What team outside of TSR’s Top 10 has the best shot at finishing on the podium?
Michael: The Wisconsin men lost a major low-stick in Morgan McDonald, one that will be difficult to replace. Ben chose Oliver Hoare as his individual dark horse on the men’s side, and that is certainly a valid pick. Hoare was running right with McDonald for much of last season and will be looking to pick up where McDonald left off. The rest of the Badger lineup is strong as well, including Olin Hacker who could be another low scorer for Wisconsin.
For the women, Ole Miss is returning their entire top seven from last year. This is a team that has a very tight pack of talented women, and throughout last fall their #2 through #5 runners were essentially finishing together. If this young team can come back more experienced and ready to fight, they could utilize their pack running strategy to displace other teams and surprise some powerhouse programs.
Sam: The Colorado men should definitely be a top 10 team and should also be a podium team. First and foremost, Klecker is a top five runner in the NCAA and Dressel is top 10. Eduardo Herrera is probably top 30 as well, maybe even top 20 on a good day. That means you have three guys scoring a maximum of 45 points. Last year, 4th place was 178 points. If Colorado puts up 45 for their top three, the next two guys would need to average around 70th place finishes for Colorado to match that point total. I’d be surprised if Wetmore couldn’t find two guys to manage that - the guy is a legend in the coaching world, and Colorado is ALWAYS good in cross country.
On the women’s side, Oregon seems to have the best chance, but realistically I think anyone outside the top 10 making the podium is a stretch. They bring back Brauer and Ejore plus some transfers that could be strong this season, but I don’t know if they’re good enough to make the top 10, let alone the podium.
Maura: I have the same exact answers as Sam. Colorado men always find a way to reach the podium even when it seems they are in a rebuilding year. Klecker and Dressel are guaranteed low-sticks for the Buffaloes and should account for less than 15 points. Herrera just missed out on All-American honors last year, but has shown tremendous growth over the last year. The #4 and #5 runners will need to step up, but that should be no problem for a team with talented returners and incoming freshmen.
When I was first researching the Oregon women, it seemed as if they were going to be short handed upfront, but boy was I wrong. Ejore is returning. Brauer is returning. Transfers are flocking to Eugene to join in on the history. The last time the Oregon women competed at Terre Haute, they came away with the championship. I am not saying the Ducks will take gold, but they could sneak up to 4th place.
Sean: I know this looks sketchy picking the #12 team right after the #11 team, but I’m high on the Purdue Boilermakers. Curt Eckstein and Jared Carpenter could both be NCAA first-teamers if they have a good race and that could really push the Boilermakers into the top seven. I’m not sure it’s a podium finish, but they can certainly get close. In comparison to most teams, Terre Haute is a short distance away and I think that an easier trip to NCAA's could be the deciding factor in jumping them an extra one or two spots up the leader board.
Ben: Could last year’s most improved team make another jump and land on the podium? Maybe not, but after the 2018 season, I don’t feel comfortable picking against them. I am talking of course about Wyoming. I’m sorry to be picking the #13 team after #11 and #12 just went off the board, but I think the Cowboys are closer to podium contention than most realize. They have Paul Roberts who is a top 10 candidate and bring back most of their supporting cast that got their first taste of NCAA's last year. They finished 12th in their first trip,and if they can find a solid #5 man, then they could be knocking on the door of the top four.
I am going with the easy answer for the women. I’ll take #11 Michigan State. With two All-American candidates, Maggie Farrell and Annie Fuller, the Spartans have the low-sticks to compete with most teams in the country. Plus, they have new freshmen to pair with an experienced returners. If they see some big improvements from their #3 and #4 runners, then this could be a podium team in hiding.
Sean: Okay, I’m going to stop this streak by taking a women’s team! I’m going with Columbia. The Columbia women were the Northeast Regional champions last year and return most of their team. Alex Hays was 12th in the 5000 in Austin this past June and the rest of the lineup has only gotten more experienced over the last year. One of Columbia’s strengths last season was their spread. Most of the season, they had a spread of close to only 30 seconds. If they can maintain that at the NCAA meet, it should only push them higher up the standings. Am I confident they can jump into the top five? Not exactly, but this team could finish way above their #22 ranking.
Which individuals (men and women) could swing the entire team race?
Sam: Devin Clark could make a huge impact for Arkansas. At one point she won the South regional meet and was easily a top 40 runner in the country. Since then (2016), she hasn’t put together a cross country season on the same level. Clark is coming off her best track season to-date, and I think it bodes well for this fall. She doesn’t need to be phenomenal, but if she can get in relatively close fitness to 2016, Arkansas would be set through five and solidify their hold on the number one ranking.
For the men, it's whomever the #5 Stanford runner is at NCAA's. The Cardinals are set through four, and if they find a fifth, they could actually beat NAU. They have the number one spot right now on the basis that they should be able to find a fifth, but nothing is guaranteed.
Sean: I said that Thomas Ratcliffe would appear later and this is where. Ratcliffe has almost zero NCAA cross country experience. He raced twice in 2016 and only finished one of those races. He also appeared once in 2018 at an early season meet. No one really knows what he is going to do come championship season, but no one was very confident in Ratcliffe prior to last track season either. If he can be an All-American for Stanford (even second-team) I think this locks them the championship. But if he can’t be a low-stick, then Stanford will not win the NCAA title.
Ben: Some many good choices, but I’ll try to pick one. Ratcliffe and NAU redshirt freshman Brody Hasty peaked my interest, but the one person who sticks out the most to me is David Too of Iowa State. The transfer from Florida A&M will be a huge difference maker for the Cyclones. With Kurgat and DeHaven filling the #1 and #2 spots, Iowa State’s ceiling will be determined by their new #3 runner. After running new PR's this past track season, it seems like he has taken a step up in fitness. The degree to which this translates to cross country this fall could be the difference between Iowa State entering the national title conversation or missing the podium again.
For the women, I’ll go off the radar a bit and say Amelia Mazza-Downie from New Mexico. The Australian arrives to American with a sparkling 15:59 PR in the 5k. For a team that struggled with the back end of their lineup, Mazza-Downie could be the missing puzzle piece that vaults the Lady Lobos back to the top of the podium.
Michael: I agree with Ben that Brodey Hasty could make a massive impact for NAU. What ultimately led us to give Stanford the nod over NAU for the top spot in our team rankings was the fact that Stanford also has good depth. Hasty has yet to compete in cross country for NAU, so he is ultimately an unknown. If Hasty comes in healthy, fit, and hungry he has All-American potential. Adding this vital #4 scorer to NAU’s trio of Grijalva, Beamish, and Ferro could be what makes the difference in them returning to the top of the podium.
Sean: For the women, Devin Clark is the first name that comes to mind, but Sam has already discussed her importance. My biggest name would be Whittni Orton. Orton should be a top three athlete for BYU, but it’s where she ends up in the BYU order that will affect their team. Orton was a first-team All-American in track and BYU needs her to be one in cross country. Even if Orton is behind Birk and Wayment, a solid top three will put them in contention. If she can jump above one or both, BYU slots into the title contender slot, but if Orton cannot find the same form she finds on the track, BYU will struggle and slide down the rankings.
Michael: I am going to cheat and pick two women here. Rachel McArthur and Emily Venters are new to the Colorado lineup this fall and could come up big in helping fill the shoes of athletes like Dani Jones and Makena Morely. There is no way to know how they will adapt to the Wetmore system quite yet, but both have All-American potential. If they can make smooth transitions and run well at NCAA's, they could play huge roles in Colorado’s hunt for a back to back title.
Maura: Lilli Burdon will be an important piece for Washington. Burdon was absent for much of the 2018 cross country season, but still managed to come away with an All-American finish. Washington has the potential to make the podium with the depth on their roster, and Burdon will be needed to help with the success.
What team are you most fascinated by this year?
Sam: On the men’s side, I’ll take Washington. Adding Andrew Jordan and Sam Tanner could be huge additions and Andy Powell has a history of success in cross country. With Jordan having NCAA experience already, I think he’s a pretty safe bet to be a great runner for Washington, but Tanner is more intriguing. He obviously has a ton of talent, but he’s never run in the NCAA before which always proves to be an interesting transition. He might be the x-factor who puts Washington in contention for a team title this fall.
The women of Michigan are a big wild card this fall. They lost three of their top five, but honestly might be good enough to make the podium again. Anne Forsyth and Camille Davre are both sophomores now and should earn All-American honors this fall. The rest of the group is very young (mainly sophomores and incoming freshmen), but they have loads of talent and the team has been rising over the past few seasons. My earlier prediction still stands: the Wolverines make the podium again this fall.
Maura: The NC State women are on my radar this fall. The talent on their roster with Elly Henes, Dominique Clairmonte, Nevada Moreno, and incoming freshman Kelsey Chmiel should make for an interesting fall for the Wolfpack. Chmiel has experience running on the national stage in high school, so her transition to the NCAA competition should go smoothly. Henes has improved each year in the NCAA and has finished as high as 16th in cross country. She comes back stronger this season and should be ready to lead her team once again.
As for the men, Notre Dame has me fascinated. Between Yared Nuguse’s track speed and Danny Kilrea’s distance talent, the Fighting Irish have two front-runners. Kilrea was an All-American in cross country last fall and will look to improve on his 33rd place finish. What also has me interested in Notre Dame is their incoming freshman. Carter Cheeseman and the other newcomers have the ability to make an immediate impact for the team.
Michael: The Furman women have crazy potential this fall. They return their entire lineup of experienced upperclassmen who, as Sam stated in his article on the Paladins, have a “go big or go home” mindset. Furman is always a relevant team, but they could make a massive jump to finish in the top 10 this year and maybe even find themselves hunting for a podium spot. Savannah Carnahan comes in as a deep dark horse title contender, and she will be followed by an entire squad of talented women. Furman should be fun to watch this year.
The Alabama men are a very interesting team to me. They lose one of their top talents in Alfred Chelanga, but they reloaded and should be led by some super low point scorers in Vincent Kiprop and Gilbert Kigen. Alabama could be a top 10 team, or they could miss NCAA's entirely. Their dual firepower up front is a massive advantage that not many teams have, but can their #3 through #5 (and especially their #6 and #7) runners follow close enough behind to make the impact needed for Alabama to be a top team?
Sean: I’m fascinated by the Oregon State women. Oregon State is the only ranked school that only sponsors women’s cross country. Seeing the Beavers qualify for NCAA's last year was a huge step, and I’m excited to see what this year’s grouping can do. Even if they do not continue to improve above last year’s results (which I believe they will), the Beavers can show that a single-gender cross country team can succeed which I believe is fascinating in it’s own way.
I’m also very interested in the Temple squads. Temple used to be like Oregon State with only a women’s program but has since expanded to men’s cross country although they do not offer a full track team. Their distance men did compete intercollegiately last spring, but having only a distance team definitely affects the culture. While Temple isn’t ranked in either of our men’s or women’s national rankings, the Owls could pull off an upset at the regional meet and force a push scenario...or uproot the entire Mid-Atlantic qualifying system. The teams should be led by the Holm Jensen siblings, Kristian for the men (13th in Mid-Atlantic in 2018) and Helene on the women’s side. Grace Moore and Kira van Ehren will also play big roles for the women.
Ben: With two studs in Alicia Monson and Amy Davis returning, the Wisconsin women will be an intriguing team to keep an eye on this fall. Alissa Niggemann had a strong track season, and they are bringing in some stud freshmen. Throw in a coaching change and the Badgers have plenty of fascinating storylines to follow.
I’m surprised we have made it through this entire article without touching on Andy Powell’s former team, the Oregon Ducks. Noah Affolder gives the Ducks another solid piece to add to their deep group of returners. The question for them isn’t their depth, but their star power. Cooper Teare and James West have the ability to be All-Americans, but have yet to do so. That needs to change this year for Oregon to move into the top 10. Jackson Mestler, Reed Brown, Charlie Hunter, Soren Knudsen, and an impressive recruiting class gives the Ducks plenty of lottery tickets. We will all be watching this season to see if there are any winning tickets among that bunch. After a strong track season, the Ducks look like they are about to become metaphorical millionaires.