Traditionally one of the top regions in the country, the Southeast has experienced a little bit of a down year. According to TSR’s Kolas projections, no team from the region will receive an at-large bid (based on our current projections). Looking at the amount of Kolas points that every team has, Eastern Kentucky is the only team that could qualify for an at-large spot. However, that is unlikely as they will almost certainly finish in the top two at regionals. This leaves only one automatic qualifying spot available for at least three very good teams: Furman, Virginia, and NC State. We will look at these three teams along with EKU and assess who the x-factors will be.
The Colonels’ have been one of the surprise teams nationally this year. Led by newcomer and national challenger James Sugira, EKU has a guaranteed low-stick regardless of if it’s the OVC Championships or Nationals. Sugira has run well all year, winning multiple races and finishing 4th at Nuttycombe. In addition, when Sugira succeeds, so do his teammates. They finished 12th at Nuttycombe right behind Washington State and Southern Utah and right ahead of Michigan and Indiana. They also finished 2nd to Virginia at Penn State and easily won OVC's.
Behind Sugira is Jaime Romo and David Corrales. Romo, one of the few seniors on the team, has been a consistent number two all year. He finished in 41st at Nuttycombe and 11th at the Penn State National Open. Romo did not race at his conference meet, but instead, ran a workout the day before. The team didn’t skip a beat without him at OVC’s winning easily, and this was in large part because of another newcomer Corrales. The transfer has come in and made an immediate impact as a consistent top three finisher. Corrales finished 70th at Nuttycombe, right behind Romo at Penn State, and 4th place at OVC’s. This top trio has provided EKU with some much needed stability and consistency at the top of their roster after losing Jamaine Coleman last year.
While the strength of this Colonel team is their top three, they occasionally struggle with consistency at the four and five spots. Earlier in the year, Fred Kanda and Zach Stewart were their four and five at Nuttycombe while Erik Rotich and Stewart filled those spots at Penn State. At OVC’s Rotich, Samuel Abascal, and Antoine Senard filled the back end.
While EKU certainly has many solid options for their four through seven spots, their performances have fluctuated. However, the emergence of Erik Rotich has been a good sign. After running in the "B" race at Nuttycombe, Rotich ran a very nice race at Penn State coming in 17th. If Rotich can finish that close to Corrales, then EKU will have a solid number four. Stewart, Abascal, and Senard will most likely be the three competing for the fifth spot. Stewart sat out OVC's, but has been consistent, if not spectacular, throughout the year. Senard has improved throughout the season finishing right behind Rotich at OVC's, and Abascal has had some good and bad finishes during the season. My bet is it will be Senard who takes the fifth spot.
Right now, EKU is the favorite to take one of the two automatic national qualifying spots behind the strength of their top three. One thing to watch is how far up their four and five finish because if they are far back, then their weakness could be exposed at a meet where there is a ton talent.
Virginia seemed like they would enter regionals as the clear number one team in the after their victory at Penn State over EKU. Instead, many are questioning whether this strong Cavalier team will even make Nationals.
Virginia started the year with a respectable 4th finish at the Battle of Beantown that saw them lose to Syracuse, Washington, and Ole Miss. They followed this up with their win at Penn State and then finished in a disappointing 4th at ACC’s. Most of their team has been inconsistent with the exception of Brent Demarest. Demarest has been a great low-stick coming in 7th at Beantown, 6th at Penn State, and 4th at ACC’s. There has been a revolving door for the rest of spots in the top five. A.J. Ernst, Alex Corbett, Ari Klau, and Randy Neish have all been Virginia’s two or three at different points in the year. Klau and Ernst have been the most consistent throughout the season, although Ernst had an off race at ACC's. If these two can finish right behind Demarest like they did at Penn State, then they have a team that could beat EKU and most likely qualify for Nationals. Neish and Corbett could also get Virginia back to their Penn State form by closing the team’s spread. With Furman and NC State breathing down Virginia’s neck, the men from Charlottesville will need to make sure that they are on top of their game this weekend.
They were left for dead after a poor performance at Notre Dame, losing to BYU, Wyoming, and Notre Dame. However, Furman bounced back in a big way at Pre-Nats. Led by Aaron Templeton, Furman finished 9th in the Cardinal race and put themselves firmly back into the national picture.
To be fair, we all probably shouldn’t have overreacted after they lost to three top 15 teams in the country.
Ryan Adams and Daniel Bernal have both stepped up to form a solid top three with nice races at Pre-Nats that saw them place 34th and 56th, respectively. Jake Ogden and Mason Coppi finished right next to each other in 70th and 71st. It is hard to gauge Furman because they haven’t had a competitive race since Pre-Nats, so it is hard to tell if that race was a fluke or if that’s what we should expect from them. I tend to believe that with all of the talent Paladins have on campus, they are a lot closer to the team that showed up at Pre-Nats than the one that raced at Notre Dame. Again, watch the spread for the team at regionals. If their spread is under 45 seconds, then I think they will be close to earning a spot to Nationals.
All year before conference, NC State has been fine. Solid, if not exciting. They were 16th at Nuttycombe beating Iona and Gerogetown, but losing to Michigan and Indiana. They followed this up with a disappointing 14th place fiish in the Cardinal race at Pre-Nats. After this performance it seemed like their chances of making Nationals were over, but, out of nowhere, they came a wonderful performance at ACC's. Handily beating Virginia to come in 3rd behind Notre Dame and Syracuse was a big shock.
Ian Shanklin has been a consistent number one for the Wolfpack. He followed up two top 55 finishes at Nuttycombe and Pre-Nats with a 7th place run at ACC's. I am confident that he will lead the team at regionals and have a top 15 performance. The worry comes from the rest of the top five. Look for Gavin Gaynor and Elijiah Moskowitz to be filling the rest of the top three. Moskowitz ran well at Nuttycome to come in 54th, had an off race at Pre-Nats, but bounced back well at ACC's to finish 17th. Gaynor has been a steady presence coming in 76th at both Nuttycome and Pre-Nats, and later finished right behind Moskowitz at ACC's.
The x-factor for the team could end up being Edwin Rutto who had a breakout race at the ACC Championships coming in 14th ahead of Moskowitz and Gaynor after finishing mostly behind them all season. If he can have a similar performance, then he raises NC State’s ceiling to about the same level as Virginia and Furman's. Patrick Sheehan and Joe Bistritz give the Wolfpack other options for their top five. They were NC State’s five and six at ACC's and Sheehan has been right behind the rest of the top five for most of the year.
NC State, unlike the other three, does not have much margin for error. They have to run a near perfect race like they did at ACC's to have a chance of finishing among the top two in this region.
1. Eastern Kentucky Colonels
2. Furman Paladins
3. Virginia Cavaliers
4. NC State Wolfpack
5. Wake Forest Deacons
6. Kentucky Wildcats
7. Virginia Tech Hokies
8. Duke Blue Devils
9. North Carolina Tar Heels
10. Liberty Flames
11. Louisville Cardinals
12. Charlotte 49ers
13. Campbell Camels
14. William and Mary Tribe
15. Appalachian State Mountaineers
Eastern Kentucky’s overall talent, depth, and current fitness should carry the Colonels to a 1st place finish and an automatic spot to Nationals. In what should be a close race, separated by only 10 or 20 points, I believe that Furman will be able to pull out the last automatic spot. While I am still not sure which Furman team we will get at regionals, I believe in their talent and in Aaron Templeton to provide a top five finish. I also think their spread will be tighter than the rest of the teams they are competing against which will end up being the deciding factor.
Virginia should be right on the Paladins heels, but I worry that they are trending in the wrong direction after ACC's. Lastly, NC State should be only a few points back, but I worry that if one of their top five races like they did at Pre-Nats, then that could cost the Wolfpack their chance at a national qualifying spot.
The individual race should be a quick and fierce battle. With James Sugira, and Campbell’s Lawrence Kipkoech and Amon Kemboi leading the front of the pack, the pace should be hot from the get-go. Others that could be in the lead group are Aaron Templeton (Furman), Peter Seufer (Virginia Tech), and Brent Demarest (Virginia).
Zach Facioni, the freshman from Wake Forest, and Azaria Kirwa are both runners to look out for. Facioni narrowly lost to Seufer at ACC's and Kirwa was right behind Facioni at Pre-Nats. After Templeton’s spectacular race, I expect him to compete for the 2nd spot with the Campbell boys. A few dark horses to mention are Kentucky’s Ben Young who ran well at SEC’s and Tom Nobles from Charlotte.
1. James Sugira (Eastern Kentucky)
2. Lawrence Kipkoeh (Campbell)
3. Aaron Templeton (Furman)
4. Amon Kemboi (Campbell)
5. Peter Seufer (Virginia Tech)
6. Zach Facioni (Wake Forest)
7. Azaria Kirwa (Liberty)
8. Brent Demarest (Virginia)
9. Ian Shanklin (NC State)
10. Jamie Romo (Eastern Kentucky)
11. Ryan Adams (Furman)
12. David Corrales (Eastern Kentucky)
13. Ari Klau (Virginia)
14. Elijah Moskowitz (NC State)
15. Daniel Bernal (Furman)
16. A.J. Ernst (Virginia)
17. Tom Nobles (Charlotte)
18. Ben Young (Kentucky)
19. Edwin Rutto (NC State)
20. Emanuel Cheboson (Louisville)