Updated: Jan 8
Who is the next big D2 distance superstar in 2020?
John: I personally think that Grand Valley State's Tanner Chada will be the next huge superstar who makes a splash in 2020. Despite a lackluster finish at the 2019 NCAA XC Championships, the sophomore has already finished 3rd in the 5k at the outdoor national meet and was 10th at the indoor national meet in the same race. His cross country season proved that he's a legitimate contender and knows how to compete. He’s already run 14:20 on the outdoor track and I think he has a chance to blow that out of the water in 2020.
On the women’s side, I’ll be watching Lauren Bailey (Indianapolis) who just ran 16:17 and 9:38 prior to Christmas break (both new personal bests). She’s coming off of a 9th place finish at the NCAA XC Championships this past fall and should find herself in contention for the distance titles over the next two seasons (3k, 5k, 10k). She’ll have to make some additional noise in order to fall under the “superstar” category that we are proposing, but as I said, she’s already trending in the right direction before the break and we should see the same thing this winter and spring.
Sam: Look for Elysia Burgos of Southwest Baptist to really make a name for herself in 2020. In her first year and a half in the NCAA, Burgos has shown glimpses of strong potential after earning trips to the National Championships across all three seasons. Although none of her finishes at NCAA's on the track were anything extraordinary, she was 11th at Nationals this past fall and has put down a handful of solid marks on the track. She has run 2:10 for 800 meters and just set a new personal best in the mile of 4:47 at the Crimson & Gold Invitational. She could be a contender in the 800 and mile this indoor season and will likely be a pick for a top 10 finish at NCAA's in cross country 11 months from now.
On the men’s side, Christian Noble of Lee (Tenn.) will be one to watch. After redshirting cross country, Noble will be back in action to kick off track season and is currently entered in the 3000 meters at the Camel City Invitational. He owns personal bests of 4:13 (mile), 8:10 (3k) and 14:23 (5k), all of which are likely to be lowered in 2020. He was also 5th in the steeplechase at the Outdoor National Championships in 2019 which gives him valuable championship experience heading into 2020. With his background in the steeple, Noble could be a strong contender in the 3000 meter at NCAA's in March.
Quenten: I have to agree with Sam on Lee’s Christian Noble. His stock has already risen so much this year by his two head-turning performances in the 3000 and 5000 meters, dropping times of 8:10 and 14:23, respectively. The most notable thing about these times is that it was run just in the last month. He is most definitely on the right track (no pun intended) and I believe a national title is in his future.
For the women, I also think Elysia Burgos is the most popular name you think of to be the next "big star" as she rightfully should be, but personally, for me, I really like Jessica Gockley of Grand Valley State. In just her first two years, Gockley has already shown that she can be a major national contender, qualifying for multiple national meets and placing 4th in the 10k at NCAA's last spring. So far this winter, Gockley has registered a 16:35 for the 5000 meters which is a big PR for her. With fast times under her belt and multiple national meet appearances, she has nowhere to go but up.
Mark: On the women’s side I've got to go with Jennifer Comastri. She had a very strong finish at NCAA's with a 23rd place finish and recently ran 16:31 for 5000 meters in December (which is a huge PR for her). Comastri has a lot of potential upside and we're only now just seeing that. 2020 will be the year that Southern Indiana developed a title-contending superstar.
On the men’s side, I’ll go with Dylan Ko. He was 7th at NCAA's back in November as only a redshirt sophomore on a strong Colorado Mines team. Like Comastri, he has a ton of upside and if he can build on this into the track seasons, then he will go out and dominate.
Will the Western Colorado men redeem themselves in the fall after a 7th place team finish at the 2019 NCAA XC Championships?
John: I think they do redeem themselves. We've received some insight that Ross Husch is attempting to receive a medical redshirt after missing a handful of important races from 2019. His potential return would be huge for this squad. There’s also a chance that Ahmed Jama will be back from his prolonged medical absence (I know I said that all of last season too). Add these two back into that lineup with Charlie Sweeney and Taylor Stack and it’s a very scary top four. The added experience for runners like Ricky Esqueda, Simon Kelati, and Ryan Outler will significantly help this team as well.
Sam: I agree with John that Western Colorado will finish better in 2020. They bring back two key guys - Sweeney and Stack - who should be top 10 finishers next fall. They only lose Evan Sutherland who was a solid #3 option, but he is certainly not irreplaceable. If they get Husch back, he has the potential to finish between 20th and 40th.
On the back end, guys like Max Sawyer and Ryan Outler could both be much better in 2020. Neither were particularly consistent this past fall and while they showed glimpses of potential, they did not run well when it mattered most. Nonetheless, both young guys gained valuable experience this season and I believe it will show in 2020. Plus, Western brings back a handful of other returners from the 2019 squad who should all improve heading into next season.
Mark: I also think they'll rebound, especially after getting pummeled at Nationals. Scoring 273 despite being as highly ranked as they were has got to leave a sour taste in their mouths. A heavy portion of their key low-sticks are returning when you factor in the idea of Husch (and maybe even Jama) returning. Those backend runners, as Sam already mentioned, could offer a potential spark as far as the scoring goes.
Quenten: The men of Western Colorado will absolutely redeem their disappointing 7th place finish at Nationals next fall. With so many great, experienced runners on the roster, I really do believe what happened in November was a fluke. I just don’t see it happening again with their two low-sticks Taylor Stack and Charlie Sweeney returning.
What are the chances that the Adams State women and Colorado Mines men repeat as national champions during the 2020 cross country season?
John: I think Colorado Mines has a great chance to repeat as the men’s champions next season. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be the favorites. While Adams State looks to have reloaded for the 2020 season, it’s going to be tough to knock off the Orediggers. Five returners who are all All-Americans will put the pressure on everyone else to put together their best lineup. With that being said, be on the lookout for the Wildcats from Chico State. They return all seven of their runners from this past fall for 2020 and they have a very strong chance at securing their first-ever team title.
As for the women of Adams State, it’s going to be a tough task trying to replace the Flanagan sisters. Cotter will obviously be back and will likely be the heavy favorite to take home the individual title once again. However, with the Flanagan sisters, Kaylee Bogina, Haleigh Hunter-Galvan, and Tiffany Christensen all out of eligibility, it's hard to see this team coming into the fall of 2020 as title favorites. They’ll face challenges from a strong Grand Valley team and conference foes Western Colorado and Colorado Mines.
Sam: I give the Adams State women 30 to 35% likelihood of repeating. Why? First off, Cotter is going to win it all in 2020 which amounts to a single point for Adams State. She is the defending champion and the next fastest returner is Chloe Cook who was over a minute behind Cotter. Yes, Adams State loses their next four runners and that should be a concern no matter how good of a team you are…but they scored a total of 23 points at the National Championships last fall which is outrageous. Will they be that good in 2020? No, definitely not. Will they be good enough to repeat? Possibly. Besides Cotter, they bring back Brianna Robles, Amanda Foster, Nicole Lawerence, and Piper Meuwissen. Without looking at anyone else, that’s five women who have a reasonable chance at becoming a title-winning team, especially with Cotter winning individually.
As for Colorado Mines, they should have a 60 to 65% of doubling back in 2020. On paper, that number seems low as they return five of their top six runners after easily winning, but in reality, those odds are huge. Mines was dominant in 2019 and they lose only one guy while bringing back Luke Julian - one of the best runners in the NCAA. This team should win it all unless things really fall apart, but with two track seasons and a summer still between them and cross country, I don’t want to hand them the title just yet. That said, I imagine by September their odds to repeat will likely be around 70 to 80%.
Mark: Adams State I give around 40%. When you lose that much talent, it can be hard to rebound unless you have such a deep squad that it can be just be a "next runner up" kind of situation. Having a low-stick like Cotter (who is projected to be the national champ again) puts you in the right direction, but there are just way too many unknowns for this team nine to 11 months from now.
For Colorado Mines, it’s the same as what I mentioned with Western Colorado. If you can keep your core together coming off of a dominating performance at Nationals, then you’re in good shape. As of right now, 60% is what I give them heading into the current track season. Barring any disastrous injuries they should repeat given their experience and consistency.
Quenten: I think the Adams State women have a 50/50 chance at repeating. The upside is that yes, Stephanie Cotter will be back, but the downside is that they are losing big key pieces who were pivotal in winning that historic National Championship. The thing that never has me doubting Adams State - and the reason why I gave them a 50% chance - is simply because of Coach Damon Martin. Coach Martin is hands-down one of the best coaches ever in any division. I know whoever is toeing the line for Adams State next season will be fit and ready to perform for yet another national title.
On the men’s side, Colorado Mines' biggest threat to their repeat is rival Adams State (and maybe Western Colorado depending on who they return). Adams State had a huge 2nd place finish at Nationals this past fall which symbolically shouted, “Hey, we're still here!” As for Western Colorado, they have the right pieces to make some noise, but given the uncertainty surrounding their roster and redshirts next year, their ability to contend with Colorado Mines is still up in the air.
In the end, I'm also giving the Colorado Mines men a 50% chance of repeating. Don't get me wrong, they're a great team with a lot of proven talent, but Adams State might end up being in a better position than last year, and a healthy Western Colorado team with Stack, Sweeney, Husch, and Jama (all at their peak) could be pretty special.
Are there any collegiate D2 national records that have a chance of falling this year?
Quenten: I truly believe the women’s 1500 meter record will be broken this outdoor season by Stephanie Cotter. The record is held by Teena Colebrook of Cal Poly with a time of 4:07 set in 1990. With a personal best of 4:19 in the event last year, Cotter has to improve a lot. It will be no easy task, but she has continued to show that she is the most dominant distance runner in the NCAA after winning the cross country title, along with winning the indoor mile and outdoor 1500 national titles last year. With time to build up her fitness even more, I expect this record to fall.
Sam: Honestly, I have a hard time seeing any records fall this season. Both indoor and outdoor 800 meter records look to be safe (on the men's side) given that Staines is redshirting this winter. Plus, with Caroline Kurgat gone, it seems fair to suggest that no one will be touching those records in the 5k and 10k for quite some time.
If any record is within reach, there is a chance that Allie Ludge or Stephanie Cotter could take a swing at the 3000 meter mark this winter. The current record of 9:09.5 by Amy Harper is slower than the all-conditions best of 9:07.05 set by Caroline Kurgat on an oversized track last year. Both Ludge and Cotter could give Kurgat’s mark a scare if they can get into a fast race (likely at Washington). The odds that they actually best the record are slim, but it’s the only one I really see being challenged this year.
Mark: I don’t think so. Caroline Kurgat is gone, Thomas Staines is redshirting this indoor season, and the 1500 meter record seems aggressive, even for someone as talented as Cotter. Someone might get close, but there seems to be less athletes capable of doing it this year compared to last year.
John: To be frank, I’d be shocked if we didn’t see a mark fall during the indoor season. Just like Sam said, Stephanie Cotter has a legitimate shot at breaking the 3000 meter record of 9:09. I would love to see that be broken by Cotter later on in 2020 along with Quenten’s bold pick of the 1500 record being broken. The odds? Low, but we’ve been surprised before.
Which D2 athlete wins their first national title on the track over the next six months?
Quenten: Ida Narbuvoll of U-Mary will no doubt win the indoor 5000 meter national title later this season. Narbuvoll has already opened up her indoor track season running 16:14 at the GVSU Holiday Open which is the fastest time thus far in the NCAA. She is coming with a vengeance this season after two top 10 finishes at the indoor and outdoor national meets during her career. If she can continue her hot start, I believe she will be holding gold in March.
Sam: If there is anyone in the NCAA that deserves to win a National Championship, it’s Eilish Flanagan of Adams State. In her collegiate career, she has finished runner-up an amazing seven times at national meets, including five times alone in 2019. She was runner-up back-to-back years in the steeplechase AND in cross country. Both times she finished 2nd in the steeple, the winner was Alicja Konieczek who has since graduated, leaving Flanagan as the top returner in the event. Rarely do I feel like an athlete deserves to get a win, but after being so close so many times, this year’s steeplechase title will be Flanagan’s to lose.
On the men’s side, Luke Julian is coming off of redshirting this past cross country season and will be primed for a big winter and spring. He was 5th in the 3000 meters at the Indoor National Championships last winter and 6th in the 1500 meters at the outdoor national meet last spring. He'll be in a position to contend for the win with some notable names now gone. Based on how cross country went, it looks like Julian may have slightly better odds in the 1500 meters as the event tends to be a bit less predictable and three of the five men who beat him in 2019 are gone.
Mark: Roisin Flanagan gets her first individual title. She has a DMR title (two of them, actually), but no individual title yet. Much like her sister, she has numerous occasions where she has come close to taking home NCAA gold. Her toughest competition will likely be teammate Stephanie Cotter, but Roisin seemingly made a pretty notable jump in fitness over the past year and her postseason performances show that.
John: As for the men, I’m going to go with Derek Holdsworth of Western Oregon. Holdsworth competed at Trinidad State Junior College for the last two years. While he was there, he ran marks of 1:47 for 800 meters, 2:22 for 1000 meters, and 3:46 for 1500 meters. He’s already one of the fastest runners in D2 with those times, and with the 800 as wide open as it is, there’s a legitimate shot that Holdsworth could take home a title as soon as this March. Western Oregon has produced elite talents at the 1500/mile distances as well (i.e. Dustin Nading and David Ribich) and Holdsworth looks to be the next one in line.
The biggest upset of 2020 will be when...
Sam: An RMAC school does NOT win the men’s national title in cross country this fall.
Quenten: Even with having Stephanie Cotter on the team, the defending DMR champions of Adams State, will not place in the top three this year.
Mark: Cotter doesn't win the mile national title this winter.
John: Chico State wins their first-ever team cross country title over Colorado Mines.
Give us your boldest prediction.
Sam: In her first attempt at the distance, Stephanie Cotter sets an NCAA all-time best in the 3000 meters by bettering Caroline Kurgat’s mark of 9:07.05.
Quenten: Along with my prediction of Stephanie Cotter breaking the 1500 meter collegiate record, I’m doubling down and also believe that she will take down the indoor mile record too. That’s as bold as you can get.
Mark: I’ll build off both of you guys and say she gets both the 1500 and mile records (while sticking with my biggest upset of the year pick).
John: There isn’t a repeat individual champion at a single NCAA meet.