Let’s start with the individual race. Who is your favorite heading into the weekend?
Quenten: On the men’s side, the clear favorite has to be Gidieon Kimuatai of Missouri Southern. Kimutai has not lost a race all year and has legitimate wins over top-ranked individuals such as Tanner Chada (TSR #3), Titus Winders (TSR #9), CarLee Stimpfel (TSR #10), and Steven Brown (TSR #24). He has proven to be the most consistent runner in all of the NCAA and I believe he'll have no problem capping off his historic undefeated season.
For the women, I’m going with Stephanie Cotter of Adams State. Over the past couple of years, Cotter has established herself as one of the most dominant runners across all distances. As for this season, she has only raced twice, but each one was very competitive, as she took home wins for at the RMAC and South Central Regional Championships. With Coach Martin properly resting and training her, I believe she will take home the win for Adams State.
Grace: I agree with Quenten on the men’s individual champion. Gidieon Kimuati of Missouri Southern has been the most consistent and hasn’t lost a race all season. He’s set himself up to be the favorite going into the race. I think it would take an off day for Kimuati, and a few Hail Marys from other individuals, in order to pull off an upset.
If anyone could do it though, I think it would be TSR #4 Joshua Chepkesir. If he takes the race out hard, I think he could pull off a miraculous championship victory. If the race goes out slower and it turns into a big pack, then I think Kimuati has it sealed.
If Kimuati has an off day and still has Tanner Chada on his shoulder, then the GVSU ace could end up taking home the title.
On the women’s side, there are five runners who all have a shot at the title, but only two of them have raced each other all season (and that’s only because they’re teammates). Ida Narbuvoll of U-Mary, Stephanie Cotter and Eilish Flanagan of Adams State, Allie Ludge of Grand Valley State, and Leah Hanle of Mount Olive are going to be the main contenders this weekend.
Ludge is undefeated against Division Two competition this season while Narbuvoll and Cotter are undefeated overall. Meanwhile, Flanagan was 2nd to Cotter at the RMAC Championships and the South Central Regional Championships. Cotter has only raced twice so far, but when she did toe the line, she won in dominating fashion. Flanagan has been consistent and knows how to race well, but Cotter has been able to pull away from her in their past two races. All of these women are experienced at the championship level, which should make for a great battle between them all of them.
I think Cotter and Narbuvoll have an edge over the other three runners, and if I had to pick a favorite, it’s Narbuvoll. She has drastically improved from last year, she isn’t afraid to go out hard, and she has won four races this year by over a minute. I think Narbuvoll is going to take the race out hard and drop the field, literally running away with the individual title.
John: I couldn’t agree more with my two colleagues about the men. The easy favorite here is Gidieon Kimutai. He’s going for an undefeated season and has all of the experience one would likely need heading into the final race of the year. I know he was challenged by Tanner Chada earlier on in the season, but I think he'll end up seeing the same kind of race play out this time around, resulting in a national tile.
However, I'll be interested in more than just Chada. The likes of TSR #4 Joshua Chepkesir and TSR #2 Ezekiel Kipchirchir will likely be with him for most of this race. Chepkesir takes every race out from the gun and forces others to go with him. I think you’ll see a group of four or five athletes attempt to go with him, leaving us with a fight to the finish.
On the women’s side, I’m not so sure it’ll be as close. Ida Narbuvoll is currently the TSR #1 after our latest rankings and, well, when you win most of your races by more than 65 seconds, it’s really hard to bet against you.
That being said, she will face challengers in Stephanie Cotter, Eilish Flanagan, Allie Ludge, and Leah Hanle. I am still going to pick Narbuvoll here mainly because I think she is going to make everyone suffer for 6000 meters and that she’ll have enough left to take down the field. The only question is...by how much?
The team race isn’t as wide open as it has been in recent years, or at least it feels that way. Who do you have winning this weekend and why?
Grace: The men’s champion should be Colorado Mines. They’ve been consistently successful throughout the season and probably have the best 1-2-3 runners in the country. Their backend group is tight and not far behind their top-tier front-runners. They have had an incredibly impressive season and I think their success will continue at Nationals.
On the women’s side, Adams State is the favorite due to their absolute domination throughout the season, but I would not rule out the reigning champions, Grand Valley State. I think if Adams State runs like they have in their past two meets with a big pack up-front, then they easily take home the title.
Roisin Flanagan raced at RMAC Championships, but not at the regional meet. If she races at Nationals, which I think she will, then Adams State has a lethal 1-2-3 punch with Stephanie Cotter, Eilish Flanagan, and Roisin Flanagan. I have no doubt that these three runners will be in the top 10. The GVSU Lakers won Nationals last year and have incredible depth, but they do not have the up-front talent of Adams State outside of Allie Ludge.
John: The men’s champion will be the Colorado Mines Orediggers. They’ve continued to impress throughout the entire season and they continue to do so with a revolving door of athletes who finish as their 4-5-6-7 runners. TSR #7 Dylan Ko has led this team in 2019 and should find himself in the top 10 after the race is over. Luc Hagen and Kyle Moran have been very strong #2 and #3 options, giving the Orediggers one of the best 1-2-3 runners in the country.
This weekend will likely feature Jake Mitchem, Ben Schneiderman, Max Sevcik, and Derek Steele in those final varsity spots for Colorado Mines. They should be able to place three of their runners inside the top 20 this year and that should be too much to overcome for other teams. They won the RMAC Championships with 28 points and followed that up with 41 points at the South Central Regional Championships. Barring no setbacks heading into the weekend, the Orediggers will be your team champions.
The women’s side is likely going to be a closer race. The Adams State women and Grand Valley State women are building one of the best rivalries in the country. I think the edge can be given to the Grizzlies this year mainly because of the return of Stephanie Cotter and Roisin Flanagan in the postseason. Cotter immediately became a title contender after winning her past two meets and Flanagan adds another layer of depth for the Grizzlies that I don’t think the Lakers can match.
The GVSU trio of Allie Ludge, Hanna Groeber, and Madison Goen will make this race close, but the Adams State's backend of Haleigh Hunter-Galvan, Kaylee Bogina, and Tiffany Christensen should outperform the likes of Claudia O’Malley, Natalie Graber, and Jessica Gockley from Grand Valley State.
Quenten: John’s first sentence says it all. The Colorado Mines Orediggers are just too good this year and are loaded with the best 1-2-3 runners in the country. Not only is their top-half loaded, but this teams' depth was also on full display at the South Central Regional Championships as they had their top five scorers in the top 12, along with their #6 and #7 runners placing 22nd and 30th overall. This may come off as a small feat, but with the heavy competition of ranked teams in the South Central region, that race can sometimes mirror what a team can do at Nationals.
For the women, I’m going to have to go with Adams State. I predict Stephanie Cotter will win the title individually, along with Eilish and Roisin Flanagan most likely being right behind her. The thing that sways me to Adams State’s side over Grand Valley State’s is (like John mentioned) their backend depth. Haleigh Hunter-Galvan, Kaylee Bogina, and Tiffany Christensen have never been more consistent and I believe it will come down to one of their performances this weekend that will factor into the Grizzlies winning the title.
What is the biggest storyline heading into NCAA's this weekend?
John: This may be a cop out here, but the individual title race on both sides is big enough to talk about. Both sides are crowded near the front and both have an individual (or individuals) who like to race hard from the gun. That could cause a direct impact on the field with some athletes trying to follow suit and not being able to sustain that level of effort for the entire race. That will likely give us a sense of chaos within the team races making it an extra level of fun.
Quenten: I think John is completely right. In the men’s race are favorites such as Gidieon Kumtai (Missouri Southern) and Ezekiel Kipchirchir (West Texas A&M), who are traditionally front-runners. They could take off with a hard pace, causing a ripple effect throughout the field for those who aren't prepared.
As with the women, Ida Nurdavoll of U-Mary has won all of her races by major margins this season and if her plan is to lead from the gun, then team scores could be altered due to the hot pace. It will be very interesting to see if both races are fast early on, or if we'll see traditional tactical racing.
Grace: I think the battle between TSR #4 U-Mary and TSR #3 Augustana (S.D.) is going to be a fun one to watch. I’ve nicknamed it the “Battle of the Dakotas” after they’ve been going back and forth all season, leading me to believe that they’ll be battling for the 4th place spot (or possibly 3rd) on Saturday.
Right now, Augustana has the upper hand after winning their regional meet, but U-Mary beat them at their conference championship. They both have relatively tight packs, and they’ve had some close races this season, so every spot counts. The Marauders have a relatively young and inexperienced team outside of Narbuvoll, so hopefully they can handle the pressure of the NCAA Championships.
Augustana (S.D.) has a very solid, consistent, and reliable top five, but they lack a front-runner who can offer the same scoring potency that Narbuvoll will for U-Mary.
Who is your dark horse team this weekend?
Quenten: The men of Chico State have been quietly flying under everyone's radar all season long, but they should not be overlooked as they won four out of their five races this year, including dominating wins at the CCAA Championships and the West Regional Championships. Veterans Jhavan Holston and Wyatt Baxter have led the Wildcats all year while freshman Trad Berti has assumed the role of their lead runner. They have one of the deepest rosters in the country and if this team puts it all together with their depth, they can be the surprise team this weekend.
For the women, it will be difficult to upset Adams State, but with Allie Ludge (TSR #4) and the Grand Valley State Lakers recently winning one of the toughest regions (the Midwest), they have a legitimate shot of taking down the favorites Adams State. If they want to complete this task, and also repeat as national champions, then they need to be on their "A" game this weekend.
The dark horse team for the women has to be Colorado Mines. I think people are already predicting Adams State and Grand Valley State winning the title in no particular order, but this team has a good chance at surprising everyone.
The Orediggers have been led by senior Chloe Cook this season and Zoe Baker has been as good as ever. However, what can separate this team from others on race day is the consistency of their backend scorers. Throughout the season, the grouping of these runners have been spot on, and a good example of this was shown at the South Central Regional Championships. Mines' 3-4-5 runners (Molesworth, Geesen, Eberle) basically finished together in 11th, 15th, and 17th in their last meet, and they if they replicate that kind of performance at Nationals, then the Orediggers could surprise a few people.
John: I’m a big fan of NW Missouri on the men’s side of things this year. Jhordan Ccope, Karim Achengli, and Augostine Lisoreng have been a phenomenal scoring trio this season. They’ve helped the Bearcats make some noise, and with that kind of scoring potency, they have a very realistic shot at potentially sneaking onto the podium. They’ll obviously need help from their backend scorers, which has truthfully been their Achilles Heel this season, but all it takes is a surprisingly good performance to make things interesting.
On the women's side, give me the Vikings of Augustana. They have had an incredible time spread this season and their most recent win at the Central Regional Championships ended with a spread of 23 seconds among their top six runners. If they can stay together like that at NCAA's, we could be talking about the Vikings upsetting a handful of top-ranked teams on Saturday.
Grace: On the men’s side, I agree with Quenten about Chico State. They’re an underrated team heading into Nationals. They have had very impressive performances all season long, most recently winning both the CCAA Championship and the West Regional Championships. They have experienced runners who know how to race in championship settings, and that might make all the difference. It will be interesting to see how they hold up against the top teams from the midwest and east coast.
On the women’s side, I'll say the Colorado Mines Orediggers. They have held the TSR #3 spot for a good portion of the season, and NCAA's is their last shot at proving that they can beat Grand Valley or Adams State. Adams State might be a stretch just because the Grizzlies beat Colorado Mines by good margins in their past two races, but if the Lakers have an off day, I think the Orediggers could end up with a 2nd place finish. Chloe Cook and Zoe Baker should be in the top 15 which will help the Orediggers secure a low score.
What is the storyline you’ll be following closely going into the races? And what will the storyline be after the meet concludes?
John: I’m not sure how much of a storyline this is, but seven of the top 10 runners in TSR’s individuals are all sophomores. Kimutai, Chada, Charlie Sweeney, Chepkesir, Ko, Titus Winders, and CarLee Stimpfel are going to make up a heavy portion of the top finishers in this. race. It also means that we'll have at least two more years of these guys racing each other. I think when we’re done with the weekend, we’ll be gushing over the amount of top-tier racing we have to look forward to heading into the track season.
Quenten: What I’ll be watching closely is the men of Adams State. They haven't really had that signature win all season and they're not the traditional dominant Grizzlies team we are used to seeing year after year. That said, it will be interesting to see if they get themselves on the podium this weekend.
The speculation that will loom over Adams State after Saturday is how the loss of seniors Kale Adams and Joshua Joseph will impact this team next season. How will this team rebuild back to the powerhouse that we've grown to know and (depending on who you are) love?
Grace: I’ll be following the Lee Flames. They have had an incredible season so far and I think if they have the perfect race, they could be 5th overall. Their dynamic duo of Celine Ritter and Chloe Flora have run some blazing fast times so far this season and could end up finishing in the top 15. After the meet, I think Lee will have proved that they can compete against many of the best teams in the country.
My question is whether or not Lee will repeat their success next year and create a distance powerhouse on the east side of the country?