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The Group Chat: NCAA Winter XC Championship Preview


 

Let’s just get this question out of the way: Northern Arizona, BYU or the field? Why?


Maura: I’ve got to take the BYU men here. The firepower they have upfront with Conner Mantz, Casey Clinger and Brandon Garnica is solid. Mantz is in the conversation to win the individual title and Clinger and Garnica could easily find themselves amongst the top-20. Clayton Shumway and Elijah Armstrong are two men who have experience racing on the national stage and could be on the cusp of All-American honors while freshman Aidan Troutner is coming into form at the right time.


Don’t get me wrong, the NAU, Arkansas and Stanford men are deep as well, but BYU is coming in as the reigning team champions from 2019 and wants to prove that sticking solely to cross country rather than double dipping during track was the right move.


Ben: This might be very wrong, and maybe I’m scarred from last year, but I’m with Maura. I’m going with BYU. At this point, NAU likely has the edge through three runners. Nur, Young and Grijalva are all top-10 guys while BYU only has Mantz and Clinger who will likely finish in that range. Blaise Ferro should be a solid fourth option for the Lumberjacks, but I also trust Brandon Garnica and Clayson Shumway to finish near Ferro.


In the end, it will come down to the fifth runner and I really like what I just saw from Elijah Armstrong a few weeks ago. I can’t say the same about Northern Arizona's fifth scorer. Brodey Hasty and Ryan Raff have been inconsistent while Drew Bosley hasn’t looked like himself. I’ll go with BYU by an absolute hair.


Michael: I am going to lean the other way and say that NAU wins it by the slimmest of margins. With the Lumberjacks' top-end firepower coming from Luis Grijalva, Nico Young and Abdi Nur, they have three guys who, in my opinion, are all top-five runners on a good day.


While they may not be as solid through their fifth runner, I think their depth up front will ultimately allow the Lumberjacks to prevail. It looks like BYU has the more complete team through five and seven runners, but it’s hard to beat a team that can potentially score under 15 points with their top-three.


Garrett: I'll take Northern Arizona and truthfully, I'm surprised that both Ben and Maura opted to go with the BYU. Yes, I'll admit, the Lumberjacks haven't looked great this year when talking about their depth, but they also haven't run a full lineup this year and I think that needs to be taken into consideration.


I also think that the NAU men have the better firepower as Grijalva, Young and Nur can all be top-10 finishers while Ferro could contend for a top-20 spot. As long as they have someone step up and earn a respectable fifth scoring spot -- whether that be Bosley, Hasty, Raff or Gorgas -- then NAU should come through with the team title...I think.


On the women’s side, how many teams are realistic national title contenders? Who are they?


NOTE: Based on an article from LetsRun, it has since been discovered that the Arkansas women may opt to leave out a few women from their SEC Championship team in the fall. They will instead give "a few young people an opportunity to gain some experience" according to Arkansas Coach Lance Harter.


Maura: I would have to say there are four teams in contention to win the national title on the women’s side: NC State, Stanford, BYU and New Mexico.


NC State and Stanford were expected to be the top teams from the beginning of the summer and they have been solid during the course of the fall and winter cross country seasons. The Wolfpack benefits from the easy transition of transfer Hannah Steelman, the growth of Dominique Clairmonte and the depth of their supporting scorers.


As for the Cardinal, the duo of Ella Donaghu and Zofia Dudek provide key low points and could potentially have those two finish in the top-five.


Jessica Lawson was expected to be right alongside Donaghu this season, but she has had a slow start to the season. Luckily for the Cardinal, her performance at the PAC-12 Championships shows us that she is trending in the right direction. Not only that, but Julia Heymach has done a great job of picking up the missing pieces.


Stanford just needs a solid fifth runner to close out their scoring.


The BYU women are entering the NCAA XC Championships as the 2019 runner-up team, but they lost some of their firepower to graduations and exhausted eligibility. During the fall, Whittni Orton proved her strength and why she belonged in the individual title contention conversation. However, she hasn’t raced this winter due to a foot injury. Orton will need to toe the line with her teammates to help solidify them as a podium team.


And finally, we have the New Mexico Lobos. These ladies have been stellar in their two cross country meets of the winter, winning both meets. The depth on this roster and the fact that the women are keeping a small top-five spread will surely help them at the NCAA Championships. Winning the title may be a stretch, but the Lady Lobos have done it in years prior, so what says they can’t do it again?


Ben: I’ll go with five teams, adding Alabama to Maura's list of NC State, Stanford, New Mexico and BYU. I would have said Arkansas, but there is potential that they won't run a few of their better scorers.


NC State and Stanford are pretty straightforward. They have dynamic front-runners who can litter the top-25 places at the national meet. I like the Wolfpack’s depth a bit more than Stanford’s, although the Cardinal looked much better at the PAC-12 Championships than they did earlier in the year.


I added Alabama because they have so much firepower, at least on paper. Chelangat and Gitahi have been outstanding low-sticks for this team and Jami Reed had a breakout season in the fall. However, seeing Amaris Tyynismaa have a breakout year and run 9:03 for 3000 meters leaves me to believe that the Crimson Tide have some of the best scoring potency in the country. Concerns about their backend scoring, while still legitimate, hold less weight than they did a few months ago.


As for BYU, it all comes down to Whittni Orton. If she returns and is once again the best runner in the country (or close to the best runner), then they have a chance to win it all. If she doesn’t toe the line, then I could still see the Cougars on the podium, but they wouldn't be national title contenders in that scenario.


The New Mexico women are similar to a fully loaded Arkansas team as their main uncertainty is firepower. Adva Cohen is a great All-American candidate, but is she good enough to be the top runner for a national title team? I would lean towards no, but the Lady Lobos’ depth might make a national title a realistic goal.


Garrett: I'll take the same four teams that Maura mentioned for all of the reasons that Ben detailed. I won't break them all down, mainly because that would be redundant, but NC State, Stanford, BYU (with Orton) and New Mexico are the main title contenders.


I'm not totally sold on Alabama. They don't have a ton of experience on the national stage in cross country and I still don't have a guarantee that Tyynismaa will totally translate her track success to the grass. I also have questions as to what their fifth runner would look like on this Oklahoma State course. That said, I would agree that the Crimson Tide's firepower seems to be some of the best in the nation.


Michael: I think it really comes down to four teams for the title. Stanford, NC State, BYU and New Mexico. Arkansas is in the conversation too, but only if their top women run.


Stanford looks like the top team in my opinion. They will all be coming in fresh after not contending for indoor titles. Ella Donaghu and Zofia Dudek provide two low-sticks for the Cardinal and their depth beyond those two women was much improved at the PAC-12 Championships.


NC State is a very similar team on paper, but I’m not sure that they can match Stanford’s first two scorers. Hannah Steelman, Kelsey Chmiel and Katelyn Tuohy are all coming off of the NCAA Indoor Championships. Although they all raced on Friday and will have had two full days to recover, Stanford may still have the slightest edge.


BYU and New Mexico are both, in my opinion, a step below Stanford and NC State. They lack the crazy depth of the top-two teams, but should all be within striking distance. If Whittni Orton is able to contend for the individual title, BYU may be able to threaten the Cardinal and the Wolfpack for a top-two spot on the podium.


On the men’s side, how many teams are realistic podium contenders? Who are they?


Maura: There’s not too much to say here with regards to the title contenders. I think it comes down to BYU vs NAU. The Cougars will be looking to repeat their 2019 championship while the Lumberjacks will be looking for revenge and redemption.


As for the other two spots on the podium, four teams have a shot: Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Stanford and Arkansas.


Oklahoma State has the home course advantage on Monday and have raced on their course numerous times during the abbreviated fall season. They picked up two wins this year, one at the Cowboy Jamboree and the other in a nail-biting tie with Iowa State at the BIG 12 XC Championships. They also earned a 2nd place finish to Northern Arizona at the Oklahoma State Invitational. Isai Rodriguez, Victor Shitsama, Alex Maier, Ryan Schoppe and Ryan Smeeton are a very solid five who can carry the Cowboys to the podium.


The Golden Hurricanes of Tulsa were 5th at the 2019 NCAA XC Championships. This year, they dominated the American Conference XC Championships, scoring only 20 points and having all seven men across the line in the top-12.


Seniors Patrick Dever, Scott Beattie and Peter Lynch are a very solid top-three for Tulsa and all three have the potential to finish amongst the top-30. They recently went head-to-head against Oklahoma State at the OSU Winter Open, finishing runner-up by only one point. This provided Tulsa with the opportunity to see what they will face during Monday's race.


The Stanford men have been beyond impressive this season, only losing to Northern Arizona at the Battle Born XC Challenge. The Cardinal are coming off of a dominating win at the PAC-12 XC Championships led by redshirt freshman Charles Hicks who placed 2nd.


The only point of concern for the Cardinal is the fact that they are a relatively young team. True freshmen Cole Sprout and Ky Robinson and redshirt freshman Devin Hart will likely join Hicks in this varsity lineup. Meanwhile, Alek Parsons, Callum Bolger and D.J. Principe all have experience competing on the national stage. The underclassmen were super talented prep athletes, but will need to keep their composure when racing for a team podium finish.


The last podium contending team is Arkansas. The Razorbacks won the SEC XC Championships despite not having a scorer in the top-four. The depth of this team with Amon Kemboi, Luke Meade, Jacob McLeod, Emmanuel Cheboson, Matt Young, Andrew Kibet and Gilbert Boit is what will propel them forward.


Any of those names could be the leader for Arkansas (although it will likely be Kemboi) and the others will have no problem filling in closely behind. The Razorbacks will need to keep their pack tight to outperform teams that have better low-sticks.


Ben: I agree with Maura, Northern Arizona and BYU are the obvious picks, but I think we could have a plethora of podium teams. I agree that Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Stanford are the clear candidates, but I could also see Iowa State and Notre Dame sneak into the top-four as well.


Tulsa’s case is pretty straightforward. As Maura mentioned, they have one of the best scoring trios in the country with Dever, Beattie and Lynch. As long as their fourth and fifth men, Isaac Akers and Cameron Field, run like they did at the national meet last year, then the Golden Hurricanes will be on the podium.


However, with no established options behind their top-five, this will be a make or break race for Tulsa in terms of their podium chances. They need their entire front five to run well. The good news is that running well will essentially guarantee them a podium spot. The bad news is that any small slip up may put them out of the top-four.


For Oklahoma State, they have all the ingredients to be a podium team. They have a great low-stick in Isai Rodriguez and they have good depth through their backend scorers. Ryan Smeeton did not have a great race the other week, but Kevin Mulcaire was there to step in. Alex Maier and Victor Shitsama have been consistent and Ryan Schoppe gives them another strong scoring option. Plus, they are running on their home course. I like the Cowboys' chances.


The case for Arkansas is the complete opposite of Tulsa. They have plenty of depth, but they do not have many clear All-American candidates. Amon Kemboi is certainly one, but it is hard to say who will join him in the top-40.


On the bright side, the Razorbacks have a lot of options. Jacob McLeod just ran 13:39 on Friday and Emmanuel Cheboson was very good in the fall. Luke Meade, Andrew Kibet and Matt Young are all great options to finish within the top-100. If Arkansas can get a nice group together around the 50th place range, then they will likely snag a podium finish.


Stanford is young and inexperienced, but they do have three potential All-Americans in Charles Hicks, Cole Sprout and Alek Parsons. In their first NCAA Championship, it will be interesting to see how Hicks and Sprout fare because they are both potential top-20 guys. Parsons is someone who you can bank on finishing at least in the top-50.


Stanford's backend has looked better with the emergence Ky Robinson and Callum Bolger. However, the big question if is their inexperience will be too much of an issue on the nation's biggest stage.


As for Notre Dame and Iowa State, neither team has run particularly well this fall, but both have a ton of talent. The Irish have three potential All-Americans in Yared Nuguse, Dylan Jacobs and Danny Kilrea, but will they all run well on Monday?


The Cyclones have the favorite to win the individual title in Wesley Kiptoo, but the rest of their lineup has underwhelmed. Still, guys like Thomas Pollard, Mitchell Day, Milo Grder and Chad Johnson have run well at the NCAA Championships before, so if they put it all together, then this team has an outside chance at the podium.


Michael: Seeing NAU and BYU anywhere but the top two steps of the podium would be a shock to anyone who has been following the NCAA over the last few years. It’s safe to say that they are essentially locks to be podium teams. However, for the next two spots on the podium, it will be quite the battle.


Oklahoma State is an easy pick for me, as home teams understandably have an advantage over everyone else. That said, the Cowboys don’t even need that edge. Isai Rodriguez looks like he could be back to his 2018 form where he finished 4th at the national meet. Beyond Rodriguez, Oklahoma State has a plethora of options in terms of scorers and they don’t need everyone to be at their absolute best in order to be a top-four team.


Tulsa continues to be an underrated group. In 2019, they put two guys in the top-13, and this year they have three runners who are top-20 candidates. Patrick Dever, Peter Lynch and Scott Beattie make up one of the best trios in the country, but three isn’t enough to get them on the podium. Isaac Akers and Cameron Field are prominent scorers for Tulsa, but the team’s success rests on their shoulders. Are they strong enough to carry the load? I think they are.


While the four previously mentioned teams are my podium picks, Stanford, Notre Dame and even Arkansas and Iowa State will be in the mix. Stanford is young, but incredibly talented. Will we see Cole Sprout and Charles Hicks mixing it up with the most experienced, fastest runners in the country?


Will Notre Dame’s fourth and fifth runners be strong enough to keep a small gap between Yared Nuguse, Dylan Jacobs and Danny Kilrea? Jake Renfree and Josh Methner are two of the best freshman in the country and Andrew Alexander is always a strong option for the Fighting Irish.


Arkansas and Iowa State both have top-level scorers up front in Amon Kemboi and Wesley Kiptoo, respectively. However, will these guys be recovered enough from hard racing at NCAA Indoor Championships just a few days prior? If the teams behind these athletes can churn out strong performances with a couple more All-Americans, then we could see one of these teams (or both) on the podium.


Garrett: I won't repeat everything that my team just said, but I like all of those teams as well. I'm not as convinced about Iowa State or Notre Dame, but they have a few key pieces and I suppose it's possible that they could get on the podium.


However, I also want to add the Wisconsin men to this list. They won the BIG 10 XC Championships without Olin Hacker, Shuaib Aljabaly and Jack Meijer. That is a lethal scoring group that could team up with Ellenberg, Sharp and Wheeler to give the Badgers some of the best scoring potency in the NCAA if they all run on Monday.


Which women’s team has the most to prove?


Maura: The Alabama women were a surprising 2nd place at the SEC XC Championship during the fall behind Mercy Chelangat’s win and Esther Gitahi and Jami Reed finishing in the top-six. Chelangat and Gitahi have both been performing well on the indoor track and during cross country, respectively, this winter.


However, the real storyline to follow is Amaris Tyynismaa. The sophomore was only 26th at her conference meet in the fall, but since then, she has been on a complete tear, running 4:33 (mile) and 9:03 (3k) during indoors.


If Chelangat, Gitahi and Reed can replicate their fall success, if Tyynismaa can translate her track success to the grass and if another teammate can emerge as a reliable fifth scorer, then the Alabama women could find themselves amongst the top-eight teams on Monday.


Ben: I was very excited to see the Liberty women qualify for the NCAA Championships, but they now need to prove that they belong amongst the best teams in the country. They finished a solid 7th place at the FSU Winter XC Classic with a solid top duo in Calli Doan and Adelyn Ackley. They are not the deepest team, but they do have a strong top-five. Grace Dwyer brings NCAA experience from her time with Furman and could play a big role on Monday.


Garrett: I'll take the Michigan women. I know for a fact that some people are very high on the Wolverines, but truthfully, I'm not totally sold on them. Neither Davre nor Forsyth are expected to be in this varsity lineup on Monday. VanderLende looked strong in her season opener, but freshman Katelynne Hart was only the fourth runner on her team in their latest meet.


The Michigan women have a few young and inexperienced pieces in their top-seven and their lineup isn't drastically different compared to last year. Are they deserving of being at the national meet? Absolutely. I just need to see them race some actual competition to get a better gauge of just how good they are.


Michael: The Northern Arizona women come into the NCAA Championships as a team with some question marks surrounding them. The abbreviated winter season meant that we did not get to see many of the top teams run against each other at large invitationals like Nuttycombe and Pre-Nats.


Earlier this winter, NAU dominated the BIG Sky XC Championships, scoring just 27 points. However, with no regional meet, it can be difficult to gauge exactly where this team stands.


Individually, Taryn O’Neill has top-10 potential, but how far back will Jessa Hanson, Bryn Morley, Pipi Eitel and Delaney Rasmussen be? At the BIG Sky XC Championships, they all finished within roughly five seconds of each other. In a race that NAU controlled with ease, we likely did not see that group of four giving their max effort.


What can they accomplish against all of the best teams in the country? This team has been on the rise for a few years now and if all goes according to plan, then this could be the year that the NAU women make a statement.


Which men’s team has the most to prove?


Maura: The Gonzaga Bulldogs are coming off a strong 2nd place finish at the WCC XC Championships, placing all five scorers amongst the top-19 places. James Mwaura has been in the NCAA since the fall of 2018, but looks like the true star that we knew he could be after finishing runner-up to Mantz at his conference meet.


However, sophomore Yacine Guermali will be the biggest factor for the Bulldogs. He will need to remain composed on Monday as he doesn’t have any national meet experience, but will be viewed as the team's key secondary scorer.


Gonzaga has to prove that beating Portland at their conference meet wasn’t a one-time thing. The Bulldogs have slowly been building their program to compete against the best in the nation and are on a mission to make up for the Kolas controversy after they didn't qualify for the 2019 national meet.


Ben: In a similar vein to my answer on the women’s side, I’ll go with the Charlotte men. In my opinion, they are a top-20 team in the country and have two potential All-Americans in Nickolas Scudder and Paul Arredondo.


It may have surprised some people to see Charlotte qualify for the NCAA Championships, but they have run well when they have had the opportunity, including a 2nd place finish to Ole Miss last fall.


With this rare opportunity to run at Nationals, they will have the hopes of many small schools pulling for them to hold their own. While their depth isn’t quite as strong as some of the more traditional distance programs around them, they do have two studs up front which should make up for that fact. I like the 49ers to run well on Monday.


Garrett: I think the easy answer here is Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds were truthfully not that great this winter when it came to racing on the grass. However, they stunned everyone when they beat a limited Northern Arizona team at the BIG Sky XC Championships. So just how good is this team? Which version of Southern Utah can we expect to see during Monday's race? A top-20 finish would validate their conference title as well as their national qualifying bid despite a regular season which wasn't exactly amazing.


Michael: The Portland Pilots are not the team that we saw a few years ago when they placed 2nd at the NCAA XC Championships. However, Coach Rob Conner’s squad outperforms their ranking year after year.


The Pilots took 3rd at the West Coast Conference XC Championships behind BYU and Gonzaga a few weeks ago, two very impressive teams. Evert Silva took 6th in that race and was followed by Jacob Klemz, Zak Kirk and Stan Neisten who finished 12th, 13th, and 14th respectively. The top-25 spots in that race was made up entirely of BYU, Gonzaga and Portland runners with the exception of two athletes from Santa Clara.


Portland’s only other appearances this season consisted of a sweep over Seattle University and an easy win over a limited Oregon squad. Can the Portland Pilots put it together on the big stage and show off better scoring than they did at their conference meet?


Based on your analysis and conversations with others, which men’s team and which women’s team do you expect to overperform on Monday?


Maura: The men of Notre Dame have raced sparingly during the fall and winter cross country seasons this year even though the ACC approved a fall season. They easily won the Irish Classic and the ACC XC Championships. However, they didn’t exactly perform well at the Silver State Collegiate Challenge, finishing 4th overall, 15-points behind 3rd place Washington.


We haven’t seen the Fighting Irish compete since then and they have since dropped to TSR #10 in our team rankings. With the men choosing not to focus on the indoor track season, Notre Dame should be coming out fresh and ready to roll. Yared Nuguse leads a young, but experienced team that has the potential for a top-six finish.


The ladies of Michigan only had one chance to qualify for the NCAA Championship[s at the FSU Winter XC Last Chance after having to sit out of the BIG 10 XC Championships for precautionary reasons due to COVID-19.


In that race, the Wolverines scored a perfect 15-points and took nine of the top-10 spots. Ericka VanderLende is definitely worthy of a top-15 finish at the national meet and a teammate or two could join her in the top-60 which would help their overall score. The Michigan women are ranked at TSR #8 in our team rankings, but since they haven’t faced any top teams this winter, there's a possibility that they finish in the top-five.


Ben: I think the Iowa State men could surprise some people and find themselves within the top-five in Stillwater. This is an experienced team with an individual title favorite leading the way. They have not run great as of late, but they have experience at the NCAA Championships and have previously raced on this course. The Cyclones will overperform based on current expectations.


Maura mentioned them earlier, but the Alabama women are looking very capable of a top-10 finish after a 2nd place finish at the SEC Championships in the fall. Amaris Tyynismaa has been unbelievable this indoor track season and if she can translate her recent success to the grass, then she gives the Crimson Tide a potent top-four.


Mercy Chelangat, Esther Gitahi and Jami Reed all ran well this fall and they give Alabama multiple All-American contenders. They don’t have much depth which decreases their margin of error, but if things go well, then this is a top-10 team in the country.


Garrett: On the men's side, I'll take the Butler Bulldogs. That 1-2 punch of Barry Keane and Simon Bedard is going to be lethal and their supporting scorers at the BIG East XC Championships were very impressive. I do have questions about how their fifth man will handle a larger field, but I really like the lineup structure of this team and I think they will fare well at the national meet.


As for the women, I would also agree that the Alabama women are poised to overperform, but I would also take the Oklahoma State women as well. On paper, they have three legitimate All-American candidates in Molly Born, Taylor Roe and Gabby Hentemann. Yes, I do have concerns about their bottom-two scorers who are only freshmen, but this is the Cowgirls' home course. That sense of familiarity could be super beneficial for Heidi Demeo and Sivan Auerbach, two backend rookies. The same can be said for senior Ariane Ballner.


The backend of Oklahoma State's lineup has been the main thing holding this team back this winter. However, despite the larger field, I think those concerns with their depth won't be as significant as they were earlier in the year.


Michael: I think the Ole Miss men will perform better than expected in Stillwater. Back in the fall, they took the top-three individual positions at the SEC XC Championships en route to a 2nd place team finish behind Arkansas. This group is coming off of an impressive weekend at the NCAA Indoor Championships in which their DMR team placed 2nd overall while Waleed Suliman and Mario Garcia Romo finished 3rd in the mile and the 3k, respectively. Despite having some shorter races in their legs, I think the Rebels could end up being a top-10 team.


On the women’s side, I think the Colorado Buffaloes come in as a strong team no matter how you spin it. Rachel McArthur and Abby Nichols split up a very accomplished Stanford team at the PAC-12 XC Championships and they have underrated supporting scorers behind that duo.


The Buffaloes are an easy pick for the top-10 to begin with, but could be outside contenders for a podium spot. Madison Boreman, Micaela Degenero and Emily Covert kept Colorado’s top-five time spread relatively tight (39 seconds) at the PAC-12 Championships. If they can close those gaps down just a little bit more, then they will be looking at a much better finish than some may be predicting for them.


Based on your analysis and conversations with others, which men’s team and which women’s team do you expect to underperform on Monday?


Maura: Even though they won the BIG Sky XC Championships, beating NAU by three points, the Southern Utah men just haven’t been consistent this year. Losing to Utah State at the Dixie State XC Invite, placing 9th at the FSU Winter XC Classic and finishing 4th at the Battle Born Collegiate Challenge makes me wonder how they will perform on Monday.


Stefen Rasmuson has been consistent, but Aidan Reed, Nate Osterstock and Christian Ricketts have been a little up and down. The Thunderbirds won’t be taking down NAU again at the NCAA Championships and if they don’t bring their “A" game, then I only see these men placing between 18th to 22nd place.


For the women, what will Washington look like? After starting the season with a 6th place finish at the Battle Born XC Challenge with a limited lineup, the Huskies finished a distant 3rd place at the PAC-12 XC Championships, even with Haley Herberg picking up the individual win.


Naomi Smith has been solid, but as only a freshman, her inexperience at the national meet could be a problem. Allie Schadler tore it up on the indoor track, but in her only cross country race of the winter at the Battle Born XC Challenge, she placed 18th. Melany Smart has been noticeably absent from Washington's lineup this fall and we don’t expect her to race this weekend, so the Huskies will need to step up with her ongoing absence.


There are so many questions surrounding the Huskies, especially when it comes to who will race. With a full lineup, they're a podium-contending team. Of course, just like we mentioned earlier, we expect a handful of top names to remain on the sidelines for Monday's race.


Ben: I’m a bit worried about the Arkansas men. They were in a lot of races at the NCAA Indoor Championships and I wonder what kind of toll that will take on the Razorbacks. Of course, they have so much talent and depth that it may not matter.


One other small concern is that although they have multiple All-American candidates, it is hard for me to say with certainty how many Arkansas runners will finish in the top-40. Amon Kemboi probably going to be an All-American, but after that, it's tough to tell. Without more than one All-American, it will be tough for the Razorbacks to finish in the top-five.


Similarly, I am concerned with the Colorado women. Rachel McArthur, on paper, is their low-stick, but she has yet to put together a strong showing at the NCAA Championsips on the grass. The Buffaloes are a deep team, but I’m not sure if they have the low-sticks to earn a top-eight finish in Stillwater.


Michael: The Iowa State men are a team that look a little concerning to me. Wesley Kiptoo is one of the best runners in the NCAA and he showed that in his 5k victory at the indoor national meet on Friday. However, will he be recovered enough to win a 10k three days later?


I’m also not convinced that the Cyclones have anyone else who can be an All-American in Stillwater. With the depth of the other top teams, I have some questions about whether or not Iowa State will be able to perform to the level that may be expected of them. They have the potential to be a podium team and showed that by tying Oklahoma State at the BIG 12 XC Championships in the fall. However, I think this team has a lot of volatility and could end up underperforming.


The Minnesota women stand out to me as a team that could run into some trouble at the NCAA Championships. Bethany Hasz is a great front-runner for the Golden Gophers, but the team’s depth is not at the level necessary to make me confident that they can contend for a top-10 spot.


At the BIG 10 XC Championships at the end of January, Megan Hasz was Minnesota’s fifth runner, finishing 30th overall, roughly a minute behind the winner, Bethany Hasz. The time gaps for Minnesota are not a huge red flag, but could be a problem in a race where more runners from other teams will be finishing inside in between those gaps.


Garrett: Despite Ben saying that he expects them to overperform, I have to agree with Michael and say that the Iowa State men will underperform. Kiptoo is a star, but I didn't love what we saw from Greder, Day, Pollard and Johnson in their last meet. They didn't exactly post many encouraging results.


I also don't know what to expect from Festus Lagat. He was excellent in the fall, but placed 32nd at the FSU Winter XC Classic earlier in the year and didn't race on the grass a few weeks ago with the rest of his teammates. The Cyclones could still be a top team, but I don't know if they have the same momentum going into this race that a few other teams do.


On the women's side, I couldn't tell you which team will underperform. I'm sure there will be a few teams that underperform (like there are every year), but I couldn't convincingly tell you who that team is going to be.


I think a lot of people are really high on the Furman women this year, but I have a lot of concerns about their lack of proven firepower and their inexperience. Of course, that youth could actually be a major asset and give the Paladins a ton of surprise firepower (and in the long-term, I think that will be the case). I'm just not sure how this race will unfold for them.


I suppose you could also put the Washington women into the mix, but if they continue to leave out some of their best scorers like they have all season long, then their final result will likely match how they have actually been racing this season.


Kiptoo, Mantz, Grijalva or the field? Why?


Maura: I'll take BYU's Conner Mantz for the win. The Cougar star is a gutsy runner and grinds from the get-go. Yes, he did place 2nd to Northern Arizona’s Luis Grijalva at the Oklahoma State Invitational in October, but he hasn’t lost a cross country race since then.


Mantz was 3rd at the 2019 national meet and has only improved since then. With a recent 5k personal best of 13:28 a few weeks ago, he has made a case for why he is one of the best.


Wesley Kiptoo will surely be a legitimate threat to Mantz given that he just ran 13:23 at the indoor national meet, but unlike Mantz, Kiptoo will have raced the 5k prior to taking on a 10k. Mantz is going to have fresher legs and will be after the team title alongside individual glory.


Ben: Kiptoo. The Cyclone star just won the indoor 5k at the NCAA Indoor Championships by taking the field out in an astonishing 4:06 first mile. He held on to win by six seconds and run a meet record of 13:23. There has not been a single cross country race that he has not dominated in a similar fashion.


Mantz might be able to hang with him, and if he does, then he very well could win. We haven’t seen Kiptoo be pushed at the end of a race, but Mantz might be strong enough to out-kick him at the end. Still, it is hard for me to see any collegiate hanging with Kiptoo if he throws down a rapid pace from the gun.


Michael: I have to go with Mantz. He is coming into this race completely fresh and has looked good all year. His only loss since the 2019 NCAA XC Championships was to Luis Grijalva in the fall. Since that race, Mantz has looked a bit better than Grijalva and the BYU runner is never shy when it comes to pushing the pace.


With the firepower of the top guys in this race, I think it is shaping up to be a last-man-standing situation at the finish and to me, Mantz looks like the strongest and the freshest title favorite coming into race.


Garrett: After appearing to be completely unfazed by his 13:23 (5k) meet record on Friday, Kiptoo just has to be the overall favorite. I think he's even better in the 10k than he is in the 5k and he even mentioned in a post-race interview that he wasn't worried about having to come back to race on Monday. He just has a ton of confidence right now and I don't know how he won't win.


The biggest threat to Ella Donaghu’s national title hopes is _____


Maura: Zofia Dudek of Stanford. I’m well aware that Dudek is a freshman and that it’s rare for a freshman to win, but the Cardinal rookie has been on a roll this winter. She has finished within spitting distance of Donaghu and has been consistently finishing amongst the top-three in every race she toes the line for.


Dudek has the benefit of training with Donaghu and has probably picked up on some of her racing tactics. If the freshman runner can get the win and Donaghu still finishes in the top-three, then they would surely elevate the Cardinal in the team standings.


Ben: A healthy Whittni Orton, but in the absence of that, I agree with Maura that it's probably Dudek. The freshman has been everything we expected out of Katelyn Tuohy and has been right on Donaghu’s tail for the entire season. While she has yet to beat her Cardinal teammate, but Dudek has the ability to at least keep the race close.


Michael: Bethany Hasz just took 2nd place in a very tactical 5k at the NCAA Indoor Championships. If she isn’t too worn down from that effort, I think she will be a big threat to Donaghu. We haven’t seen her at a NCAA XC Championships since 2018, but Hasz won the BIG 10 XC Championships in January and her 2nd place finish in the 5000 meters on Friday is her first loss since before COVID-19 shut down the 2020 season.


Garrett: Once again, I'm siding with Michael. Going with Dudek is not the wrong answer, but I think Hasz has looked outstanding this year. She can do no wrong and won't have to deal with Joyce Kimeli on Monday as the Auburn star is not racing cross country this winter. Hasz took down a very strong talent in Bailey Hertenstein earlier in the season and she is one of the few top names who Donaghu hasn't race yet.


Do I actually think that Hasz will pull off the upset? No, not quite, but I do think that if anyone is going to pull it off, it's going to be the Minnesota veteran.


List three men who are NOT inside our XC Top 50 rankings and give us three-word descriptions as to why they will be All-Americans on Monday…


*We're counting hyphenated words as a singular word. Just work with us here.


Maura:


Victor Shitsama (Oklahoma State): Home Course Advantage


Alec Sandusky (Cincinnati): First Time Qualifier


Festus Lagat (Iowa State): Mid-Distance XC Speed



Ben:


Elijah Armstrong (BYU): Experience And Form


Paul Arredondo (Charlotte): Beat Cole Bullock


Nickolas Scudder (Charlotte): Beat Paul Arredondo


Garrett:


Jack Meijer (Wisconsin): Fast December 5k


Sam Gilman (Air Force): Continuously Getting Better


Stefen Rasmuson (Southern Utah): Underrated Lead Scorer



Michael:


Danny Kilrea (Notre Dame): Been There Before


Aaron Bienenfeld (Cincinnati): Quickly Becoming Great


Olin Hacker (Wisconsin): Whole Team Underrated


List three women who are NOT inside our XC Top 50 rankings and give us three-word descriptions as to why they will be All-Americans on Monday...


*We're counting hyphenated words as a singular word. Just work with us here.


Maura:


Ashley Tutt (Northern Illinois): Competitive Mid-Major Runner


Amaris Tyynismaa (Alabama): Major Indoor Improvements


MacKenzie Yanek (San Francisco): Don Transfer Rising



Ben:


Amaris Tyynismaa (Alabama): Speed Can Kill


Katelyn Tuohy (NC State): Talent Beats Experience


Jessa Hanson (Northern Arizona): On The Rise



Garrett:


Lauren White (Boston College): Underappreciated Experienced Veteran


Kailee Perry (Bowling Green): Beat Ashley Tutt


Annabelle Eastman (George Mason): Quietly Great Performances



Michael:


Lotte Black (Rhode Island): Mile Disappointment Bounce-Back


Ashlyn Ramos (Bucknell): Underrated Conference Winner


Kaley Richards (UMass Lowell): Great Indoor Momentum


How will teams that haven’t toed the line for a cross country race since the fall fare in Stillwater, Oklahoma during Monday’s national meet?


Maura: It’s hard to gauge where some teams will finish in Stillwater, Oklahoma. One thing that can be looked at is the times that have been run on the indoor oval. This at least shows that the men and women have been working on racing tactics in competitive (or semi-competitive) fields.


Now, track times don’t always translate well to the cross country course, but it still happens. The improvements amongst individuals during the indoor season have been surprising and they could set people up for strong performances on Monday.


Ben: It's an excellent question and I think Maura is right that it depends on how much they have raced on the track. A team like the Ole Miss men has had their stars look just as impressive as they did in the fall which leads me to believe they will run well in Stillwater.


Still, I think it will be a tough adjustment for most of the men’s teams going from running at most a 5k on the track to a 10k on the grass. I think track results for the women will be more indicative in the 6k than it is for the men in the 10k.


Garrett: I wish I had a good answer for this. My predictions suggest that it wont be much of an issue, but this is like an entirely new season for some teams, so there could be some "shaking off the rust" performances. Will that be the case for all of the teams that haven't run on the grass since the fall? No, I don't think so, but I would agree with Ben that the men's teams who focus on the middle distances during the track season (like Ole Miss) may get a minor shock to the system when moving up to a racing distance like the 10k.


Michael: I think some of these teams will definitely be at a disadvantage. Teams with athletes who have run well during indoors may be able to make a relatively easy transition, but there are a few teams in the fields that have been pretty quiet since the fall. For those teams, they may not have an accurate gauge of where their longer distance fitness stands. While the term “rust-buster” can be overused at times, it can be important to have a race in the legs to shake out any possible issues.


Give us your bold prediction(s)...


Maura: On the men's side, it will take a lean to win the individual title. As for the women, an individual national qualifier will win the race.


Ben: I'll say that Wesley Kiptoo leads wire-to-wire and wins by 15 seconds. In the women's race, I'll go as far to say that the Alabama women beat the Arkansas* women.


*This prediction was made prior to Coach Lance Harter saying that certain runners from the Razorbacks' NCAA Indoor Championship team won't run at the NCAA XC Championships.


Garrett: Wisconsin men place 5th overall and Butler men place 10th. On the women's side, I'll say that Stanford will have four All-Americans, but still won't win the national title.


Michael: The men’s team title is decided by over 30 points. On the women's side, it will require a tie-breaker to determine who takes home the team title.


Open Mic: Tells us anything you want about the upcoming NCAA XC Championships.


Maura: I’m very interested to see how some of the top individuals fare after competing at the indoor national meet. Racing and then traveling over three hours in a short amount of time could affect some runners. It stinks that we won’t get to see all of the best runners in the NCAA compete on Monday given that some teams chose to focus on track rather than cross country. Still, the ones that choose to double-dip will make Monday exciting.


Ben: How will the downhill finish in Stillwater affect the individual title race? We saw the impact it had at the Oklahoma State Invitational in the fall as Luis Grijalva flew past Conner Mantz. With the potential for close finishes in the individual title race, who will take advantage of the downhill?


Garrett: When it comes to entertainment, the NCAA selection committee was good for the sport this year. Who they selected (or didn't select) to attend this year's cross country national meet created buzz, drama and plenty of debate.


However, the best national qualifying method is the Kolas system. It's balanced, fair and has math behind it to support why one team made it to the NCAA XC Championships over another team in contention.


Michael: I’m interested to see how the men’s race unfolds without a regional 10k under the legs of these athletes a week before. The difference between 8k and 10k is not huge, but it can have a significant impact on how certain teams perform. Will the longer distance be a shock to the system for certain teams that may be more oriented towards shorter distances? I’m thinking Ole Miss and possibly Notre Dame with Yared Nuguse.


Bonus Round: Attach a picture of your pet.


Maura: Go ahead and call me a “Crazy Cat Lady.”


Ben: No pet, but cheering for my teammate Ben Naeger.


Garrett: Her name is Runner (no, I didn't choose the name), but her favorite activity is sleeping.


Michael:


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