We are fast approaching one of the biggest weekends of the cross country season. Roy Griak and Panorama Farms will be the first true tests to see what some of the top teams and top individuals in the nation are capable of. Many of our questions will be answered and new ones will form. Below, TSR has broken down each meet and given our predictions. Share, comment, and enjoy!
Amon Kemboi (Campbell), Lawrence Kipkoech (Campbell), Tom Nobles (Charlotte), James Quattlebaum (Clemson), Brent Demarest (Virginia), Lachlan Cook (Virginia), Matt Chisholm (Yale)
There may not be many powerhouse teams entered, but the individuals in this field are sneaky good. The biggest matchup to watch should be the Campbell duo (Kipkoech & Kemboi) vs the Virginia duo (Demarest & Cook). These four will most likely battle with each other throughout the meet in an attempt to grab the win. The favorite, Lawrence Kipkoech (TSR#10), has the experience advantage after placing 2nd at this meet a year ago (losing only to Justyn Knight). He has proven to be one of the more dominant runners on the east coast and his familiarity with the course and competition certainly favors him this weekend.
Campbell teammate Amon Kemboi may not be in our Top 50 rankings, but he has put together some impressive performances on the track with PR's of 13:47 and 28:57. He has closely matched Kipkoech on the oval so it's not crazy to think that he'll continue that in the fall.
Brent Demarest (TSR#30) enters 2017 as an experienced redshirt junior who proved how valuable he could be during the 2016 season. Aside from being able to race on his home course, Demarest's consistency has led me to believe that he's a safe pick to make the top four. Following Demarest will most likely be Lachlan Cook, the 2016 ACC Freshman of the Year. Much like Demarest, Cook is very consistent and rarely gives you a reason to doubt him. He did struggle a bit at NCAA's last year, but his development since then has been promising.
If you're looking for some sleeper picks outside of the top four, Tom Nobles (Charlotte) might be your best option. The Charlotte junior had a strong track season this past spring with personal bests of 8:58 (steeple) and 29:13 to complement his 2016 cross country season which was highlighted by an 18th place finish at the Penn State Open and a 9th place finish at Conference USA's. That conference championship field featured both UTEP and Middle Tennessee State, two very deep and talented teams. Simply put, Nobles is not someone to be slept on. He could mix it up with some of the top guys if he's having a really good day.
Others like James Quattlebaum (Clemson) and Matt Chisholm (Yale) may not have the resume that some of these other guys do, but they are both coming off of solid wins from earlier in the month. At the very least, they should be on your radar this weekend.
Virginia Cavaliers, Campbell Camels ----------------------------------
In case it wasn't already obvious, the Virginia Cavaliers (TSR#9) are the heavy favorites to take the win this weekend. UVA's talented low-sticks, strong depth, NCAA experience, and home course advantage easily makes them the best team out of this field.
However, Campbell has been slowly growing over the past few seasons. Each year, it seems like they keep adding one more foreign distance stud to their roster. First it was Kipkoech, then it was Terer, then it was Kemboi. Could we see one more distance talent emerge this weekend?
If Campbell does find another low-stick to join Kipkoech and Kemboi, then Virginia may not be able to get a comfortable win like many are expecting...
Questions We Need Answered
- How will Spencer Dodds perform in his debut with Virginia?
There is plenty of speculation over what value Dodds could bring to a UVA program that lost Thomas Madden and Henry Wynne this past year. Of course, the Cavaliers are deep enough through seven men to the point where their success will not be solely determined by his performance. At the same time, if he turns into the star that many people think he can be, Virginia could become a podium-caliber team. Essentially, Dodds can only benefit UVA from here on out.
- How will Amon Kemboi perform on the grass?
We already mentioned Kemboi's impressive track PR's in the above section, but we have yet to see what he can do in cross country. Luckily, this will be the perfect meet to get a better idea of what to expect from him this season.
- Where is Chase Weaverling?
One of Virginia's top projected scorers for this season is not listed on the performance list. Are they just delaying the start to his season or could the possibility of a redshirt season be in play?
1. Virginia Cavaliers
2. Campbell Camels
3. Yale Bulldogs
4. Bucknell Bison
5. Charlotte 49ers
1. Lawrence Kipkoech (Campbell)
2. Amon Kemboi (Campbell)
3. Brent Demarest (Virginia)
4. Lachlan Cook (Virginia)
5. Tom Nobles (Charlotte)
6. Matt Chisholm (Yale)
7. Alex Corbett (Virginia)
8. James Quattlebaum (Clemson)
BREAKING: Iowa State men pull out of Roy Griak due to team-wide illness
Jerrell Mock (Colorado State), Thomas Pollard (Iowa State), Robert Brandt (UCLA), Festus Lagat (Iowa State), Ryan Robinson (Michigan State), Trent Powell (Colorado State), Kyle Burdick (South Dakota State), Charlie Lawrence (Minnesota), Obsa Ali (Minnesota)
Although the focus of this meet will be on the teams, the individual matchups will bring plenty of excitement. 2016 champion Jerrell Mock (TSR#6) will look to defend his title against a field that has matured and greatly improved over the past year. Mock is no doubt the favorite to win this Saturday especially when you consider that he was runner-up to former teammate Jefferson Abbey in 2015 and then won it all a year later.
However, a Jerrell Mock victory will not come easily as top ranked individuals like Thomas Pollard (TSR#32) and Robert Brandt (TSR#36) look to play spoiler in the first major invitational of the year.
Pollard hasn't had a major victory or huge breakout performance during cross country yet, but his consistency makes him a name that could flirt with the top five.
On the other hand, Robert Brandt seems to be the most likely candidate to pull off an upset after a breakout spring track season that included PR's of 7:58, 13:45, and 28:48. We also know that Brandt is capable of prospering on the grass after finishing 3rd overall at the Notre Dame Invite last year. The only uncertainty I have with this rising junior is how he will adjust to racing with UCLA after transferring from California. Luckily, his previous experience of racing on this course (in 2015) should benefit him this Saturday.
The only other individual I could see pulling off an upset is Festus Lagat, the JUCO transfer whose claim to fame was handing JUCO star Gilbert Kigen the only NJCAA Championship loss of his career. In his first ever race with Iowa State, Lagat backed up the hype and came out with a big win at the Hawkeye Classic. We don't know a whole lot about this guy, but from what we've seen, he looks awfully good and should be a big name to watch.
Ryan Robinson (TSR#50) is definitely a name that I think is worthy of a Top 50 ranking, but after such a disappointing finish at the Spartan Invite, I'm cautious as to where I want to place him.
Trent Powell is an interesting name to bring up mainly because no one had heard of him until his breakout performance at the CSU Duals a few weeks ago where he placed 2nd overall and took down all but one Colorado Buffalo. If that meet was any indication of his talent level, then he could certainly mix things up among the top ten finishers this weekend.
Others guys like Kyle Burdick (South Dakota St.), Charlie Lawrence (Minnesota), and Obsa Ali (Minnesota) are all names that I'll be watching this weekend. Burdick had a very strong track season this past spring and seems to be continuing the trend of South Dakota St. having at least one stud runner on their roster every year. As for Lawrence and Ali, they are arguably the most experienced guys in this field. Unfortunately, they aren't the most consistent which is evident by their up and down performances last year.
UCLA Bruins, Colorado State Rams, Iowa State Cyclones, Michigan State Spartans, Minnesota Gophers
Team-wise, this is a very important meet for the top squads that toe the line. With Iowa State and Michigan State both projected to finish in the top two in their region, every team will be focused on defeating them more than anyone else.
Last year, programs like Portland and Iowa State proved that having the best depth would result in a successful team finish as both teams finished 1st and 2nd respectively. The field this year appears to be a bit smaller, but the same racing philosophy still applies.
Iowa State lost a few scorers to graduation, but they reloaded with key transfers like Festus Lagat and Stanley Langat. With a team that is another year older and their net loss from last year basically at zero, many would argue that Iowa State should be the favorites to win it all this weekend.
Others may say that Colorado State is the favorite to win thanks to their elite low-stick and an experienced group of scorers. Could they pull it off and take home gold this weekend? Absolutely, especially if Trent Powell ends up being as good as I think he is. Still, Colorado State has been so close to taking home the win for years now and they keep coming up short. Am I read to say that this will be the year they grab gold? You can find out below...
UCLA is the final team that I think could realistically walk away with 1st place. Robert Brandt's addition to the Bruins makes up for the critical loss of low-stick Ferdinand Edman who has now graduated. Impressive outdoor track seasons by De La Torre and Reynolds matched with key scorers Colin Burke and Myles Smith makes this squad very dangerous. We will even get to see the full potential of John Carter Blunt in the first major college race of his career. He could be the x-factor that decides if the Bruins snag the win or not (but hey, no pressure).
Michigan State is ranked in our Top 25, but after such an iffy performance last weekend at the Spartan Invite, I'm not so sure how confident I feel about the green and white this weekend. They have some consistency issues that they need to address and correcting that in a week will be difficult.
As for Minnesota, they are an interesting team. Collectively, Charlie Lawrence, Obsa Ali, Evan Ferlic, Shane Streich, and Connor Olsen make up a talented group that is capable of being one of the best in the nation. They are very experienced and have all shown that they can perform at a high level at one point or another. At the same time, some of these guys are more track-oriented while the guys who thrive during cross country are almost always the most inconsistent. If the Gophers can come together and perform to their very best potential, then they'll be able to pull off some upsets.
Questions We Need Answered
- Is Festus Lagat and/or Trent Powell the real deal?
It's difficult to say if we're reading too much into those early season performances, but if they turn out to be as good as we think they are, then they could greatly benefit their respective teams.
- How will Robert Brandt perform with his new team?
Brandt is probably no less talented than he was a year ago when he was with Cal, but a new environment and training system almost always requires an adjustment period.
1. Colorado State Rams
2. Iowa State Cyclones
3. UCLA Bruins
4. Minnesota Gophers
5. Michigan State Spartans
6. San Francisco Dons
7. Navy Midshipmen
1. Jerrell Mock (Colorado State)
2. Robert Brandt (UCLA)
3. Festus Lagat (Iowa State)
4. Obsa Ali (Minnesota)
5. Grant Fischer (Colorado State)
6. Thomas Pollard (Iowa State)
7. Clark Ruiz (Michigan State)
8. Kyle Burdick (South Dakota St.)
9. Colin Burke (UCLA)
10. Corey Donely (Navy)
11. Ryan Robinson (Michigan State)
12. Trent Powell (Colorado State)
13. Mohamed Aziz (San Francisco)
14. Nathan Rodriguez (Iowa State)
15. Cole Rockhold (Colorado State)
16. Charlie Lawrence (Minnesota)
17. Daniel De La Torre (UCLA)
18. Andrew Jordan (Iowa State)
19. Ben Alcock (San Francisco)
20. Jake Brophy (Navy)