Predictions are of the writer's opinion and may not match our site's official Kolas projections
The South region traditionally has been one of the weaker regions in the country on the men’s side. Rarely has more than two teams qualified for NCAA's. This has started to change, however, with the development of programs such as Alabama, Ole Miss, and Middle Tennessee State.
Traditional powerhouse Florida State has continued to be a factor at the top of the region while schools such as Tennessee, Georgia Tech, North Florida, and Belmont have seen their programs improve steadily. In 2017, three teams qualified for NCAA's (Ole Miss, MTSU, and Alabama), and it would not be surprising to see three teams qualify once again.
Like last year, the favorite to win the region is TSR #14 Ole Miss Rebels. The team has been excellent for most of the season with their only sub-par race being a 5th place finish at Pre-Nationals. If that is their worst race of the season, then the Rebels are in good shape.
What really makes this team’s resume stand out is their 2nd place finish at Joe Piane, beating plenty of teams within TSR’s top 15. Their most recent race at the SEC Championships was a convincing win against an overmatched field.
Led by TSR #41 Waleed Suliman, the Rebels have had a strong top five all year long with a significant gap forming between their #5 and #6 runners. However, one exciting development for this team is the addition of freshman Cole Bullock to their lineup who had raced unattached this season until SEC’s where he finished 9th overall and was their #4 scorer.
Throughout the regular season, this team was very reliant on their top five of Suliman, Farah Abdulkarim, Cade Bethmann, Mario Garica Romo, and Parker Scott. Seeing Bullock step into a scoring role at a championship meet was a good sign for the Rebels' as it adds an extra layer of scoring security to their varsity squad.
The only team who has a chance of taking the South region title from Ole Miss is TSR #20 MTSU. While the Rebels will be focused on simply earning a top two finish, the Blue Raiders will be running hard to ensure that they are within the top two. Unlike Florida State who has the luxury of owning numerous Kolas points, MTSU needs a top two finish to qualify for NCAA's.
This is a team that has yet to lose a race all year, but the only national caliber team they have faced so far is Indiana. To beat the TSR #10 Hoosiers was impressive, but that was early in the season at the Commodore Classic. They have run well since then, but against lesser competition with wins at the Louisville Classic, Arturo Barrios Invitational, and the Conference USA Championships.
With potent low-sticks up front in TSR #15 Jacob Choge and TRS #16 Kigen Chemadi, MTSU will likely have two men in the top five on Friday. Lebo Mosito has been a solid #3 runner all year, but the concern that I have with MTSU lies with their final two scorers.
Brian Rono and Hillary Kimaiyo have run much better than expected and are the reason why MTSU has performed so well this season. At the start of the season, freshman Kimaiyo was running close to Mosito, but at the C-USA Championships, he was beaten by Rono who was 43rd at the South Regional Championships in 2018.
For MTSU to put a scare into Ole Miss, as well as hold off Florida State, they will need Kimaiyo and Rono to finish inside of the top 30 instead of outside the top 40.
Florida State, on the other hand, will look to secure a top three finish as they have enough Kolas points to secure an at-large bid should they finish outside of the top two, although they aren’t necessarily guaranteed an at-large spot to Nationals.
The Seminoles have been a steady team this season, finishing 10th at Joe Piane and 6th at Pre-Nationals where they were only one place behind Ole Miss. With graduate transfer Kasey Knevelbaard operating as a low-stick, the Seminoles have four men who have packed up well this season to give the team a solid scoring five. Caleb Portoff, Silas Griffith, Steven Cross, and Paul Stafford have all been consistent finishers for this team and will need to continue their strong pack-running at the regional meet.
While Florida State has run well this season, they are coming off of their worst performance of the year at the ACC Championships. Finishing behind Wake Forest, the Seminoles ended their conference meet with a disappointing 6th place result. While both Knevelbaard and Stafford ran great races, the rest of the Florida State pack was unable to match the same scoring potency as the other teams around them. They will need their pack to run better in order to hold off any upset bids.
Despite their most recent performance, I have confidence in this Florida State team. The Seminoles ran exceptionally well on their home course last year, and they will benefit from a home course advantage once again this weekend. With a team that is better up front and more complete than last year, Florida State should be finish solidly within the top three and give MTSU a run for their money for the runner-up spot.
The wildcard team is of course Alabama. With the best 1-2 punch in the country, the Crimson Tide will need some big contributions from their bottom two runners if they want to pull off an upset. Gilbert Kigen and Vincent Kiprop will likely earn the top two spots while Noel Rotich should be a top 15 runner.
For Alabama to lock down a top four finish, they will need their #4 and #5 runners to finish in the top 50 (at least). They will also need James Brinyark to continue to get back to his 2018 form when he finished 29th at this meet. After a 37th place finish SEC's, he is trending in the right direction, but it is difficult to say if he will be able to finish as highly as he did last year.
Behind Brinyark at SEC's was the duo of Elliott Miller and Elliott Gindi who crossed the line in 45th and 46th place, respectively. For the Crimson Tide to have any chance of surprising one of the top three teams, they will need one of these men to finish within the top 40 at minimum.
A few other teams to keep an eye on this year are Florida, Georgia Tech, Lipscomb, and Belmont. The Gators were 6th at SEC's and will need to improve on that performance in order to break into the top five. At ACC's, the Yellow Jackets earned a 9th place finish, but in last year’s regional meet they finished 5th. With most of their lineup returning this year, they will be a factor to earn another top five finish.
The two teams from Nashville - Belmont and Lipscomb - should also compete for that 5th place spot. The Bruins were 4th last year and only lost one member from their top five.
Lipscomb, on the other hand, started this year slow, but have improved steadily. They enter the South regional meet in good form after winning the ASUN Championships.
Alabama's Kigen and Kiprop will set the pace of the race, but the race will likely be controlled by the Ole Miss pack. I anticipate a large group of 20 to 30 runners in the front pack for at least the first three miles before the Crimson Tide duo, along with Chemadi and Choge of MTSU, start to break the race open.
I expect to see most of the Rebels top group within the top 15 with Suliman, Bethmann, and Abdulkarim in the top 10. Kasey Knevelbaard of Florida State, the McLeod’s of Belmont, Lipscomb’s Brent Leber, and Ben Varghese of ETSU will all be competing for the remainder of the spots within the top 10.
*Due to potential bias, Garrett made the following predictions for the men's race*
1. Ole Miss - Team Automatic
2. Middle Tennessee State - Team Automatic
3. Florida State - Team At-Large
5. Georgia Tech
10. North Florida
1. Vincent Kiprop (Alabama) - Individual Qualifier
2. Jacob Choge (MTSU)
3. Gilbert Kigen (Alabama) - Individual Qualifier
4. Kigen Chemadi (MTSU)
5. Waleed Suliman (Ole Miss)
6. Farah Abdulkarim (Ole Miss)
7. Kasey Knevelbaard (Florida State)
8. Cade Bethmann (Ole Miss)
9. Kaleb McLeod (Belmont) - Individual Qualifier
10. Brent Leber (Lipscomb) - Individual Qualifier
11. Noel Rotich (Alabama)
12. Mario Garcia Romo (Ole Miss)
13. Lebo Mosito (MTSU)
14. Ben Varghese (ETSU)
15. Nick Lanning (Vanderbilt)
16. Cole Bullock (Ole Miss)
17. Paul Stafford (Florida State)
18. Caleb Portoff (Florida State)
19. Nathan Jubran (North Florida)
20. Stephen Jones (Mississippi State)
The race for a top two spot and a ticket to Nationals might not be as intense as we thought it could be at the beginning of the season, but it will be an interesting fight, nonetheless.
TSR #11 Florida State has proven to be the top team in the region with solid performances throughout the year. Other teams such as Florida, Georgia Tech, and Georgia have underwhelmed while Ole Miss has been a steady, respectable squad so far.
One team that has been a pleasant surprise this season is TSR #25 Middle Tennessee State who will give Ole Miss a fight for that final automatic qualifying spot. While the Rebels can rest easy with a 3rd performance knowing that they have enough Kolas points to qualify for Nationals, MTSU will need that top two spot in order to go to the Big Dance.
But first, let’s talk about the hometown favorite, Florida State.
The Seminoles have run superbly all season long, starting with their 3rd place performance at Joe Piane where they beat NC State and Washington. Finishing 5th at Pre-Nationals was another nice result while their runner-up performance at ACC's was very solid.
Maudie Skyring has been a great low-stick all season while Lauren Ryan and TSR #48 Elizabeth Funderburk ran fantastic races at ACC's to lead their team. Running on their home course, the Seminoles should dominate and cruise to a victory.
Next up is the Ole Miss Rebels who have followed behind Florida State all year long. At Joe Piane, they were 10th overall, utilizing pack-running without any top low-sticks. They employed that same strategy at Pre-Nationals where they once again finished 10th. At SEC's, they were able to pull off a runner-up finish behind Arkansas, but the Rebels still appear vulnerable.
Madeleine King was their top runner at Pre-Nationals, but was 31st at SEC's and the Rebel’s #6 woman. The fact that Ole Miss was still able to finish 2nd without one of their top runners within their top five shows just how good their depth is.
The main worry with Ole Miss is that in a larger field like this, they will struggle to compete without any low-sticks. Ultimately, their depth should be enough to earn them a top three finish somewhat easily, but they will be susceptible to an MTSU team who has more scoring potency.
The Blue Raiders may have lost to the Rebels earlier in the season at the Commodore Classic, but they will be much tougher to beat on Friday. After their loss in Nashville, MTSU won the Louisville Classic before finishing 2nd at the Arturo Barrios Invitational behind TSR #17 California Baptist. Following this, MTSU easily won the Conference USA title over Southern Mississippi.
Eusila Chepkemei and Joice Jebor have led the way all year, but it has been the improvement of the backend of their lineup that has catapulted them into our XC Top 25. Pamela Kosgei and Mercy Chepkurui have been solid supporting scorers (especially at their conference meet), but their final scoring position is what has kept them from beating California Baptist at Arturo Barrios.
If Chepkemei and Jebor can finish ahead of Ole Miss’ top runner, and their #3 and #4 runners can be near the Rebels' top three, then they will have a shot at taking them down even without a great option at #5 spot.
The individual race should be fun rematch for the top ladies from SEC's. Joyce Kimeli finished 3rd at SEC's while Jessica Drop and Jessica Pascoe were 6th and 7th, respectively. With the Seminoles likely packing up and working together, expect to see the Florida State women within the top 10, but not necessarily in the top five. That leaves Kimeli, Pascoe, and Drop to battle it out for the win.
It will also be fascinating to see where MTSU and Ole Miss’ pack run in relation to one another. Besides Florida State, the supporting scorers of those two teams will likely dictate the tempo of this race.
1. Florida State - Team Automatic
2. Middle Tennessee State - Team Automatic
3. Ole Miss - Team At-Large
7. Georgia Tech
8. Southern Miss
13. South Alabama
1. Joyce Kimeli (Auburn) - Individual Qualifier
2. Jessica Pascoe (Florida) - Individual Qualifier
3. Jessica Drop (Georgia) - Individual Qualifier
4. Maudie Skyring (Florida State)
5. Eusila Chepkemei (MTSU)
6. Mercy Chelangat (Alabama) - Individual Qualifier
7. Lauren Ryan (Florida State)
8. Joice Jebor (MTSU)
9. Madeleine King (Ole Miss)
10. Elizabeth Funderburk (Florida State)
11. Nicole Fegans (Georgia Tech)
12. Victoria Simmons (Ole Miss)
13. Jodie Judd (Florida State)
14. Mary Kathryn Knott (Georgia Tech)
15. Megan Mooney (Florida State)
16. Andonet Cheruiyot (South Alabama)
17. Sandra Szpott (Southern Miss)
18. Pamela Kosgei (MTSU)
19. Grace Jensen (Vanderbilt)
20. Mary Grace Strozier (Samford)