Ben Weisel (Men)
1. Northern Arizona
After the all the talk about the battle between NAU and BYU last year, everyone has been a bit more cautious this year. NAU has been even better than last year, and after BYU’s disappointing race last year no one wants to assume that they are able to beat NAU this year. All that said, BYU is making it awfully hard not to fall back in love with them as possible champions. NAU has been dominant at Nuttycombe and in the Cardinal race at Pre-Nats, but BYU was just as dominant in the White race at Pre-Nats.
For me, the race will be decided by how successful the BYU pack is. NAU will most likely have two runners and maybe three (depending on how Peter Lomong runs) ahead of BYU’s first man. Dealing with this disadvantage, BYU will need have their five ahead of Luis Grijalva, Blaise Ferro, and Georgie Beamish. This is a tall task as these three all are capable of All-American performances or even top 20 finishes. Even if five BYU runners finish between 15th and 30th, it might not be enough to take down NAU and their low-sticks.
Connor Mantz and Rory Linkletter will need to be the top scorers if the Cougars are to take down the two-time reigning champs. With that said, NAU can’t afford to slip up much or else they could see the Cougars come in and steal the title. No team is invincible (just think back to thee 2004 Wisconsin team), so anything is possible coming into this meet especially with two teams as talented as NAU and BYU.
5. Iowa State
These were probably the hardest teams to pick. Any of these teams finishing in 3rd would come as no surprise. Portland gets the edge and the benefit of the doubt after last year’s outstanding runner-up performance. Led by Nick Hauger as a potent low-stick, the Pilots also have plenty of depth behind him and will all be in the chase for an All-American spot.
Wisconsin has Morgan McDonald who will (likely) score no more than three points and Oliver Hoare is someone who I expect to finish in the top 20. Olin Hacker has been a solid third scorer, but their fourth and fifth men will need to step up if Wisconsin wants a shot at the podium.
Iowa State also has a national contender in Edwin Kurgat. Behind him is 2017 All-American Andrew Jordan as well as Dan Curts. Right now, the final two scorers are shaping up to be Chad Johnson and Milo Greder who ran well at regionals. However, if Festus Lagat is healthy, he could find a spot in their top five. The Cyclones have a good amount of depth, but they will need Andrew Jordan to perform like he did last year to give the team a shot at the podium.
Stanford probably has the best top three out of this group with Grant Fisher, Alex Ostberg, and Alek Parsons. For them to earn a podium spot, they will need two of their back four to step up. Whether it is Callum Bolger, Tai Dinger, D.J. Principe, or Michael Vernau, the Cardinal need two big performances to push them on to the podium.
9. Notre Dame
10. Boise State
One of my preseason questions was how much of an impact Andy Powell would have at Washington in his first season. The answer? A lot.
Between Talon Hull, Tibedu Proctor, and transfer Tanner Anderson, the Huskies have a potent top three with plenty of depth behind him. After last year’s 22nd place finish, a top 10 finish is definitely possible for Washington in 2018.
Another team with a very solid top three is Colorado with Joe Klecker, Ryan Forsyth, and John Dressel. Colorado’s chances will depend on how well their fifth man runs. Edurardo Herrera has been a solid number four, but the fifth spot has been inconsistent. A good race from either Ethan Gonzales or Gus Newcomb will significantly raise Colorado’s ceiling.
One of the best surprises of the year (Notre Dame) comes into the meet on a hot streak. Winning ACC's and finishing runner-up to Wisconsin at Great Lakes shows that the team is peaking at the right time. Yared Nuguse has emerged as a key front runner while Anthony Williams and Danny Kilrea have been consistent been top five finishers for the team. After bringing in one of the top classes in the country, Notre Dame has only relied on one freshman (Kilrea) while the sophomore class has been the strength of the team which bodes well for Notre Dame's future.
Finally, Boise State brings a very deep team to Madison. *Deep breath* Yusuke Uchikoshi, Miler Haller, Addison DeHaven, Jeff Laughtenslager, Elijiah Armstrong, and Ahmed Muhumed are all capable of being in the Broncos top five at Nationals and competing for an All-American spot. The only question is who will step up on the big stage?
All-around strong teams
13. Ole Miss
15. Air Force
Syracuse has been solid all year. With Aidan Tooker leading the charge, the Orange have been able to stay competitive despite graduating numerous top scorers from last year's squad. Unfortunately, I think this is about as high as they can finish. Syracuse is a low-ceiling, high-floor team in my opinion. Losing to Notre Dame at ACC's showed their vulnerability, but they are a deep team who had seven finishers in the top 26 at ACC's. In order to improve, Syracuse will need to work on moving their entire pack up to compete with the likes of Colorado.
Oregon is better than the usual Last Team In. James West, who was their top man at Pre-Nats, did not run at regionals after a subpar performance at PAC 12's. Obviously, adding a healthy West will help Oregon significantly. Behind him Blake Haney, Cooper Teare, and Jackson Mestler have stepped up for the Ducks. I expect Oregon to have a good performance at Nationals and finish in the top half.
Ole Miss has been a team that I’ve been impressed all season. They finished 7th place in the Cardinal race at Pre-Nats and won SEC's for the first time in program history. Led by youngsters Waleed Suliman and Cade Bethmann, the Rebels have a deep team that includes Farah Abdulkarim, Mark Robertson, and Mario Gracia Romo who have all improved through the 2018 season. Ole Miss is a sleeper team to keep an eye out for.
Purdue burst onto the national scene with a 9th place finish at Nuttycombe and have run well ever since. Led by Jaret Carpenter and Curt Eckstein, the Boilermakers are poised to record a solid performance at Nationals. Air Force squeaked into Nationals with a 7th place finish at regionals. A better race from Mickey Davey should help catapult the team to a top 15 spot at Nationals.
Middle of the pack
16. Eastern Kentucky
17. NC State
19. Colorado State
Eastern Kentucky has been another surprise team this year who also boast a national challenger in James Sugira. A pair of runner-up performances at regionals and Penn State show just how valuable their mix of low-sticks and depth can be. Jaime Romo, David Corrales, and Erick Rotich will provide good scoring support, but the Colonels need someone to step up to fill the fifth spot.
Boy was I wrong about NC State. After picking them to come in 4th in the Southeast region, the Wolfpack proved me wrong with a win. Ian Shanklin, Joe Bistritz, Edwin Rutto, Elijiah Moskowitz, and Gavin Gaynor combined to give the team a tight pack which should benefit the Wolfpack at Nationals.
The Wyoming men have been another pleasant surprise this year, partly due to the addition of transfer Paul Roberts. They ran well at Notre Dame and later finished 5th in the Pre-Nats White race. A solid Mountain Regional Championship performance shows that the team is ready to roll at Nationals.
Colorado State, even without Cole Rockhold, should compete for a top 20 finish. Eric Hamer and Carson Hume had huge races to help the Rams finish 4th in the tough Mountain region. We will see if they can sustain that kind of performance without one of their leaders at Nationals.
Michigan is a rare team without any front runners. Instead, they have been one of the few teams to successfully utilize a pack running tactic. They have about six runners who can all run with each other. I am optimistic that their lineup structure will work well at Nationals.
Solid, but have weaknesses
22. Oklahoma State
24. Southern Utah
Despite losing their top three runners from last year, Arkansas has run well behind their two front runners Gilbert Boit and Cameron Griffith. After a not-so-great race at the South Central Championships (where they still comfortably took the win), a top 20 finish would be a big achievement for this year’s team.
Oklahoma State looked like they could be a top 10 team after pushing Iowa State at BIG 12's, but it is hard to tell just how good this team is after sitting some of their guys at regionals which dropped them to a 4th place finish. Returning their four and five runners to the lineup will likely push the Cowboys to a near top 20 finish.
Indiana, even without their star Ben Veatch, have run well after being led by Kyle Mau and freshman Dustin Horter throughout the season. This team is moving in the right direction when Veatch returns to the lineup in 2019.
Southern Utah is another team that redshirted their top returner. In fact, they redshirted their top two. However, this has not prevented the Thunderbirds from making it back to Nationals. Aiden Reed has really stepped up to lead this Southern Utah team who finished in 5th place at the Mountain Regional Championships.
Iona, behind the Dee brothers and Ehab El-Sandali, nearly took down Syracuse at the Northeast Regional Championships. Jack O’Leary had a nice race two weeks ago and could be a key scorer who fills a few gaps in their lineup this weekend.
Just happy to be here
30. Florida State
Princeton has had an unusual season. They chose to run in the "B" race Nuttycombe instead of the "A" race. We didn’t really get to see them go all-out until the Ivy League Championships where they absolutely dominated. They then won Mid-Atlantic region over Villanova and regional favorite Georgetown. It is hard to say where this team stacks up nationally as we have not seen them compete against any of the top teams in the country. We will be watching to see where Matt Grossman, Conor Lundy, and company finish among the nation’s best.
One of the best stories from two weeks ago was seeing the Bradley qualify for their first-ever National Championship by finishing 2nd at the Midwest Regional Championship. After qualifying two individuals to Nationals last year, the Braves made the next step forward and are bringing the whole team this year. Behind the Hoffert twins and Michael Ward, it will be interesting to see where the first-timers finish.
Texas has had an underwhelming season. Alex Rodgers and Sam Worley have been good, but inconsistent. Nearly losing to Kansas at BIG 12's and sneaking past Tennessee at Nuttycombe is surely not what the team was expecting this season. All that said, they did finish 2nd at regionals to qualify for Nationals and have the talent to perform with the best in the country.
Villanova came up with a huge 2nd place finish at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships to edge Georgetown for the last automatic qualifying spot. After losing to Georgetown at the BIG East Championships, Casey Comber, Andrew Marston, and company ran very well to squeak by the Hoyas. Another very good performance could put the Wildcats in the top 20.
Florida State is a surprise team to qualify from the crazy South region. Ranked 4th in the region coming into regionals on their home course, the Seminoles ran their best race of the season. Looking at Nationals, Caleb Pottorf, Steven Cross, and Toby Hardwick give Florida State a solid top three. The backend of their top five ran well at regionals, and they will need to perform that well again in order for the Seminoles to beat some teams.
Tulsa was also a big surprise after they finished 3rd in the Midwest region and were pushed-in by Oklahoma State. Peter Lynch, Scott Beattie, and Austin Del Rosso had respectable performances at Nuttycombe, proving that they can run well in a big field. Tulsa will need their pack to run as well as they did at the Midwest Regional Championships to give themselves a shot at defeating a few teams.
Sam Ivanecky (Women)
On Saturday morning, one of the most competitive seasons of women’s NCAA cross country will come to a close. Right now, there are five teams who could realistically be on the top of the podium and another few that could make it into the top four. Let’s meet the contenders for the NCAA title this weekend.
The Oregon Ducks come in ranked number one (according to TSR) in the country after consecutive wins at PAC 12s and the West regional where they faced strong competition in TSR#3 Boise State, TSR#5 Colorado, and TSR#12 Stanford. Oregon comes into NCAA's with only two runners from last years 5th place squad, but the additions they made this summer have paid huge dividends.
Over the summer, they acquired three key members of San Francisco’s runner-up team; Coach Helen Lehman-Winters and the All-American duo of Weronika Pyzik and Isabelle Brauer. Both Brauer and Pyzik have been scorers for the Ducks all season and will be looking to repeat as All-Americans again on Saturday.
Oregon has also benefited from the emergence of Jessica Hull as a cross country star. The reigning NCAA 1500 meter champion had never been in the top 50 at NCAA XC before, but has been the top Duck three meets in a row, including a win at Pre-Nationals and a runner-up finish at PAC 12's. Going into NCAA's, she looks to have a good shot at being in the top 10 and should be a dark horse to win it all.
While the Ducks come in top ranked, the title is anything but certain. They have two impressive wins in a row, but their West regional victory came only four points ahead of Boise State and the Broncos actually had five runners in before the Ducks. In a bigger field, this difference could get exaggerated and may easily be enough to put another team ahead of Oregon. Another note is that while Pyzik and Brauer have both run well this fall, neither look likely to better their performances from 2017. Still, Oregon should have multiple women in the top 40 and could realistically have all five scorers as All-Americans. The team should better their 5th place finish from last year, but winning may be a stretch.
The Boise State Broncos were right behind Oregon at the West regional and come into NCAA's ranked #3 (TSR) in the country. The past two competitions have seen the Broncos narrowly lose to TSR#1 Oregon (4 points) and TSR#2 New Mexico (2 points). In both of those meets, Boise State was the first team with five runners across the line, but the Ducks and Lobos had slightly more talent up front and the fields were not deep enough to offset their fifth runners. Moving into NCAA's could be a different story.
The last time Boise State raced in a deep team field was Nuttycombe, where they finished runner-up to Colorado and ahead of New Mexico. Allie Ostrander is coming off a dominant win at the West regional and should be in position to challenge Kelati for the individual title that has eluded her up to this point in her career. Emily Venters and Clare O’Brien have been a strong 2-3 behind her and both Alexis Fuller and Maxine Paholek have been trending upwards in recent meets.
Boise State will need a big performance from Maxine Paholek if they want to win on Saturday. While the Broncos can essentially match any team through four runners, Paholek has been somewhat of a wildcard this fall. She started the season well back of Fuller at Nuttycombe, but since then has consistently closed the gap each week. At the regional meet, she finished only four seconds back, a performance that, if replicated on Saturday, could be the difference maker for Boise State.
While they come in ranked TSR#2, the New Mexico Lobos are still the team to beat as they come to Madison in hopes of defending their title. After graduating All-American Alice Wright, the Lobos reloaded over the summer by adding Iowa Central Community College transfer Adva Cohen, a 9:29 steeplechaser and NJCAA XC champion. Cohen started the year a little shaky, but since Nuttycombe she has been right on the heels of the New Mexico’s number three runner, Charlotte Prouse. At the Mountain regional, Prouse and Cohen finished 11th and 12th. Based on those performances and given Prouse was a top 20 finisher last fall, similar expectations surely surround Cohen. It is a stretch to see Cohen in the top 20, but realistically, she should be an All-American and likely not too far off from Prouse.
Ednah Kurgat might be the reigning NCAA XC champion, but teammate Weini Kelati has stolen the spotlight this fall. Kelati’s only loss came to Alicia Monson at Nuttycombe, but since then she has been absolutely dominant. She has won her past three competitions by an average of 16 seconds and has been completely dominant over fields that have included some of the NCAA's best. Kelati has the ability to run faster than anyone in the field and if the weather on Saturday permits, she could end up running away with the race from the gun. Kurgat should be right with her for most of the race and should easily give New Mexico two in the top five.
The biggest question (as always) for New Mexico is where their fifth will finish. At the Mountain region, both Emily Martin and Sophie Eckel stepped up huge to finish 15th and 16th and give the Lobos six runners in the top 16. While neither are likely to crack the top 40 at NCAA's, the Lobos won in 2017 with their fifth runner finishing back in the 80's and should have higher expectations going into this weekend. New Mexico will need a big showing from whoever their fifth is as this year’s team race features quite a few teams that can match the Lobos through four runners. With Kelati and Kurgat as the best 1-2 duo in the NCAA, if the fifth Lobo has a strong showing, New Mexico will have a decent chance at repeating.
The other Mountain team to watch will be Colorado. Although they finished 12 points back of New Mexico at the regional meet, the Buffaloes did not run Sage Hurta who has been their number three runner for most of this fall. Had Hurta run, the race would have likely come down to only a few points, but this weekend should feature a full Colorado squad.
Dani Jones has been the top Buffalo all season long and that should not change going into NCAA's. While she was only 6th in the Mountain region, she won PAC 12's earlier this year and was also 4th at Nuttycombe back in September. If she races to her potential, she should be somewhere in the top 10 on Saturday.
Behind her, Makena Morley and Sage Hurta should provide at least two more All-Americans for the Buffs. Morley has been close to Jones all fall and shouldn’t be far back at NCAA's. Hurta is coming off a rough showing at PAC 12's and then sat out of the regional meet. That said, she was an All-American in 2017 and should do the same this year. Although it has been awhile, keep in mind that she was 13th in an incredibly deep Nuttycombe field earlier this fall.
Colorado is a team with very high potential, but it feels like a big gamble as a pick to win. They have all the pieces of a national champion team, but they also have not put everything together since Nuttycombe. Jones and Morley are both consistently good, but where will Hurta finish after her absence last week? Similarly, Tabor Scholl had a huge performance to finish right behind Morley at the regional meet, but has not been nearly that close at any other meet this season. Should we expect similar at NCAA's or was two weeks ago a one-time ordeal? The Buffaloes could be the best team in the NCAA, but if they don’t put it all together on Saturday, they could also miss out on the podium all together.
The dark horse for the NCAA title is undoubtedly the Arkansas Razorbacks. After a big performance at Pre-Nats to win the Cardinal race over Oregon, Arkansas has faced minimal competition since. The team rolled through SEC's and then scored one of the lowest point totals ever (21) at the South Central meet.
The Razorbacks are lead by phenom Katrina Robinson who looks to be the best freshman in the NCAA. Robinson won the South Central title, but her most notable performance was a runner-up finish to Jessica Hull at Pre-Nats. It would be a surprise if Robinson was not in the front group of women on Saturday and based on previous races, you can expect her to be in contention for the individual race from the gun. While she may be a long shot for the title, it would not be a surprise to see her amiong the top five individuals on Saturday.
Three other Razorbacks should also be contending for All-American honors in Madison. Taylor Werner is the only returning All-American from 2017 and teammates Carina Viljoen and Lauren Gregory will be looking to make it four for Arkansas in 2018. All three women were in the top 10 at Pre-Nats and should be somewhere near the front of the race this weekend.
With how little competition Arkansas has faced this year, it is hard to gauge how good the team really is. In their only test of the season, they came out victorious over current TSR#1 Oregon which gives us reason to think that a team title should be the goal this weekend. They have also dominated their past two races and will come into NCAA's with a lot of momentum. The biggest question for the Razorbacks is how will the team fair in winning head-to-head battles over programs like Oregon and New Mexico? After placing 13th in 2017, the team could be looking at 12 places better in 2018.
While it is hard to see anyone breaking up the top five teams, one team may finally enter the spotlight this weekend. The Michigan Wolverines are a group that have relied on great depth instead of supreme individual talent and the strategy has paid dividends this fall. Avery Evenson has been the top Wolverine this year, but she is hardly a household name like Allie Ostrander or Weini Kelati. That said, Michigan has not lost a race, except for a runner-up finish at Pre-Nats to New Mexico, and will be looking to climb onto the podium come Saturday.
The team is coming off a dominant win at Great Lakes where they finished with almost half the points of runner-up Wisconsin. At that meet, Evenson was not even the top Wolverine. That honor belongs to true freshman Anne Forsyth who finished 3rd. Forsyth has quickly proven to be one of the NCAA's best young talents and after debuting at BIG 10's, looks to quickly be rising in the collegiate ranks.
Michigan has one of the deepest rosters in the NCAA, a fact that was very apparent at regionals. The Wolverines placed all five scorers ahead of runner-up Wisconsin’s third runner and had seven women across before 3rd place Michigan State could get five across the line. While Michigan may not bolster a roster full of well-known NCAA stars like other top-teams, they feature incredible depth and that should surprise quite a few people on Saturday.
1. New Mexico
3. Boise State
8. Michigan State
11. Notre Dame
12. NC State
14. Iowa State
17. Penn State
21. Southern Utah
24. Florida State
26. Oklahoma State
28. Ole Miss
29. Oregon State
30. Georgia Tech
Sean's NCAA Top 10 Teams
3. Boise State
4. New Mexico
9. Notre Dame