The Group Chat: Midseason Review (Part 1)


Conversation by Ben Weisel, Michael Weidenbruch, & Garrett Zatlin


A few members of the TSR crew got together to chat about all of the action that has taken place so far this season. Read up below and stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow...


What are your general thoughts on the season so far? Is there anything you’ve found interesting? Has the season been entertaining or underwhelming?


Garrett: Overall, the season has been relatively predictable, especially on the men’s side. Certain guys have run well, but no one other than Indiana’s Daniel Michalski has really stepped up to become a surprising new national title contender in the distance events. The women, however, are a bit more interesting. The return of Dani Jones has really shaken things up and the uncertainty about which event Jessica Hull will run at Nationals has kept many fans in the running community interested in what’s going to happen. Still, I’m not sure I can look at many of these performances and say that they were wildly unexpected. So for the most part, I’d say it's been underwhelming (but not exactly bad).


Michael: I agree that this season has exactly not produced any crazy performances yet. Most events are still looking pretty wide open on both the men’s and women’s sides, which could make for some exciting races leading up to NCAA's as athletes try to establish themselves as favorites. Even the champions from Indoor Nationals just last month will need to prove their ability to win again as, at least in my opinion, none of them are locks to win a title outdoors. One performance that stands out to me is the Stanford men in the 5k at the Cardinal Classic. Stanford now has three men in the top five across both regions, all under 13:35. If the Cardinal have three men who could threaten for the podium at NCAA's, this could be a great year for them.


Ben: For me, the season has been fun, if not mesmerizing. We have seen some fast times on both the women’s and men’s side, but nothing outrageous and they've come from people you would expect to run well. We haven’t seen many National Championship previews besides the 1500 at Bryan Clay which was probably my favorite race of the year so far. One thing I found interesting on the men’s side is Morgan McDonald’s racing schedule. He has only raced the Bryan Clay 5k and the 4xMile at Penn Relays. Is this because of injury or just taking the season slow? Additionally, does this make him more or less likely to attempt the 10k/5k double at Nationals?


Dani Jones returned to action this past weekend after battling injuries over the last few months and ran a converted 4:14 for 1500 meters. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being a guarantee), how confident are you that she can win the national title in the 1500?


Ben: I’d give it a 5 because I think the 1500 final will be a coin flip behind Hull and Jones. Jones would have got the advantage if she was healthy the entire season because I think she is just a little better than Hull. The Duck veteran owns the advantage because of how solid she has been during indoors and outdoors.


Garrett: The internal conflict I have with this question is that although I think Dani Jones could still win a national title, I’m not sure she can get past Jessica Hull who is looking to run a fast 1500 at Payton Jordan this weekend. If Hull does run the 1500 at Nationals, she’ll likely be favored over Jones simply because she’s been able to train through the winter without any (known) setbacks. However, if Hull were to enter the 5000, then I do like Jones’ chances of taking home gold (although I don’t necessarily think she’s a lock). So my end answer? I’ll give Jones a 6.


Michael: I’ll put Jones at a 6. Her converted 4:14 is impressive, but only puts her #9 in the NCAA. I think Jessica Hull is likely to run faster at Payton Jordan this weekend, and while NCAA's is still well over a month away, Jones will probably need to be in PR shape (sub-4:10) to be able to give Hull a run for her money. If she gets to that point, I think she can win it, but it may be close. Garrett mentioned the possibility of Hull running the 5k, but I wouldn’t rule that race out for Dani Jones either. After all, she is the reigning cross country champion.


TSR recently broke news that Noah Affolder is exploring transfer options. What are your thoughts on that?


Michael: I was really surprised when I heard that Noah Affolder was looking into transferring. The circumstances back it up with Coach Fox leaving Syracuse, but the core of the team is still there, especially Aidan Tooker. Washington looks like a solid guess as to where he’ll end up after his younger brother signed there, but I could see him going somewhere that is more known for producing steeplechasers. Andy Powell hasn’t been known for creating steeple talents, but I’m sure he could do it. With that said, I could see him looking into a school like Georgetown which has produced multiple top-level steeplechasers in the past few years. In 2017, Darren Fahy and Scott Carpenter took 2nd and 5th at NCAA's in the steeplechase and the Hoyas have picked up some recruits who have shown promise in the event. Plus, Affolder would be close to home in Washington DC, although his family has moved around a lot and could potentially move again.


Garrett: It’s not often that you see a young star have a notable amount of success in his first few years and then decide to transfer. However, this seems relatively understandable as there are notable reasons why Affolder may want to step away from Syracuse. Coach Fox left the program after Affolder’s first year and his younger brother Sam committed to run for Coach Powell at Washington on the other side of the country. Despite his great success in the steeplechase, the idea of heading out west isn’t shocking for a guy whose family was constantly on the move during high school. Could we see Affolder in an Oregon or Washington singlet come the 2019 cross country season?


Ben: As Garrett said, it isn’t often that you see a young stud transfer, but I wonder if this will become more prevalent over the next few years. With the introduction of the transfer portal, it will be interesting to see if more young stars try to push their way to a new school. This might just be an indictment of our overall culture, but I think we are about to see more and more people leave their school because they think the grass is greener somewhere else (which could be true). Like Garrett, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him head out west. In particular, I think Washington is the favorite. For someone who has been impressive in the steeplechase, his cross performances have left something to be desired. If Andy Powell gets Affolder, then it will be interesting to see if he can help him develop on the cross course. If Powell can, then the Huskies could be challenging for a podium spot next year or maybe even a championship title.


Upon a quick review of our Draft selections, which writer is having the best season so far? Why?


Michael: John seems to have the best team on the men’s side so far, but I think Sam or even Matt could make a push for being considered the top team depending on how their athletes perform this weekend with Payton Jordan. John picking Grant Fisher certainly gives him an edge with Fisher’s early season 13:29 5k.


Garrett: On the men’s side, there is no doubt in my mind that John has the best team right now. His lineup of Fisher, Mau, Brandt, Suliman, Nuguse, Rockhold, and Roudolff-Levisse is well balanced between the 1500, 5k, and 10k. Rockhold was a huge gamble as his health was a big question mark, but after running 13:35 at Bryan Clay, it’s safe to say that it was possibly the best pick of the draft.


Ben: I also think John clearly has the best team, although I like Sam’s team to give him a challenge. Klecker, Linkletter, and Day give Sam a shot at racking up a lot of points between the 10k and 5k. The problem is that the rest of his lineup (Hunter, Orange, Hauger, and Burdick) don’t look like they’ll will be able to provide Sam as many points in their respective events.


Michael: On the women’s side, I think it has to be between Sean, John, and Garrett. I think Sean’s combination of Kelati and Kurgat and John picking Alicia Monson gives them a major scoring boost. Garrett took a potentially underrated pick in Erica Birk, who is currently #4 in the 1500 AND the 5k. I have to say, I think my team isn’t looking too bad either with Dani Jones back in action. She could make a huge difference for me!


Garrett: As for the women, I have to think that my own team is still in pretty solid position as I have potential scorers in the steeplechase, 10k, and 5k...many of whom could end up doubling. I also have some comfort knowing that my final round pick (Erin Finn) is racing this season and is already qualified for Regionals. Yet, outside of scoring, John’s team is extremely strong with firepower at nearly every position. Allie Wilson and Alicia Monson are two national title contenders while plenty of other women in his lineup are sneaky good podium picks. So if you don’t like my biased pick, then go with John’s squad...again.


Ben: For the women, I think Sean might have the best draft so far based solely on his first two picks, Weini Kelati and Ednah Kurgat. The Lady Lobos could score over 20 points on their own and Kelati could even score 15 points by herself. If Sean can get any points from Rohrer, Rizk, Viljoen, Jaci Smith, and McDonald, then he could beat out other top teams like Garrett and John.


*Part Two coming tomorrow*