The Group Chat: Free Agency (Part One)

Updated: May 15

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Which transfer will have the biggest impact on their new program starting next year?

Garrett: I originally wanted to go bold and say it was Jacob McLeod since he’ll bring valuable scoring consistency and national meet experience to a rapidly growing Arkansas team. However, I just couldn't escape the fact that Hannah Steelman makes NC State a favorite for the national title. In the end, that's just too big of an impact to ignore, so I’ll say that she will have the biggest impact. She's the perfect replacement for star low-stick Elly Henes who no longer has cross country eligibility.

Maura: Elijah Armstrong will add depth to BYU’s roster after the graduation of three Cougars from their championship team. Armstrong was a consistent scorer during his time with Boise State. During his career as a Bronco, he competed at three cross country national meets and his highest finish came in 2015 as a true freshman when he placed 70th.

Since returning from a mission trip in 2018, he has been on the cusp of a breakthrough. BYU coach Ed Eyestone has clearly had success with developing athletes post-mission trip. With a new group of men to train with, Armstrong could be an underrated piece who helps BYU defend their national title in November.

Ben: If we are talking about just next year, then I will go with Hannah Steelman transferring to NC State. She is the only transfer who will be able to swing the national title race. This was already a team loaded with young talent, but the former Wofford runner gives them All-American experience up front and makes them a true title contender this fall.

Eric: Thomas Ratcliffe has cross country eligibility while the three other UNC transfers do not. I think he will lead the way and be an All-American for the Tar Heels. Being back on the east coast and under the guidance of his former coach will allow him to excel.

Michael: Stemming off of Eric’s pick, I think Ratcliffe will be the most impactful as well given his long term value. He will likely be UNC’s top cross country runner this fall and will be a major asset for the Tar Heels on the track. The cancellation of this outdoor season makes eligibility situations a bit unclear, but Ratcliffe should have at least one full year remaining between cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. There's also the possibility that his extended eligibility carries him into 2022. Ratcliffe is a 13:32 5k runner and a four-flat miler which will be huge for UNC over the next year or two.

Which transfer has surprised you the most so far?

Maura: It’s not surprising to see Minnesota’s Shane Streich transfer for graduate school, but the program he chose caught me off guard. The Atlantic Sun is not nearly as competitive as the BIG 10, but that doesn’t mean that Streich won’t be able to shake things up in the 800/1500 next outdoor season.

Garrett: I’ll take Elijah Armstrong. The Boise State runner had been with the Broncos since 2015 and returned to the squad even after he took time off for a mission trip. As he enters the latter portion of his eligibility, it surprised me to see him suddenly shift gears and join the Cougars. The move seemed a little out of left field after spending so much time with one program.

Ben: I was very surprised to see Thomas Ratcliffe leave Stanford. I understand that he is joining his former coach at UNC, but I thought he would stay in Palo Alto. Alex Ostberg leaving made sense as a graduate transfer, but it was Ratcliffe’s decision to leave a very strong Stanford team to go run for a Tar Heel group that will very likely not make NCAA’s as a team this fall. Plus, Ratcliffe had considerable success this past fall under Ricardo Santos with the exception of his race at the National Championships.

Eric: I was surprised to see Ben Hill go to Wake Forest. Not the traditional distance powerhouse (although they are certainly improving), the Deacons needed a veteran talent to run alongside a young middle distance group and they got one in Hill. The former Michigan runner has personal bests of 3:44 (1500) and 1:50 (800) which will pair nicely next to current Wake Forest star Zach Facioni.

Michael: I was surprised to see Matt Wisner opt to finish his eligibility at Oregon. The Ducks haven't traditionally gone after 800 meter standouts like Wisner, but that seems to be changing with a middle distance coach in Ben Thomas now at the helm of the Oregon program. This was not a move I expected at all, but it will be exciting to see what it yields.

Who is the most underrated transfer that has been announced so far?

Maura: From this past winter, Billie Hatch of Dixie State transferring to Weber State sort of slid under the radar. Hatch progressed well during her time at Dixie State, qualifying for the Division Two cross country national meet in both 2018 and 2019. She placed 8th at the D2 NCAA XC Championships this past fall in a loaded field.

Weber State is a team on the rise and Hatch will be able to make an immediate impact. Lexie Thompson is graduating, but Abby Lawrence will be a solid training partner for Hatch as she transitions to competing at the Division One level.

Moving to the men, Ryan Schweizer departing Notre Dame for Drake is actually pretty big. Schweizer was a stud during his high school days, but since entering the college scene he has struggled with injuries. He has a personal best of 4:05 in the mile, but that came from high school. At Drake, Schweizer will have the opportunity to train with Adam Fogg, a 4:00 miler and one of the better young talents in the country. Returning to his home state of Iowa, hopefully free of injury, should prove to be fruitful for Schweizer.

Garrett: I'll go with Cora Gallop on the women’s side who is going from Nevada to Western Kentucky (for what appears to be her graduate degree). Her PR of 10:14 in the steeplechase ranked her at NCAA #37 in the spring of 2017. If she can replicate that form next outdoor season, she could be a quietly strong talent for WKU and maybe battle for a national qualifying spot.

On the men’s side, don’t overlook Marc Migliozzi who is leaving Akron to work on his graduate degree at Pitt. The former Zip runner has quietly strong range and qualified for the NCAA XC Championships this past fall out of the Great Lakes region. If he’s granted extra cross country eligibility, he’ll be a big help to the Panthers this fall.

Ben: Brogan MacDougall heading to Wisconsin was a big get for the Badgers who are losing Alicia Monson and Amy Davis. She owns personal bests of 9:08 (3k) and 16:06 (5k) and should help Wisconsin immediately this fall. While we don't necessarily expect MacDougall to be the same low-stick that Monson was, she should be an All-American contender similar to Amy Davis.

For the men, I really liked the pickup by Portland of Zak Kirk. The former EKU runner was 23rd at Southeast Regional Championships last fall and should be a solid piece for the Pilots in cross country. He won’t be a low-stick, but he will provide the team with more depth in the middle of their lineup. For a team that lost plenty of its top scorers, he will be a welcomed addition.

Eric: The Daly brothers moving from Penn to Notre Dame has not been talked about enough. The Fighting Irish are bringing in two proven steeplechasers to their current crop of middle distance stars. This will allow the Irish to overwhelm the ACC in the distance events and score more points in an area that hasn't always been their main focus.

Michael: Emma Gee’s departure from BYU to go to Temple as a graduate transfer is huge and has not been getting that much attention. Temple has quietly been building a strong program on both the men's and women’s sides. This has been especially noticeable in cross country, although my understanding is that Gee only has outdoor track eligibility remaining. She will still be a great addition to the Owls’ lineup, especially in the steeplechase where she can contend for a national qualifying spot.

Should we be worried about Stanford after seeing them lose numerous top talents to the transfer portal?

Garrett: I am not at all concerned about Stanford. Cortes, O’Keeffe and Ostberg were all graduate transfers. In an interview with DyeStat, Ostberg even mentioned the fact that pursuing a graduate degree next year was unlikely until he gained additional spring eligibility from the NCAA.

Admittedly, the loss of Rizzo and Ratcliffe stings quite a bit. However, this coaching staff is not what Rizzo signed up for and Ratcliffe was just beginning to find major success when Miltenberg left for UNC. It’s understandable why Rizzo may want to look elsewhere and why Ratcliffe is following his old coach.

It may seem crazy to find out that all of these talented athletes are going elsewhere, but at least we can explain their decisions. This shouldn’t be viewed as the downfall of Stanford.

Ben: I’m not worried, but I am a bit more concerned than Garrett. Losing both Ratcliffe and Rizzo is going to hurt quite a bit. The rest are not too surprising, but Ratcliffe is a top 10 cross country talent and Rizzo was a young stud with plenty of potential. It isn’t the downfall of Stanford, but it's not ideal from a long-term point or view.

Maura: I’m not worried about the women losing Fiona O’Keeffe. She was a graduate transfer and the Stanford women proved that they could flourish without O'Keeffe this past winter (although it would have been nice to see her race). It’s more of the Stanford men that are a point of concern.

Ostberg and Cortes were nearing the end of their eligibility, so that's understandable. However, Thomas Ratcliffe leaving for UNC has to hurt and Matthew Rizzo leaving for Georgetown after only one year with the Cardinal is a major blow to Stanford’s middle distance team. Even with Cole Sprout and Thomas Boyden coming in, the men departing provided extensive collegiate experience and a ton of potential.

Eric: I am not concerned that Stanford is losing two of their top runners in Ostberg and Ratcliffe as they have a bunch of young guns waiting in the wings. They will now rely on the young core of Ryan Oosting, Charles Hicks, Devin Hart, Liam Anderson, and Clayton Mendez in addition to signing Cole Sprout and Thomas Boyden. They also have a 13:42 (5k) runner in Connor Lane who can definitely be a major contributor to the Cardinal. Generally speaking, this roster is pretty young, but they could still have a solid year if everyone stays healthy.

Michael: I'm not too concerned about Stanford losing some big names. They still have some incredible talents along with many of the best recruits in the nation (both from this year and years past). Stanford is a perennial powerhouse team and I do not think that is going to change with these transfers. Of course, if this becomes a growing trend, then there may be a cause for concern. As of now though, I don’t expect Stanford to see a dramatic drop in team performance.