The Group Chat: Free Agency (Part Two)

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What is one team that needs to score a big-name transfer, but hasn’t yet?

Maura: The Arkansas women. After being the national champions in cross country, one would think more women would be chomping at the bit to be a member of the Razorbacks. Yes, they already added Krissy Gear from Furman during the winter months, but losing Katie Izzo, Taylor Werner, Devin Clark, and Carina Viljoen next fall will really hurt given that all four of those women finished inside the top 30 at NCAA’s. The incoming recruiting class is talented, but adding an extra piece (via transfer) would be super useful for Arkansas this fall.

Garrett: I would have to agree with Maura on the women’s side. Arkansas needs some extra pieces to rebound after losing so many top scorers from their title-winning lineup. I would also throw Colorado into that mix. With Tabor Scholl and Sage Hurta out of eligibility, the Buffaloes are going to need some reinforcements this fall, even if Venters and Covert are able to toe the line come October.

On the men’s side, I'm looking at Wisconsin. They have one of the best distance recruiting classes in the country with Evan Bishop, Caleb Brown and 800 meter star Abdullahi Hassan from Canada headlining their incoming group. However, the losses of Hoare, Hacker and Eidenschink will be difficult to manage, leaving the Badgers with a need for extra scoring potency. I believe Wisconsin will still be competitive this year, but an incoming transfer would be super helpful.

Ben: On the women’s side, I think Washington could have used an impact transfer. With Melany Smart leading the way, the Huskies have a bright future. However, Katie Rainsberger and Lilli Burdon have run out of eligibility, and Washington needs some experienced names to help fill those roles. As it stands, they will have to rely on internal development which could prove beneficial in the long run, but for next year, an impact transfer could have been very helpful.

For the men, Iowa State certainly could have used a star distance transfer. Wesley Banguria is a JUCO standout who signed with Iowa State this past winter, but they still need another piece. It looked like they had one in Emmanuel Cheboson, but he ultimately changed his mind and went to Arkansas. For the Cyclones to stay in the podium picture, they really need to bring in some extra scoring potency.

Eric: On the women's side, I am going to go with BYU. They lose Courtney Wayment, Erica Birk and Olivia Hoj to graduation. Granted, they still have Whittni Orton, but they would have loved to have someone replace one of those two women. They will look to juniors Anna Camp and Sara Musselman and well as freshman Anastaysia Davis to hold down the fort in Provo.

For the men I am going to choose Alabama. It seems like they lost their whole team as Vincent Kiprop, Gilbert Kigen, James Brinyark and Elliott Miller are all gone. If you could count on anything over the last two years, it was that Kiprop and Kigen would always be in contention with the best runners in the nation. With four key names gone, it is going to have a different feel in Tuscaloosa.

Michael: I think the Oregon women could really use a big cross country transfer. Yes, Hannah Reinhardt is joining the Ducks as a graduate transfer, but she doesn't have any cross country eligibility. After losing some of their biggest stars to graduation, the Ducks have not been the title-contending team that they were just a couple years ago. Oregon has done a pretty good job recruiting, but they could use a top scorer to lead them in cross country and hopefully bring the Ducks back to a position where they are contending for top finishes at the National Championships.

For the men, I think an obvious answer is Stanford. The departure of Alex Ostberg, Thomas Ratcliffe, Isaac Cortes and Matt Rizzo leaves some notable gaps that Stanford will need to fill (although they still have lots of talented athletes capable of doing so). They also lose Steven Fahy who was an All-American in cross country this past fall and the reigning NCAA steeplechase champion. If Stanford was able to pick up a transfer on the level of Ostberg or Ratcliffe (preferably with cross country eligibility), then they would have a valuable low-stick to pair with Alek Parsons.

Which transfer makes the most sense?

Maura: Matt Wisner leaving Duke for Oregon to complete his final outdoor track season makes a lot of sense. Wisner’s coach, Norm Ogilvie, is retiring at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. A new coach was already in the cards for Wisner, so why not take the opportunity to be coached by one of the NCAA’s best middle distance coaches in Ben Thomas?

Eric: I think Matt Rizzo to Georgetown makes a lot of sense. G’Town is seen as a middle distance school and the 4:02 miler should fit right in with what coach Brandon Bonsey is currently doing. He will look to make an immediate impact as the Hoyas lose milers Spencer Brown and Nick Wareham (unless they return in the spring).

Ben: Hannah Steelman to NC State made a lot of sense to me as she gets the opportunity to train with better teammates and now has an opportunity to win an NCAA title with the Wolfpack.

Michael: I agree with Ben that Hannah Steelman’s move to NC State is very logical. Steelman was by far Wofford’s best runner, and she was likely in search of a team where she would have plenty of teammates to work with and aim for a title in cross country. NC State has been lights-out in recruiting and will be returning All-American Kelsey Chmiel, so this move seems perfect.

Garrett: The one move that makes the most sense to me is Joseph Humes going to Purdue. He'll stay in the Midwest and join a Purdue team that needed another scoring piece after losing Jaret Carpenter. Humes won't totally replace Carpenter's value as a low-stick, but he helps the Boilermakers maintain a very competitive lineup for one season which is all they really need. Meanwhile, numerous programs are losing significant portions of their varsity groups next year.

Who has won the offseason so far?

Maura: The obvious answer for the men has to be UNC and Chris Miltenberg. After leaving Stanford before the start of the 2019 cross country season, no one followed Milt to North Carolina. That may have been due to a lack of available scholarships or guys just didn’t have the chance to quickly get an application filed (but that's all just speculation).

Whatever the reason, athletes know how successful Coach Miltenberg has been in the past and want to reap similar benefits. UNC picking up Stanford’s Thomas Ratcliffe and Alex Ostberg is big as both men significantly bolster UNC's status in the distance running community. Princeton’s Colin Lundy and Yale’s Allen Siegler will only add more depth to the roster for the Tar Heels.

If you look at the women and stay in the state of North Carolina, the NC State women got a season-altering pick-up in Hannah Steelman. The addition of Steelman makes NC State only stronger after signing one of the best recruiting classes maybe ever. Her decision to transfer may have just swung the national title race in NC State's favor.

Eric: I 100% agree with Maura that Coach Milt is the big winner. The transfers may not have that much of an impact in the fall due to their exhausted cross country eligibility, but just practicing with these guys will help the incoming freshmen understand the level that is required of them to be great. I think this program is still a couple of years away, but having four guys change programs shows that they believe in the direction that UNC is headed.

Ben: Athlete empowerment is the winner. I’m not sure how much of a stigma surrounding transferring there was in the NCAA distance scene, but this offseason seems to have eradicated any negative thoughts about changing schools. We are seeing more and more runners head somewhere new to either get a fresh start or begin a new degree. I think the transfer portal has brought the process of transferring into the light and made it much easier for athletes to find a new school. It's an exciting development for runners who have more options for their college careers than ever before.

Michael: Great answer from Ben. I agree that this slew of transfers is indicative of a changing dynamic in the NCAA and I think that is great for the sport.

Going off of that, I’m going to say watchability. This leads into the next question a bit, but seeing so many transfers is exciting for fans. I think a lot of readers are excited to see how athletes fit into their new teams and help those programs. Especially for athletes with cross country eligibility, there will be some interesting storylines and new team dynamics in the fall. I know I am not alone when I say that these transfers only make me more excited to watch the upcoming seasons.

Garrett: The biggest winner isn't a specific team, coach or athlete. Instead, it's The Stride Report and our readers. Who would have thought that we would have this much content to write about during a pandemic when there are no races happening? Some sites might be struggling, but we are thriving.

Why do you think transfer news is such a hot topic for our readers?

Ben: Transfer news is exciting because it gives us an opportunity to treat NCAA distance running like a professional sport. NFL free agency, the transfer deadline in soccer, and the NBA trade deadline are all huge moments that fans of every sport are interested in. With this extended offseason, it is an opportunity for fans of NCAA distance running to see their favorite runners change teams and watch their respective schools grow stronger. In other words, it gives us something to pay attention to besides the actual races.

Maura: I think that with so much uncertainty in the world right now, especially when it comes to what will happen this fall at the collegiate level, academically and athletically speaking, seeing athletes leave one university for another keeps things interesting. When the rumors start that someone has entered the transfer portal, people want to know as soon as possible where said athlete is going.

Eric: In a time when sports are dead, people want something to happen. Transfers and news in the distance running community provide some much needed entertainment during the day. This also allows people to hypothesize possible lineups for cross country and track.

Michael: A lot of these transfers have been somewhat unexpected and include some big names. When things become predictable, they often become less exciting. When readers see these big moves, it spices up the entire landscape of the NCAA and allows people to think about possible outcomes for when racing returns. It also brings some of the drama we see in professional sports with trades and free agent signings.

Garrett: Eric and Michael really grabbed the essence of what I was thinking. Humans are naturally curious and we instinctively want to know about the unknown. Anything outside of the norm is bound to grab our attention which is exactly what happens with transfers. We're not only interested in transfers because we don't know expect them to happen, but we also like transfers because there isn't a guarantee about what will happen next. We don't 100% know how these transfers will impact their new teams, but that's why we theorize and analyze.

Bold prediction for the rest of the offseason?

Maura: COVID-19 ends. Students return to campuses. Tracks are reopened. The cross country season is taken off the back-burner and teams begin practicing.

Eric: Cross country happens and UNC gets another transfer.

Ben: We get one surprise coaching change from a top 25 school.

Michael: We see a new big (friendly) rivalry form as the result of transfers/coaching changes.

Garrett: Ben took mine. Instead, my prediction is that cross country happens this fall, but we see significant changes take place in terms of travel and national qualifying as a result.