Three of the top five squads in our team rankings hail from the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. That also means we will have one helluva race in Grand Junction, Colorado this upcoming weekend.
Let’s start with favorites this weekend, Colorado Mines. They have one of the deepest teams in the country and they will look to prove that this weekend. Led by Dylan Ko, they have a legitimate low-stick who will seemingly get to gauge where he stands against some of the nation’s best this weekend.
The depth behind Ko is something that most teams dream of having as their top guys - Luc Hagen, Luke Julian, Kyle Moran, and Ben Schneiderman - have helped elevate this team to another level and put them atop the rankings.
As we turn to Western Colorado, they have the best duo in the conference this year. Taylor Stack and Charlie Sweeney have consistently found themselves at the top and have continued to get better with each passing week. They could possible go 1-2 this weekend, giving them the ability to edge out the Orediggers. However, they’ll need to ensure that their third runner, at the very least, can run with the Colorado Mines men.
With no sign of Ahmed Jama entering the lineup, that means Evan Sutherland and Ross Husch will have to step up and keep the Mountaineers in the team title hunt. As for the #5 scorer, it will be interesting to see who steps up and fills that role.
Ryan Outler is a name to keep an eye on as he had a couple of strong races at Wyoming and the Cowboy Open as an unattached runner. He ran in uniform for Western Colorado at Chile Pepper, but it wasn't a strong performance. Other names to keep an eye on are Juan Diaz, Ricky Esqueda, Simon Kelati, and Riley Howard.
The third team that has a legitimate shot at taking home the team title is Adams State. Now, this isn’t the same team that we've grown accustomed to seeing from the Alamosa men. This year's team is led by veteran low-sticks Dane Blomquist and Kale Adams. Both find themselves inside of our Top 25 for our individual rankings.
Those two have been joined by Isaiah Rodarte, Paddy Robb, and Carson Bix as of late. We know the pedigree of Rodarte and he’s had a strong season up and to this point. Robb has built off of his 2018 campaign and has had a strong 2019 season, acting as a reliable supporting scorer within their top five. Bix has only run one race for the Grizzlies in uniform this season, but was impressive at the Paul Short Invite.
A name that could bolster the efforts of the Grizzlies this weekend is Salvador Capetillo. Like Bix, he’s a transfer from California and has enormous potential. According to TFRRS, he hasn’t raced this year, but it feels like he could make his debut for this team this weekend as an added bonus to their lineup.
These are the strongest teams in the RMAC and they’ll all be fighting for the conference title as taking home the RMAC crown is some serious bragging rights in its own right. That being said, other teams that are in this conference worth mentioning include UCCS and Colorado Christian.
The Mountain Lions of UCCS are led by Afeworki Zeru who has flirted with our Top 25 rankings and has been a strong runner since 2018. They took 4th at the D2 Trevecca Showcase and had a strong showing with three runners inside the top 12 and five inside the top 26.
Colorado Christian has been a program continually on the rise since Evan Verbal helped put them on the map. Most recently, they finished 8th at the Lewis Crossover meet and had three athletes inside the top 45, which is a good result for them. Led by seniors Ryder Searle and Nicholas Skinner, this could be the year where CCU finds themselves in the upper half of the team standings when it’s all said and done.
However the race plays out, it’s certain that whoever is on top when the race is over can carry themselves into the regional weekend with a ton of confidence and could even say that the winner becomes the new national title favorite.
1. Colorado Mines Orediggers
2. Adams State Grizzlies
3. Western Colorado Mountaineers
1. Taylor Stack (Western Colorado)
2. Dylan Ko (Colorado Mines)
3. Charlie Sweeney (Western Colorado)
4. Kale Adams (Adams State)
5. Kyle Moran (Colorado Mines)
6. Luke Julian (Colorado Mines)
7. Dane Blomquist (Adams State)
8. Afeworki Zeru (UCCS)
9. Luc Hagen (Colorado Mines)
10. Isaiah Rodarte (Adams State)
On the women’s side of things, we see the same three teams that headline the men's meet with another that could sneak their way inside the top three. In fact, Adams State, Western Colorado and Colorado Mines are teams 2-3-4, respectively in our current team rankings while UCCS currently sits at #9.
Let’s start with Adams State. They currently sit at #2 in the rankings and are led by Eilish Flanagan. She lit the course on fire at Paul Short, taking home the individual title with a course record in the process. She’s one of the top individual competitors this season as well. She’s backed up by a strong team of depth in Haleigh Hunter-Galvan (20th at Paul Short), Piper Meuwissen (64th at Paul Short), and Tiffany Christensen (24th at Paul Short).
However, the storyline this weekend could be the return of Roisin Flanagan and Stephanie Cotter. Both were expected to be apart of this team when we did our preseason rankings. They haven't race yet this year due to some injuries, but rumor has it that the timeline was set for them to return this weekend.
Even if these two don’t return to the lineup, the Grizzlies are the strongest team in the RMAC this year. With the firepower of Eilish, and Hunter-Galvan finishing strongly behind her, they can make up for any lapses on the backend if needed this weekend.
Looking at Western Colorado, they’ve had a strong season given the amount of turnover they have had since last year. At the Chile Pepper Invite, Alexa Rodriguez, Alexia Thiros, and Alyssa Tatum were all inside the top 35 and were only 11 seconds apart from each other in the race. Katie Doucette and Malindia Congour were the final two scorers and it’s been that way for most of the season. Congour finished just 41 seconds behind Rodriguez in that race, showing us what the Mountaineers are capable of doing if they run as a team.
Bailey Sharon has the ability to sneak in here for them as she typically performs well during the championship season and was an All-American for this team last year. Keep an eye out for her as she could add some much-needed depth to this group.
Looking at the Orediggers of Mines, they impressed in their one true meet of the season. Their performance at the Capital Cross Challenge - which they won with a score of 89 points - is easily one of the best performances by a team this year. In the process of totalling 89 points, they also took down some strong D1 teams such as TSR #5 Chico State.
Chloe Cook, Zoe Baker, and Morgan Molesworth all finished inside the top 15 giving them a strong top three. Madeline Geesen and Brooke Eberle were their final two scorers with Eberle just 51 seconds behind that of Cook, giving them the second-best team spread out of the three teams that we have mentioned so far.
They’ve got a really good chance of knocking off both of the teams mentioned above as long as they continue to run as a team. A special performance from Cook and Baker would also be welcomed.
The last team to talk about here is the UCCS Mountain Lions. They come in as the #9 team in our XC Top 10 and are looking to continue a very strong season this year.
Kayla Wooten is getting back on track after a slow start to the season. She was a top 10 finisher at the NCAA meet last year and a lot of their hope falls on her shoulders. Luckily, Layla Almasri and Marissa Kuik have been able to divvy up some of the workload this season to help the team stay inside our rankings.
At Roy Griak, the team finished 3rd with Wooten and Almasri both finishing inside the top 10. Kuik was back in 25th, but served as a very strong #3 scorer with Hannah Ellis and Katie Novak rounding out the scoring. The spread time for them was 1:20 which is very good for most teams. Unfortunately, that puts them as the fourth best spread in this conference.
It’ll be interesting to see how this squad responds to the pressure this weekend. This is a team that not many thought could replicate its performance from last year, but on paper, they’ve become one of the best teams in the RMAC and arguably the country.
1. Adams State Grizzlies
2. UCCS Mountain Lions
3. Colorado Mines Orediggers
1. Eilish Flanagan (Adams State)
2. Kayla Wooten (UCCS)
3. Chloe Cook (Colorado Mines)
4. Haleigh Hunter-Galvan (Adams State)
5. Zoe Baker (Colorado Mines)
6. Layla Almasri (UCCS)
7. Alexa Rodriguez (Western State)
8. Tiffany Christensen (Adams State)
9. Billie Hatch (Dixie State)
10. Madeline Geesen (Colorado Mines)