford’s number three, running right behind Ostberg. As long as Parsons continues to follow his strategy of running right behind Ostberg, then he will earn All-American honors.
In Tanner Anderson’s first season with the Huskies after transferring, he has been rock solid. 11th at Pre-Nats, 9th at PAC 12's, and 4th in the West region are all very good performances. I bet that he will continue his consistency and run another very good race.
Following these two is a trio of unsung studs. Aiden Reed that he is the real deal with a 4th place finish at the Mountain Regional Championships. Paul Roberts has had a breakout year at Wyoming, coming in 12th at Pre-Nats, winning the Mountain West title, and finishing 11th in the Mountain region.
Lastly, Eric Hamer as had another consistent season, helping to lead Colorado State to Nationals. All of these guys have been very strong all year and should all be All-Americans.
Probably, maybe, definitely (?) All-Americans
31. Isai Rodriguez (Oklahoma State)
32. John Dressel (Colorado)
33. Zach Long (Tennessee)
34. Gilbert Boit (Arkansas)
35. Clayson Shumway (BYU)
Isai Rodriguez has been on fire for the last few races, finishing 2nd at both BIG 12's and the Midwest Regional Championships (behind only Edwin Kurgat). Look for him to ride that momentum to a top spot at Nationals.
Like Hamer, John Dressel has been consistently good this year and should give Colorado another All-American behind Klecker. Zach Long, an All-American in the 5k, has always had the talent to be an All-American in cross country and this could be the year he does it. An inconsistent 2018 season led to an excellent runner-up performance at South Regional Championships where he perfectly paced himself.
Gilbert Boit is another one who has run well lately and is definitely All-American quality. Clayson Shumway comes in as BYU’s number four. A consistent finisher who came in 5th at Pre-Nats, Shumway should give BYU another All-American.
36. Ashenafi Hatte (Oklahoma State)
37. George Kusche (Nebraska)
38. Clayton Young (BYU)
39. Waleed Suliman (Ole Miss)
40. Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse (Portland)
Like teammate Rodriguez, Ashenafi Hatte has run well as of late, finishing 3rd at BIG 12's and 5th at Midwest Regional Championships. Another man coming into Nationals on a hot streak is George Kusche. Kusche came in 3rd behind the Wisconsin duo at BIG 10's and then finished 4th at Great Lakes. The freshman could earn All-American status in his first attempt.
Clayton Young gives BYU their 5th All-American. He has only run twice this year, coming in 12th at Pre-Nats and 11th at their conference meet. He should be in the BYU pack which should put him in a good position to be in the top 40.
Waleed Suliman has been the key leader for a young Ole Miss team this year and after taking it easy at regionals, he should be in good position to run well at Nationals.
Rounding out the top 40 will be Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse. While the Portland Pilot has not had a great season this year, he proved in 2017 that he has the talent to be in the top 40.
There are probably 100 individuals who could realistically earn an All-American finish at the NCAA Championships, which means that at least 60 of them have to miss out on those honors. Yes, it’s the name of the game, but that does not mean it isn't a difficult one.
In predicting the Top 40 individuals (and on race day), you have to take some risks. Someone will have the race of their life, others might lose a shoe, struggle with the pre-race dinner, or just not have it on race day.
The issue with predictions is that you really have no idea which runner is going to fall into which category. So, as I do these individual predictions, I will make my best predictions and leave with the following message to any athletes reading this:
“This is only one man’s work; the work you put in this season will control your finish much more than this man’s words.”
There are a number of challengers for the individual title, but that race should come down to just three: Alicia Monson of Wisconsin and the New Meixco duo of Weini Kelati and Ednah Kurgat. Monson is sporting the home-field advantage this weekend and has raced this course three times already. Although course advantage rarely plays a role in major cross country meets, when the margin of victory is small, even the slightest piece of extra support or knowledge can be the difference between a national title and a 3rd place medal.
Kelati and Kurgat are defending team champions from 2018, while Kurgat also returns as the individual champion. The pressure of trying to defend those titles will likely loom large in the minds of the Lobos as they know that their team title hopes rely on top individual finishes as well. Of the two, Kelati has been the individual favorite throughout most of the year with dominating wins in every race except Nuttycombe where I believe Monson’s home course advantage was the deciding factor. Kelati’s wins have not been against easy competition, as she has defeated at least three top 15 athletes in every race this season, including Kurgat.
Although Kurgat is the defending champion, she definitely enters the race as the underdog to her teammate. Her season has still been strong and that should keep her in contention for a top finish with her only losses to Kelati and Monson. Should either Kelati or Monson falter, Kurgat will surely take advantage of it. Even if they don’t, Kurgat will be sure to challenge both and could easily claim her first win of the season on the nation's biggest stage. For both Kurgat and Kelati, Pre-Nats and Nuttycombe should have lessened the home course advantage as they should now be well aware of the important sections of the course.
Outside of the top three, challengers could come from a variety of areas. Katrina Robinson of Arkansas won the easiest region in the NCAA (South Central) and should feel the most rested of any of the major challengers. Robinson has lost a number of times this season, but is always right near the front. Allie Ostrander was almost written off after her Mountain West Conference meet, but the Boise State harrier rebounded with a resounding win at the West Regional Championships over an impressive field. Dorcas Wasike of Louisville is the highest ranked individual without a team competing at NCAA's. Wasike has only lost to Kelati and Kurgat and had convincing wins at ACC's and the Southeast Regional Championships.
The PAC 12 will also provided their challengers with Jessica Hull of Oregon and Dani Jones of Colorado. Jones was 4th at the Nuttycombe Invitational and won the PAC 12 meet. Jones probably has the greatest sprint of any of the top athletes and could win if there’s a pack sprint for the title. Hull won the Pre-Nats Cardinal race earlier this season and will be looking for her second win at the Wisconsin course. The Oregon star barely lost the sprint at the PAC 12 meet and is probably the second best finisher in the race.
Elise Cranny of Stanford is another important name to keep in mind. Cranny is mostly a 1500 meter runner during the track season (as are Jones and Hull) and has a history of closing DMR's for top three indoor finishes. The Cardinal have not won many races in her career, but she is a perennial 2nd to 8th place finisher on the track. Cranny’s NCAA cross country performances have not been quite as good, but 2018 has been her best season on the grass. Cranny should be in the mix for a top 10 finish.
Other regional champions to keep in mind include Callie Logue of Iowa State, Rachel McArthur of Villanova, Shannon Malone of Syracuse, and Militsa Mircheva of Florida State. These four will not likely challenge for the title, but they could definitely end up with a top 10 finish if the race goes their way. With Villanova looking for an NCAA title, McArthur and teammate Caroline Alcorta will be huge factors as they need to make up points on the rest of the contenders.
Anna Rohrer of Notre Dame has been a NCAA XC runner-up before and has been putting the pieces together in her last two races. It's very possible that she can be a top finisher on Saturday. Sharon Lokedi of Kansas is the defending 10,000 meter champion and will want to make a good showing on the grass, although that has not always been her strong suit.
Individual Women’s NCAA Predictions:
Weini Kelati (New Mexico)
Ednah Kurgat (New Mexico)
Alicia Monson (Wisconsin)
Dani Jones (Colorado)
Allie Ostrander (Boise State)
Elise Cranny (Stanford)
Dorcas Wasike (Louisville)
Sharon Lokedi (Kansas)
Katrina Robinson (Arkansas)
Rachel McArthur (Villanova)
Jessica Hull (Oregon)
Anna Rohrer (Notre Dame)
Fiona O’Keeffe (Stanford)
Erica Birk (BYU)
Shannon Malone (Syracuse)
Aubrey Roberts (Northwestern)
Charlotte Prouse (New Mexico)
Clare O’Brien (Boise State)
Makena Morley (Colorado)
Jaci Smith (Air Force)
Katie Rainsberger (Washington)
Avery Evenson (Michigan)
Jessica Drop (Georgia)
Angie Nickerson (Southern Utah)
Taylor Werner (Arkansas)
Caroline Alcorta (Villanova)
Susan Ejore (Oregon)
Lauren Gregory (Arkansas)
Callie Logue (Iowa State)
Carina Viljoen (Arkansas)
Tabor Scholl (Colorado)
Elly Henes (North Carolina State)
Jessica Pascoe (Florida)
Hannah Steelman (Wofford)
Weronika Pyzik (Oregon)
Anne Forsyth (Michigan)
Linda Cheruiyot (UTEP)
Libby Kokes (Columbia)
Savannah Carnahan (Furman)
Emily Venters (Boise State)
If I were to have to predict how this race will play out, I would see Anna Rohrer coming to the front of the race around the 2000 meter mark. Rohrer knows that her kick is not her strong suit, but that she can push the pace from a long way out. This move will likely bring the group to approximately 20 individuals by the 4000 meter spot in the race.
At this point, Weini Kelati would be the most likely to make a big move. Kelati should believe that she is the strongest athlete in the race and will want to break it open as her teammates will benefit from anyone who cannot hold on. In particular, Charlotte Prouse will be aiming for a top 10 finish, especially if Kelati and Kurgat can break top contenders with moves at the front.
With Kelati taking the lead at 4000 meters, the front pack should be brought down to approximately seven athletes (Kelati, Kurgat, Monson, Jones, Ostrander, Wasike, and Robinson would be my guess). Kelati will continue to stay at the front to the end, pushing all but Kurgat and Monson into some difficulty by the 5500 meter mark. Kelati will then move into her final kick and take the win over her teammate.
In a second pack, Jessica Hull and Elise Cranny will be leading a charge to return to the front pack. Hull will ultimately do just a little bit too much work to pull them back and not reap the benefits while Cranny, Lokedi, and McArthur should pick up the back of the group by the finish line.