Predictions are of the writer's opinion and may not match our site's official Kolas projections
Barring any major upsets, this race should be very straightforward on the team side. North Carolina State comes in as the heavy favorite after winning their fourth consecutive ACC title and earning the #5 spot in the TSR XC Top 25 rankings. The Wolfpack are led by TSR #9 individual Elly Henes and have found a young star in TSR #36 Kelsey Chmiel.
For the majority of this season, NC State has looked like a solid team. They haven’t blown away any expectations, but they have been very consistent in at least meeting those expectations.
The Wolfpack had their first big race of the season at Joe Piane, finishing 4th overall after being upset by a surprising Florida State squad. They looked slightly better a couple weeks later when they finished 3rd at Nuttycombe behind Arkansas and Stanford - arguably the two best teams in the country. Most recently, they won ACC's over Florida State, a race that came down to only 12 points between the two squads.
Coming into the season, NC State looked like a podium contender and although there are times when they haven't always looked like a top four team in the nation, they are still very clearly in that conversation.
Both Elly Henes and true freshman Kelsey Chmiel have been a phenomenal 1-2 punch throughout most of the season for this team. Henes has put herself in the top 10 conversation for Nationals while Chmiel has emerged as one of the top freshmen in the country. After seeing her finish 4th at ACC's, our concerns about her lack of experience on a collegiate championship stage seem to be lessening.
Julia Zachgo has been a very pleasant surprise for NC State at #3 position. Prior to this season, Zachgo had only finished in the top 100 once in cross country - placing 74th at ACC's in 2018. This season, she has been averaging almost 80 places higher per competition. That huge jump has been a difference maker for an NC State squad that had slightly higher expectations for junior Dominique Clairmonte who was an integral part of their roster in 2018.
Along with Zachgo, Savannah Shaw and Isabel Zimmerman have both looked very solid this season. Nevada Mareno had a nice rebound at ACC's to finish as the #5 runner for NC State and 26th overall after a DNF at Nuttycombe. With that level of depth and talent in their lineup, NC State should roll to victory without much of an issue on Friday.
The other ranked team in the region, and likely the other auto-qualifier, is the “Girl Gang” of Furman University. The Paladins come into Friday at TSR #15 and feature two highly-ranked individuals in TSR #23 Gabrielle Jennings and TSR #28 Savannah Carnahan. Behind these two, Furman looks ready to move through to NCAA's once again and better their 23rd place finish from 2018.
Savannah Carnahan came into 2019 as the top Furman runner, but has since been surprisingly overtaken by teammate Gabrielle Jennings. Carnahan is still having a very solid season, but Jennings has simply been on fire this fall.
Jennings first showed the true extent of her abilities at Bill Dellinger with a 7th place run, but really broke onto the scene at Nuttycombe by placing 8th in a loaded field. That was the first time this fall she had finished ahead of Carnahan (19th), who also had a very strong performance. Jennings is coming off a runner-up finish to Hannah Steelman of Wofford at the Southern Conference XC Championships and should be in contention for the individual win on Friday.
While Carnahan hasn’t been quite as strong as we expected, she has still posted a handful of impressive results for the Paladins. She’s placed 5th at Dellinger, 19th at Nuttycombe, and recently finished 3rd at SCC's. After Carnahan, Emma Grace Hurley and Kristlin Gear have looked like a solid 3-4 duo and should be in similar spots to NC State's bottom two scorers.
The only concern for the Paladins will be who fills their #5 spot. Grace Dwyer held that role at Nuttycombe, but finished back in 163rd - the second lowest position for the #5 runner on any team in the top 20. She was only 10 seconds back of their #4 runner at SCC's, but the meet was largely uncontested.
Given that the Southeast regional meet is not particularly deep for women’s teams, Dwyer should have a little more wiggle room on Friday - especially with how well Jennings is running up front. The Paladins will do what they need to in order to advance to Terre Haute by claiming the second auto-qualifier behind NC State.
If any other teams have a shot at sneaking by Furman, they would be Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Virginia Tech is coming off of a quietly respectable 4th place run at ACC's where they finished only 30 points behind Notre Dame. Sara Freix led the Hokies with a runner-up finish which should give her loads of confidence heading into Friday.
At that same meet, Wake Forest finished 6th and was only 12 points back of the Hokies.
Both programs look solid, but given that NC State had five women across the line before the #3 runner on either squad, it’s tough to see them competing with either the Wolfpack or Paladins on Friday. However, given how well Freix has been running, she should be able to boost Virginia Tech to a 3rd place finish and put them in the national qualifying conversation.
With NC State and Furman headed to NCAA's, and Virginia Tech also set to qualify (based on the collective predictions of our TSR staff), that means the only ranked woman in the field who is eligible for individual qualification is Hannah Steelman of Wofford (TSR #15).
Steelman has looked very strong this season despite facing minimal competition, but she did beat both Jennings and Carnahan at SCC's. Expect Steelman to battle with Henes and Jennings for the individual win which will also propel her into the national meet.
Former Georgetown Hoya turned UNC Tarheel, Paige Hofstad, also looks to be a very solid bet to earn an individual qualifier. Hofstad finished 5th at ACC's and is the next highest individual on a non-qualifying team in the region, just missing out on a spot in our TSR XC Top 50. She had a rough go earlier this season when she finished 55th at Joe Piane, but was able to rebound two weeks later with a 19th place finish at Pre-Nationals.
Hofstad has never qualified for NCAA's in either track or cross country, but appears poised to change that this week.
The final two qualifying spots for individuals is somewhat wide open. Ivine Chemutai of Louisville is coming off of a 12th place finish at ACC's and has been competitive all season. Elise Wright of Wake Forest was right on her heels in 14th and also notched an 8th place finish at Beantown earlier in the season. Wright did falter a bit at Nuttycombe, coming in only 81st place, but this meet figures to be substantially smaller and could offer a similar setting to ACC's.
Famke Heinst of High Point has been flying under the radar this season, but could make a name for herself on Friday. She dominated the BIG South Conference Championships, winning by nearly 40 seconds. Earlier this fall, she placed 3rd at the Commodore Classic, finishing only a second behind Bailey Hertenstein (TSR #20) of Indiana and Jessica Drop (TSR #33) of Georgia. While she hasn’t faced much competition since then, Heinst was 13th at this meet a year ago and might be the best runner of the unranked women.
1. North Carolina State - Team Automatic
2. Furman - Team Automatic
3. Virginia Tech
4. Wake Forest
5. North Carolina
8. High Point
1. Elly Henes (NC State)
2. Hannah Steelman (Wofford) - Individual Qualifier
3. Gabrielle Jennings (Furman)
4. Kelsey Chmiel (NC State)
5. Sara Freix (Virginia Tech)
6. Savannah Carnahan (Furman)
7. Famke Heinst (High Point) - Individual Qualifier
8. Paige Hofstad (UNC) - Individual Qualifier
9. Julia Zachgo (NC State)
10. Elise Wright (Wake Forest) - Individual Qualifier
Unlike the women, the potential finishes of the men's race in the Southeast region are much less clear. There are currently four teams projected to qualify for Nationals: TSR #21 Virginia Tech, TSR #22 Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, and Furman.
Based on our official Kolas projections in other regions, if the four programs we just mentioned finish in that order on Friday then all of them should move through to NCAA's.
The issue with projecting team qualifiers is that there are a number of scenarios that can happen, but for the sake of this preview, we will consider only volatility within this region and how these teams finish.
The Hokies of Virginia Tech lead the way in the region thanks to TSR #22 Peter Seufer. The senior is coming off of a big performance at ACC's where he took the individual win by crushing Yared Nuguse of Notre Dame by almost 40 seconds. While Seufer didn’t have his greatest day at Pre-Nationals earlier this season, he looks to be peaking at the right time and could challenge the Campbell duo of Amon Kemboi and Athanas Kioko for the individual win.
Behind Seufer, Diego Zarate and Fitsum Seyoum look like a great 2-3 pairing. Seyoum has looked solid all season, notching a 29th place at Pre-Nationals and an 11th place run at ACC's. Zarate had a rough day in Terre Haute earlier this season, but bounced back nicely at ACC's to finish 7th overall.
The big question for Virginia Tech will be which guy can fill the #5 scoring role. Jack Joyce has been that guy at both Pre-Nationals and ACC's, and although he was only 51st at his conference championships, he's at least been consistent and offers veteran experience at the backend of their lineup.
Speaking of Virginia-based teams, the Cavaliers matched Virginia Tech’s point total at ACC's (both scored 100 points), but lost on the tie-breaker to finish 4th instead of 3rd. While the Cavaliers don’t have the same firepower as the Hokies up front, they make up for it with incredible depth. Virginia actually placed all seven runners ahead of Virginia Tech’s #5 man at ACC's and in a slightly deeper field, this could give the Cavaliers the edge.
Virginia has had a handful of men rotating around the top five positions, but some order of Peter Morris, AJ Ernst, Alex Corbett, Lachlan Cook, and Ari Klau should make up their scoring group on Friday. Morris is coming off of a big performance at ACC's where he led the team with a 12th place finish in his first cross country ACC meet. Ernst has been solid all year and led the team at Nuttycombe earlier this fall where they placed 18th.
Despite not having the same level of talent up front, the Cavaliers are coming into Friday with a great chance at upsetting Virginia Tech thanks to an incredibly deep seven man squad. Regardless of their order, if Virginia and Virginia Tech finish 1st and 2nd, neither Eastern Kentucky nor Furman are affected in regards to qualifying implications.
As for EKU, they should come into this competition carrying plenty of momentum after steamrolling the Ohio Valley Conference with a 1-2-3-4-9 finish. Led by TSR #23 Ezekiel Kibichi, the Colonels will look to put together a solid showing on Friday after a slew of inconsistencies this fall.
The team initially opened up their season at Joe Piane where they finished 9th as a team and only 10 points behind Wisconsin. Kibichi finished 9th individually and the rest of the EKU squad finished in the top 85 to put together a great showing against a handful of ranked schools.
Only a few weeks later at the Nuttycombe Invitational, EKU essentially fell apart, finishing 22nd overall, finishing behind fellow Southeast regional rivals Virginia and Furman in the process. While Kibichi still had a solid day where he finished 13th, the next EKU runner was back in 129th - only two programs had a #2 runner finish worse.
A couple weeks later, EKU seemed to put things back together and ran away with the OVC Championships by scoring only 19 points and Kibichi taking the overall win.
The question for Friday...is which squad will show up? EKU only needs to finish 3rd to move through to NCAA's, but if they do falter and Furman surpasses them, they are likely no longer moving on to Terre Haute. The only lock for EKU appears to be Ezekiel Kibichi leading the way - he should be top 10 (if not higher) on Friday.
Last but not least are the Paladins of Furman. Similar to EKU, the Furman men crushed their conference meet with a total of only 21 points and should have some momentum coming into Friday.
Furman has a key low-stick scorer in TSR #21 Ryan Adams who has been their top man all season long and has potential to win the region. Adams notched 6th and 11th place finishes at Bill Dellinger and Nuttycombe respectively, and won the individual title at the Southern Conference Championships.
Daniel Bernal has been the #2 Paladin behind Adams all season long and should be competitive with most of the second scoring options on other teams. Bernal finished runner-up to Adams at SCC's and also placed 51st in a deep Nuttycombe field.
Like other teams, Furman has some problems that could keep them from moving on. Despite jogging to victory at SCC's, some of their other races have highlighted issues - notably a sharp decline after Bernal. Furman finished 19th at Nuttycombe, but had one of the largest gaps (83 places) between their #2 and #3 runners in the whole field. That gap, coupled with their final two scorers failing to crack the top 150, raises some concerns about their ability to compete in a deeper meet.
Their race at SCC's doesn’t provide much insight as to whether that gap has closed or not, but Furman should benefit from a few key aspects on Friday that can keep them moving on to Terre Haute...
The first is that the Southeast region is no Nuttycombe, which means there won’t be the same volume of runners to push back their 3-4-5 runners. Secondly, and more importantly, is that Furman should move on even if they finish 4th overall. Despite some of their backend deficiencies, the Paladins have managed to run fairly well which should help them move on to Terre Haute (emphasis on "should").
One team that deserves a mention here is North Carolina State. Coming into the season, the Wolfpack appeared to be a lock to make NCAA's. Since then, they have fallen apart, placing 8th at ACC's and having numerous runners drop out at Nuttycombe. While they may have some individuals who could qualify, NC State will not be in contention as a team unless they can make some dramatic improvements on their backend.
Moving into individual qualifiers, we are going to assume that all four of the aforementioned squads will indeed qualify for NCAA's. With those individuals out of the picture, the first two men who appear to be all but locks for Terre Haute are TSR #11 Amon Kemboi and TSR #32 Athanas Kioko, both of Campbell.
Kemboi has been a force in the NCAA for a couple years now and has continued to put up strong performances this season. He finished runner-up to Conner Mantz at Pre-Nationals and recently was runner-up to Kioko at the BIG South Conference Championships. Kemboi should already have his flight to Terre Haute booked.
Similarly, Kioko looks like a lock. He absolutely crushed Kemboi at the BIG South Championships, winning by over 40 seconds (although we had a reliable source inform us that Kemboi held back in the final moments of that race). Kioko hasn’t been the most consistent runner this season, finishing only 22nd at Pre-Nationals, but he is still well above the majority of the other runners in this region and should qualify for Nationals even with a sub-par day.
The other two individual qualifying spots are not quite as concrete as a number of athletes on non-qualifying teams look capable of qualifying. Zach Facioni of Wake Forest has been having a solid year, but really broke through at ACC's where he finished 4th overall. Although he was only 67th at Nuttycombe, his conference performance definitely puts him in contention to qualify this year after finishing 14th in 2018.
Emmanuel Cheboson of Louisville is the top-returner and should be a major name to watch after placing 21st at Pre-Nationals earlier this season. The one concern with Cheboson is that he was all the way back in 45th at ACC's which does not bode well going into this Friday. That race was more than likely just a fluke, but keep an eye on him early to see if he puts himself in contention.
And how about the Wildschutt brothers from Coastal Carolina? Nadeel and Adriaan are two of the most underrated distance runners in the NCAA, but they are extremely inconsistent and rarely ever run against top competition (in cross country) until the Southeast regional meet. These two are very capable of qualifying for Nationals given their sub-29 10k personal bests, but we said the same thing about Nadeel last year and he ended up finishing 52nd in the region. Which version of the Wildschutt brothers will we see tomorrow?
Finally, the NC State pair of Ian Shanklin and Gavin Gaynor are both coming off of good showings at ACC's and could find themselves in qualifying positions. Despite dropping out of Nuttycombe, Shanklin seems like a strong potential candidate to qualify for NCAA's after notching a 7th place finish at Joe Piane and a 4th place finish at ACC's.
As for Gaynor, the junior appears to be putting it together at the right time in hopes of a second big breakthrough on Friday. He didn’t crack the top 60 at either Joe Piane or Nuttycombe, but finished 7th at ACC's. He is not a name that you want to sleep on.
1. Virginia Tech - Team Automatic
2. Virginia - Team Automatic
3. Eastern Kentucky - Team At-Large (push)
4. Furman - Team At-Large
5. Wake Forest
7. NC State
10. North Carolina
1. Amon Kemboi (Campbell) - Individual Qualifier
2. Athanas Kioko (Campbell) - Individual Qualifier
3. Peter Seufer (Virginia Tech)
4. Ian Shanklin (NC State) - Individual Qualifier
5. Nadeel Wildschutt (Coastal Carolina) - Individual Qualifier
6. Adriaan Wildschutt (Coastal Carolina)
7. Ryan Adams (Furman)
8. Ezekiel Kibichi (EKU)
9. Zach Facioni (Wake Forest)
10. Peter Morris (Virginia)