Updated: Nov 8, 2019
If there is a preface to the South Central Regional Championships, it likely begins with the RMAC Championships. The South Central is composed of teams that have been powerhouses over the last two decades and we are now welcoming more names into that conversation.
At least it feels that way.
Immediately, the top teams that jump off the page are TSR #1 Colorado Mines, TSR #2 Adams State, and TSR #4 Western Colorado. If distance running was a business, these programs would be the titans of industry. Yet, despite their grand success, we should make sure that they don't overshadow two other talented programs: UC-Colorado Springs and West Texas A&M (but more on them in a moment).
Let’s begin our conversation with the first three teams we mentioned.
Colorado Mines is the heavy favorite.
And I mean heavy favorite.
After dismantling both Adams State and Western Colorado two weeks ago, they should gain an even greater advantage as the distance moves from 8k to 10k. Dylan Ko has proven that he’s a name to look out for during the championship season while Luc Hagen and Kyle Moran have proven to be some of the best low-sticks in the country when paired alongside him.
It’s not entirely a revolving door with the 4-5-6-7 runners, but it’s certainly a crapshoot as to who is going to finish where each week. Ben Schneiderman, Jake Mitchem, and Max Sevcik have all played important roles for their team this season and continue to do so for the regional meet. I don’t see any reason why Mines doesn’t win the South Central region with relative ease.
Adams State and Western Colorado will likely be battling for the 2nd and 3rd place spots here, and given that both teams didn’t run their full squads at their conference meet, it’ll be interesting to see which semi-rested lineup benefits the most from that.
As far as team scoring goes, Western Colorado has a clear advantage with Taylor Stack and Charlie Sweeney expected to finish near the front of the race.
A top duo, however, only goes so far though as Adams State placed all five of their scorers ahead of Western’s #3 runner just two weeks ago. Granted, Ross Husch, the normal #3 runner for Western, wasn’t racing and he should help fix that issue. But Kale Adams also didn’t run for Adams State, leaving the Grizzlies essentially without their top runner.
Dane Blomquist and Isaiah Rodarte did a fine job of serving as the 1-2 runners for the Grizzlies and a lineup of Paddy Robb, Miguel Villar, and Justin Andrade will certainly offer great support in the final few scoring spots.
The race for 2nd and 3rd will be close once again, but without a clear understanding of who their final two scorers will be, the Mountaineers will be scrambling to find someone to step up prior to the national meet.
The West Texas A&M Buffaloes have been an intriguing team throughout the season. They are led by Ezekiel Kipchirchir who should place inside the top 10 this weekend, especially given that the race is on his home course.
But the makeup of this team is unique as the rest of their scorers seemingly run as a pack. They let Kipchirchir score as few points as possible, and then they pack up and work as a team from there.
Daniel Haymes and Emmanuel Too have been strong, finishing as the #2 and #3 options for their team this season while Ahmed Omer, Justin Vigil, and Butare Rugenerwa have split time between 4-5-6 spots this season
They easily won the Lone Star Conference behind this same strategy, but if we look back at the Louisville Classic, they showed us that they were capable of doing this on an even larger scale. From Haymes to Rugenerwa (Haymes was scorer their #2 scorer and Rugenerwa was their #6), there was only a 30 second gap. If you move the time spread to their #5 scorer, it was only 25 seconds.
There’s clearly a strategy here that is working for the Buffaloes. Can it work this weekend against some of the nation’s best teams? We’ll have to see, but a top five finish should be in the works for them.
The UCCS Mountain Lions had a strong showing at the RMAC meet two weeks ago. Afewerki Zeru leads a Mountain Lions team that consists of a strong top three (which finished 4th, 12th, and 13th at RMAC's). They’ll need improvement at the backend of their scoring lineup, but shouldn’t have any issues finishing in the top five of this region.
1. Charlie Sweeney (Western Colorado)
2. Dylan Ko (Colorado Mines)
3. Taylor Stack (Western Colorado)
4. Ezekiel Kipchirchir (West Texas A&M)
5. Afewerki Zeru (UCCS)
6. Dane Blomquist (Adams State)
7. Kyle Moran (Colorado Mines)
8. Kale Adams (Adams State)
9. Ben Schneiderman (Colorado Mines)
10. Luc Hagen (Colorado Mines)
1. Colorado Mines Orediggers
2. Adams State Grizzlies
3. Western Colorado Mountaineers
4. West Texas A&M Buffaloes
5. UCCS Mountain Lions
On the women’s side of things, we'll see TSR #1 Adams State, TSR #3 Colorado Mines, TSR #6 Western Colorado, and TSR #9 UCCS vying for top five finishes spot. Also joining in on the competition will be Lubbock Christian, CSU-Pueblo, Dixie State, and MSU Denver.
Let’s be clear about one thing here. This is Adams State’s race to lose. If Colorado Mines were heavy favorites on the men’s side, then the women of Adams State are somehow bigger favorites than that.
The return of Stephanie Cotter and Roisin Flanagan have bolstered a lineup that was already menacing to some of the country's most elite programs. Eilish Flanagan is the TSR #1 contender for the NCAA title and has been on a tear all season long. The supporting cast of Kaylee Bogina, Haleigh Hunter-Galvan, and Tiffany Christensen give the Grizzlies three very capable runners who can make the team race even less interesting (which is good if you're an Adams State fan).
Colorado Mines should be the 2nd place team after their runner-up performance at RMAC's two weeks ago. They also proved their ability to run as team when they won the Capital Cross Challenge with a score of 89 points.
They placed three inside the top 15 in that race with Chloe Cook and Zoe Baker finishing inside the top 10. Their pack time at Capital Cross was 51 seconds and at RMAC's it was 1:01. Brook Eberle was the #5 runner at Capital and their #7 runner at their conference meet. They’ll need her to get back to being a regular scorer in order for them to be competitive, but they should still have no issues moving on to the NCAA meet.
Western Colorado is a team that will also be advancing to the national meet, and might be trending in the right direction as we near the Big Dance. They finished 3rd at the RMAC meet, but made noise earlier in the season when they placed 6th as a team at the Chile Pepper Festival. Their most impressive feat was having three women finish within 11 seconds of each other and in the top 34 of that race which was filled with top D1 talent.
Fast forward to RMAC's and the Mountaineers placed their top five inside the top 23. Their pack time between their five scorers was 31 seconds. That is an elite time spread. The issue with it, however, is that they need to place higher as a collective group in these kind of meets.
The concern with Western could be they don’t place high enough for their spread time to really matter. With four underclassmen inside their top six, it’s worth wondering if their inexperience could come back to bite them (or give them an incredibly high ceiling).
One of the most underrated teams this year has to be the UCCS Mountain Lions.
I still don’t think they’ve put together their best performance of the season despite a 4th place finish at the RMAC Championships and a 3rd place finish at the Roy Griak Invitational.
Kayla Wooten was 12th at RMAC's, but we expected her to finish higher than that. Add in Layla Almasri having a poorer race than expected, and it makes sense that UCSS finished 4th in their last race.
Expect Wooten and Almasri to bounce back this week with at least top 15 performances. With the backend of their lineup consisting of Maia Austin and Marissa Kuik, this team has the potential to jump inside the top three this weekend.
The 5th place spot in this region is really up for grabs. The likes of CSU-Pueblo, Lubbock Christian, Dixie State, and MSU-Denver should all finish relatively close to each other. Lubbock Christian won the Lone Star Conference with 64 points while CSU-Pueblo, Dixie State and MSU-Denver all finished within seven points of each other.
Amira Cunningham of Lubbock Christian has the chance to be the lowest finisher for any of these teams. She took home individual honors from the Lone Star and certainly can give them a leg up in the team race.
1. Adams State
2. Colorado Mines
4. Western Colorado
5. Lubbock Christian
1. Eilish Flanagan (Adams State)
2. Stephanie Cotter (Adams State)
3. Roisin Flanagan (Adams State)
4. Chloe Cook (Colorado Mines)
5. Kayla Wooten (UCCS)
6. Zoe Baker (Colorado Mines)
7. Amira Cunningham (Lubbock Christian)
8. Alden Gruidel (MSU Denver)
9. Alexia Thiros (Western Colorado)
10. Madeline Geesen (Colorado Mines)