Updated: Dec 17, 2018
Thank you to everyone who followed our individual rankings! The Top 50 and Top 20 did incredibly well and we really appreciate all of the support we've received. We'll be updating those rankings throughout the season and keeping track of their progression.
The next thing on our agenda will be the XC Top 25 teams, but that most likely won't be happening until August when most cross country rosters are finalized and released.
Despite the great detail and research that went into our Top 50 and Top 20, there is still so much to discuss and so many questions to answer. What are the expectations for certain individuals during the 2018 season? Who will be under pressure to perform? Who is looking to rebound from injury? Do any of these guys have something to prove? What kind of impact will they have on their team?
We looked at this year's upcoming group of athletes and discussed the potential storylines distance running fans will want to keep an eye in the next few months...
Syracuse is now Aidan Tooker's team
The Syracuse men have now entered the "life after Knight" era. We knew it was coming, but we may not have been fully awake to that fact until Knight signed his pro contract. What most people didn't see coming was Coach Fox also leaving and giving the reins of the program to long-time assistant coach Brien Bell.
Of course, the Syracuse men lost more than just Knight. Germano and Bennie have also finished their eligibility, leaving Syracuse depleted when it comes firepower in their scoring. Luckily, the Orange are still brimming with young talent capable who are capable of stepping up and developing over time.
With Coach Fox and Knight both gone, all eyes will be on Aidan Tooker to see if he can rally the troops and maintain Syracuse's dominance. Rising sophomore Noah Affolder will likely be flanking Tooker throughout the season to add some potency to the scoring.
Will Tooker's raw talent be enough to carry this Syracuse team throughout the season? Can Tooker and Bell become the next great coach-athlete duo throughout the NCAA?
It's a tall-task, but if we've learned anything from these up-state New Yorkers, it's to not underestimate them. The last time we did that, they won an NCAA title.
Matthew Maton's disappearance
As Oregon prepared for the completion of Cheserek's eligibility, they were slowly developing their next superstar. Matthew Maton showed all the signs of being an elite ace with multiple All-American finishes and nationally competitive personal bests.
Yet, just when the Ducks needed him the most, he seemingly disappeared along with Cheserek. The last time we saw him sport the Oregon singlet was during the 2017 indoor track season. Ever since then, his absence has been a mystery. Is he injured? Unhappy with the program? Handling a personal problem? All of these are possibilities, but they are only suggestions and far from the actual truth as far we know.
Maton could be preserving his eligibility, but he's been out for long enough to the point where his NCAA eligibility is continuing to expire.
As of right now, Maton is still listed on the roster. If he returns, Oregon could be legitimate contenders for the national title in the next year or two. Until, we'll continue to scratch our heads and inquire about his whereabouts.
Dressel's rebound from injury
Over the past few years, Dressel has become one of Colorado's premier low-sticks who has consistently found himself at the top of most results. The Buffaloes showed a lot of promise last year, but Dressel sustained an injury that would shut him down for the entirety of the 2017-2018 academic year.
It appears that Dressel is healthy and fully back to training. Although we know he's training, his progress is still unknown. What kind of impact can he during the 2018 season? Can he come an All-American? Will he stay healthy?
Dressel may not be a favorite to win it all in 2018, but if he stays healthy and continues to improve, he could be in the running for the 2019 national title.
Can Conner Mantz replace Casey Clinger?
There may have been a sense of urgency for the BYU Cougars last fall. They had multiple low-sticks, the best depth in the country, continuous growth, and a group of young stars supporting their group. Despite having a well-rounded team, the addition of Casey Clinger was a big reason why Brigham Young so successful. With Clinger set to depart for a mission trip after the season, 2017 had to be the year for BYU to go all-in on a national title effort.
Casey Clinger turned out to be one of the best true freshman in the country last year and a vital top five scorer. With Clinger gone, Coach Eyestone will need to find a new replacement for his young star. Of course, there may not be a better replacement than Conner Mantz.
After returning from his two year mission trip, Mantz has rebuilt his training and is incredibly fit. This past spring, the redshirt freshman earned PR's of 13:52 and 28:57, making him one of the best young talents that the NCAA has to offer.
Is Mantz capable of replacing Clinger? Can he have the same impact, if not better? His performances from the spring indicate that he has the talent to become another legitimate low-stick for an already stacked BYU team.
Who knows? Maybe Mantz, not Clinger, will be the young superstar who brings the Cougars their first XC team title...
Gidabuday's final battle for an XC title
The entirety of last week was focused on John Cusick's D2 Top 20 rankings. The final rankings certainly surprised a few people as Cusick opted to put Zach Panning at number one over six-time national champion Sydney Gidabuday. Yet, of Gidabuday's six national titles, none of them have come during cross country.
The Adams State superstar has had an unprecedented career in terms of accomplishments. At the XC National Championships, he was 6th in 2015 and 4th in 2016. An injury hampered his 2017 season and pushed him back to a 17th place finish.
There is absolutely no doubt that Gidabuday is one of the best distance runners to ever come through Division Two. Regardless of what happens this season, his legacy will be remembered for a long, long time.
Still, you can't help but wonder if he can pull off the career trifecta of national titles. It would certainly be an exciting way to round-out his collegiate resume.
Does Peter Lomong need validation?
It's amazing that someone can finish 8th at the National Championships, but still be questioned about his cross country talent. That is currently happening with Peter Lomong, the former mid-distance runner who has become an underrated low-stick for NAU over the past year. His regular season performances during the 2017 were strong, but they didn't quite indicate that he would finish in the top 10 at the national meet. Of course, at a meet like NCAA's, no one ever knows what's going to happen.
Is there still something for Lomong to prove in 2018? His track season was respectable, but he never broke 30 minutes in the 10k and didn't qualify for the West Regional preliminaries this past spring.
NAU is hoping to become one of the most legendary cross country squads ever. If they win the team title at NCAA's in 2018, they'll become only the 5th program in NCAA history to win three (or more) consecutive team titles joining Arkansas (who did it twice), UTEP, Villanova, and Drake.
There will be a lot of pressure on the Lumberjacks to stay at the top of the NCAA. With Trouard now graduated, fans from Flagstaff will look to Lomong as a consistent replacement for that low-stick role. His impact on the team could be far greater than many realize...