Welcome to the west where you can be a Top 15 team in the country (UCLA, TSR#14) and still finish 5th in your conference. The PAC 12 has been as strong as any league in the country and this year is no different. Boasting five teams in TSR’s Top 14, the conference also includes podium favorite Stanford and individual champion favorite Grant Fisher. Good luck being all-conference where there are at least 10 runners who have legitimate chances at being All-Americans. To put it simply, the PAC 12 Championship is loaded and is definitely one of the best races to watch all weekend.
Looking first at the team battle, Stanford is the clear favorite after finishing 2nd to NAU at Pre-Nats in the Cardinal race. With Grant Fisher, Alex Ostberg, and Alek Parsons, Stanford has a top three that should all finish in the top 10. Throw in a healthy Steven Fahy, and Stanford has a combination of top talent unmatched by anyone else in the conference.
Fahy is a real question mark though. He has yet to race since the San Francisco Invitational which Stanford seemed to be running as a workout. If he is in top form, then Stanford is bringing back a guy who finished 3rd at PAC 12’s last year. Even without Fahy, the Cardinal looks formidable. Behind Fisher, Ostberg, and Parsons is Tai Dinger who ran well at Pre-Nats along with Michael Vernau and D.J. Principe. The return of Fahy and a good performance from the rest of the top guys could make Stanford a legitimate challenger to NAU.
The real team competition is for 2nd place. Colorado and Washington have run well this season, and it should be a tight race for runner-up. Colorado backed up a solid Nuttycombe performance with a 3rd place finish at Pre-Nats in the Cardinal race right behind Stanford while Washington ran very well to finish 2nd in the White race at Pre-Nats. Having Joe Klecker in the lineup gives Colorado a low-stick who can compete with Grant Fisher. Ryan Forsyth has backed up his performances from last year with an excellent race at Pre-Nats and is another possible low-stick for the Colorado.
Tibebu Proctor, Tanner Anderson, and Talon Hull give Washington a potent top three who could run near Forsyth. I expect Colorado's John Dressel and Eduardo Herrera to have solid postseasons after their stellar performance at Nuttycombe and Pre-Nats, respectively. They should be right behind Washington’s top group.
Other Huskies like Fred Huxham, Mahmoud Moussa, Mick Stanovsek, and Julius Diehr can pack up and also compete for top 20 positions at conference. The success of those four men men will most likely decide who finishes 2nd in the team race. As for Colorado, it really depends on how well Ethan Gonzales does. If he can improve a bit from his performance at Pre-Nats and run with Washington’s second group, then Colorado should take silver.
Not to be forgotten is Oregon and UCLA who both finished 4th in their respective Pre-Nationals races. For UCLA, this season has been centered around one main slogan: No Robert Brandt, No problem.
Garret Reynolds, Colin Burke, and George Gleason have stepped up to fill Brandt’s void. Oregon, on the other hand, have utilized pack running behind their top runners James West and Charlie Hunter. Their bottom three at Pre-Nats were Cooper Teare, Blake Haney, and Jackson Mestler who all finished within close proximity together.
There are a few key battles to watch between UCLA and Oregon. The first is to see were UCLA’s Cole Smith and Chris Morzenti finish compared to Oregon’s second pack. The second, is where UCLA’s one, two, and three finish compared to Oregon’s Charlie Hunter. I expect West to be the first runner home between these two teams, so it is crucial that UCLA has at least two runners finish in front of Oregon’s top two.
In addition, Oregon could secure a victory over UCLA if their pack of Teare, Haney, and Mestler can finish in front of UCLA’s four and five. Both teams could push to challenge Colorado and Washington, but the race between UCLA and Oregon should be a fascinating subplot.
1. Stanford Cardinal
2. Colorado Buffaloes
3. Washington Huskies
4. Oregon Ducks
5. UCLA Bruins
6. Washington State Cougars
7. California Golden Bears
8. Arizona Wildcats
9. Arizona State Sun Devils
I expect Stanford to continue to prove that they are a podium team by winning the team title (narrowly) behind Colorado and Washington. With their top-level firepower and the possible re-addition of Fahy, Stanford should be able to fend off any challengers.
The race for second should be competitive between Colorado and Washington, but I expect the low-sticks of Klecker and Forsyth to make this difference over Washington’s top two of Anderson and Proctor. I also believe that Dressel and Herrera will also make up for the fact that Washington could put six or seven of their runners before Colorado’s number five.
Oregon and UCLA are both looking to prove that they deserve to be in the conversation for being one of the top 10 teams in the country. I think Oregon’s pack of Teare, Haney, and Mestler will be the deciding factor against UCLA. I imagine that the Ducks will have five in front of UCLA’s four.
When everyone toes this line on Friday, every runner, spectator, and coach will be watching Grant Fisher. After narrowly beating Matthew Baxter and Tyler Day in the Cardinal race at Pre-Nats, Fisher confirmed his status as a favorite to win Nationals. He won’t lack competition at PAC 12's though. Klecker and Forsyth along with Ostberg, Parsons, and (possibly) Steven Fahy should make up the rest of the front pack.
A dark horse pick to compete with these guys is Arizona’s Carlos Villarreal. A 1:46 800 and 3:38 1500 runner, Villarreal clearly has the speed to close hard. After an up-and-down cross country season last year, Villarreal seems to be hitting his stride in the longer distances. He had a stellar performance in the White race at Pre-Nats coming in 10th, finishing right ahead of Tanner Anderson and a few seconds behind Tibebu Proctor. While Fisher should pull out another PAC 12 Championship, look for Villarreal to surprise some people and finish in the top five.
1. Grant Fisher (Stanford)
2. Joe Klecker (Colorado)
3. Alex Ostberg (Stanford)
4. Carlos Villarreal (Arizona)
5. Ryan Forsyth (Colorado)
6. Tibebu Proctor (Washington)
7. Alek Parsons (Stanford)
8. Steven Fahy (Stanford)
9. John Dressel (Colorado)
10. Tanner Anderson (Washington)
11. Talon Hull (Washington)
12. Garrett Reynolds (UCLA)
13. James West (Oregon)
14. Chandler Teigen (Washington State)
15. Tai Dinger (Stanford)
16. Colin Burke (UCLA)
17. Eduardo Herrera (Colorado)
18. Cooper Teare (Oregon)
19. Blake Haney (Oregon)
20. Fred Huxham (Washington)