The Group Chat: Season So Far



Once the national meets were cancelled, did you think we were going to have cross country races in any capacity this fall?


Ben: To be honest, I did not think we would see as many as we have so far. I thought there would be a few meets that would pop up from week to week, but I did not think we would have the consistent flow of quality meets every weekend.


Maura: I was more so expecting teams to do intra-squad competitions so they could avoid traveling. However, these smaller duals, triangulars and quads do provide some normalcy for the fall and have been nice to read up on.


Garrett: I was convinced that larger conferences like the ACC, SEC and BIG 12 would eventually follow the BIG 10 and PAC-12 with season suspensions, so the fact that we still have as many races as we do is surprising (at least to me). However, given the circumstances, the current structure of these races is about what I expected if races were going to take place this fall.


Eric: Yes, I did. Given that running is a non-contact sport, I would have thought that more schools would have opted to run cross country. At the very least, I thought meets could have grouped runners based on ability and send them off in waves like they do in marathons or triathlons. Especially at the high school level, I would have thought that more states would have adopted that model. It's sad to see no NXN this year.


What individuals or teams have surprised you so far?


Ben: There hasn’t been a team performance that has been truly surprising. NC State running as well as they did was a pleasant surprise, but not shocking.


However, Mario Garcia Romo taking down a strong field at the LSU SEC Preview was very surprising. Romo has always been a strong runner and was someone who I thought would have been a critical piece for Ole Miss if they wanted to finish in the top 10 at Nationals.


For him to beat teammate Waleed Suliman and the Arkansas duo of Emmanuel Cheboson and Jacob McLeod is very impressive. Of course, the race was only 6000 meters, but it still bodes well for Romo and the Rebels.


For the women, Sasha Neglia winning the Virginia Invitational was shocking. In her first collegiate race, she handedly beat teammate Paige Hofstad who we had ranked at TSR #39. She gives North Carolina and Coach Miltenberg another very strong option at the top of this lineup and could make the Tar Heels national qualifiers a year earlier than expected.


Maura: I really like Sasha Neglia on the women’s side. For only being a freshman and racing in her first collegiate race, she handled herself incredibly well. Neglia had a ton of experience competing on the national stage during high school (she was a three-time NXN qualifier) and it looks like she is translating that exposure of racing against high-caliber talents to the collegiate level. With UNC being a team on the rise, Neglia offers new firepower up-front alongside Paige Hofstad and maybe one or two other women who were held out.


Virginia’s Rohann Asfaw competed well in his first race of the season at the Virginia Invite. Although the race wasn’t as deep as the LSU SEC Preview, he still won the meet by eight seconds on his home course. Asfaw wasn’t the top runner for the Cavaliers last fall, but for a team that is rebuilding, he could find himself in that #1 role or fill in that #2 role depending on how Peter Morris runs this season (if he does at all).


Garrett: The convincing wins by Mario Garcia Romo (Ole Miss) and Sasha Neglia (UNC) were definitely surprising. We knew they were good, but I don’t think we expected them to be this good or that they would be taking down top-ranked talent in their season openers.


I would also throw Jami Reed (Alabama) and Abby Gray (Arkansas) into the “surprising” category as well. Reed pulled off a surprising win at the Commodore Classic while Gray was the 2nd place finisher at the LSU SEC Preview a few weeks ago after being overshadowed by her teammates in 2019.


On the team side, I think we have to give credit to the Army women. They upset Syracuse in their season opener (despite the Orange not running a few of their top women) and continued to keep things competitive this past weekend during a rematch at the Battle in Beantown.


After essentially being non-factors last fall, the Army Black Knights have emerged as a competitive program behind two promising young freshmen.


Eric: On the men's side I have to go with the University of Virginia. Lananna had his men firing out of the gate this past weekend when they hosted North Carolina and Wake Forest at Panorama Farms. The youth movement is here to stay in C-Ville as Virginia had 11 underclassmen compete out of their 15 total runners.


As for the women, Dominique Clairmonte had a solid season debut for the Wolfpack. She was the second NC State runner in their sweep at the Virginia Tech Invite last Friday. After having a not-so-great season prior to the national meet last fall, it's good to see that she can still be a key member for the ‘Pack.


Which athletes who have not yet raced this fall are you most looking forward to seeing?


Ben: I'm excited to see Isai Rodriguez and Ryan Smeeton race. Hopefully we will get to see the two Oklahoma State runners at the Cowboy Jamboree this weekend. Both are enormous talents who could elevate their program to significant heights over the next year if they are in top form.


The easy answer for the women is Katelyn Tuohy. We did not get to see the three-time NXN champion debut for the Wolfpack this past weekend. That's no reason for concern, but it will be thrilling to see how well she competes against NCAA competition (or even just her NC State teammates) in her first collegiate season.


Maura: Sticking with an Oklahoma State duo, I’ve got to go with Molly Born and Taylor Somers. Born (TSR #8) and Somers (TSR #9) will hopefully be toeing the line at the Cowboy Jamboree after not competing since the 2019 NCAA XC Championships, finishing 16th and 18th, respectively.


As for the men, I feel that we have seen most athletes (who are eligible) compete already besides the other OSU duo Ben mentioned above. The Cowboy Jamboree should be a coming out party for quite a few key runners.


Garrett: I’m going to stick with my “Bring Back Aidan Tooker” campaign. Extended absences have kept one of the ACC’s best distance talents on the sidelines for the past few seasons and I think he is the missing piece that the Syracuse men could utilize in an effort to defend their conference title against the likes of Notre Dame, NC State and maybe Virginia this fall.


We also haven’t seen the NC State freshman duo of Tuohy and Starliper yet, although the Wolfpack have only competed once so far. Still, there was a ton of hype surrounding those two women coming into this season and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to seeing them compete.


Eric: Ole Miss’ Clio Ozanne-Jaques is someone who did not race at the LSU SEC Preview in Baton Rouge. With another opportunity in Louisville this weekend, I'm hopeful that we will see the former top scorer for the Rebels, who redshirted the 2019 cross country season, toe the line.


I’m a little impatient on the men's side, but Texas is slated to debut at the Arturo Barrios Invite in mid-October. If they run, I’d like to see if Sam Worley is back after sustaining an injury during the tail-end of the 2020 indoor track season. I'd also be interested in seeing the sophomore debut of Crayton Carrozza (who broke the four minute barrier in the mile last winter) as well as true freshman Graydon Morris.


Which team has the brighter future? Virginia men, UNC men or UNC women?


Ben: It's easy to say the UNC women after the performance they just had at the Virginia Invitational, but that doesn’t make it the wrong answer.


Recency bias aside, this is a team that is a little further along in the rebuilding process than their counterparts on the men’s side or the Virginia men. They look to have found a strong low-stick in freshman Sasha Neglia, plus they have other strong freshmen right behind her in Kelsey Harrington, Sarah Trainor and Taryn Parks. In fact, we didn't even get to see fellow freshman Ava Dobson compete this past weekend.


This group alone gives the Tar Heels a bright future, but they are also bringing in a star-studded 2021 recruiting class. Makayla Paige, Brynn Brown and Sydney Masciarelli are all headed to Chapel Hill, along with a few others.


Paige likely won’t make a huge splash in cross country, but she will be a key middle distance talent for the Tar Heels right away. Brown, on the other hand, owns personal bests of 4:48 (1600), 9:39 (3200 unofficially) and 16:25 (5k). She could be a fixture in this UNC lineup almost immediately. As for Masciarelli, she owns similar personal bests and was the 2018 Foot Locker national champion.


There isn’t much to dislike about the team that Coach Miltenberg is putting together.


Maura: I agree with Ben, it has to be the UNC women for both 2020 and 2021. Even though Paige Hofstad wont be around next year, the upcoming underclassman and recruited freshmen give the Tar Heels a whole new level of firepower.


Sasha Neglia, Enyaeva Michelin, Kelsey Harrington and company will be key members of this growth. Neglia already proved something after winning the UVA Invite. Michelin was a stud her freshman season in 2018, but has since been plagued by injury the last few seasons. Harrington was a solid runner in high school and has already placed within the scoring five for UNC.


With the likes of Makayla Paige, Brynn Brown, Sydney Masciarelli and others set to join this roster in 2021, Coach Miltenberg is creating a new atmosphere in Chapel Hill, one very similar to what he had at Stanford.


Garrett: The UNC women are certainly up there, especially with all of their impressive youngsters that they have brought in (and will bring in). However, I really like what the Virginia men are doing.


They currently have an endless amount of talented underclassmen on their roster and have had success with younger runners before. Not only that, but the Cavaliers recently had numerous top-tier distance runners commit to join the men in Charlottesville, Virginia for the 2021 school year (Justin Wachtel, Jackson Braddock, Andrew Jones and Nathan Mountain).


UVA still has a few veterans who can help this younger group transition into scoring roles and I actually see the Hoos being significantly better in 2021, 2022 and 2023 compared to what we saw from them in 2019.


It’s easy to talk about the recruiting success of Miltenberg (and rightfully so), but Vin Lananna is putting in some serious work as well.


Eric: I have to agree with Garrett on this one. UVA and Lananna have put their plan into action to overhaul the program and based on last weekend, it seems to be working. The men’s performance on their home course against UNC and Wake Forest was too dominant to ignore given that they didn't run a couple of their top guys.


The hype around UNC is understandable, but the results aren't there for me yet on the men’s side. In a shortened season with limited races, each meet and each performance carries more weight. That said, I think the Tar Heels could change my mind by ACC's if they treat it like the national meet (because that is basically what that is this year).


With a ton of top-tier athletes from the Class of 2021 already committed to UVA, I don't see the ‘Hoos going backwards anytime soon.


As for the UNC women, they looked much-improved as they had a couple of freshmen make huge contributions at Panorama Farms. Sasha Neglia, Kelsey Harrington, Sarah Trainor and Taryn Parks showed that they are the future in Chapel Hill and they didn't even run Ava Dobson.


What has been your biggest takeaway from the races that have happened so far?


Ben: My biggest takeaway is that we are going to continue to see plenty of surprising results. We have not seen many of these runners in six months which leaves us very much in the dark until they debut. Mario Garcia Romo is a perfect example of someone who seems to have taken a leap in fitness during that time, and I would not be surprised if we saw more of the same over the next few weeks.


Maura: From the races we have seen so far, I’ve realized that the freshmen on both sides have been running very well. Taylor Ewert (Arkansas), Sasha Neglia (UNC), Josh Methner (Notre Dame) and Matt Duvall (Kentucky) have been solid so far and could each help their respective programs reach a new level.


Garrett: My biggest takeaway is that...there haven’t really been any takeaways. Some of these meets are too small to pull any serious insights from and it’s simply too early to get a legitimate gauge of what this season could look like based on a few rust-busters.


Does that mean these meets are unimportant? No. Does that mean all of the upcoming meets for the rest of the season wont tell us anything? No, that’s not what I’m saying.


However, I’m not sure I’m ready to make any serious declarations or throw out any super-hot takes until we see a few more races. Maybe that changes this weekend.


Eric: I agree with Maura on this one. The freshmen in particular, after only a single meet, have come to play. Kudos to them for keeping their heads in it during this pandemic year.


The platoon of freshmen at UVA, the ladies in Chapel Hill, the supporting scorers of Syracuse, the Arkansas duo of Taylor Ewert and Corie Smith...all of those athletes (and a few others) have impressed me thus far. However, the real measuring stick will be how many of those freshmen who made an impact in their first meet are still on the line and contributing at their conference championship.


Give us your title favorites for each respective conference and tell us on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest) how confident you are in that team winning their conference title...


Note: Despite the BIG 10 and PAC-12 approving plans to bring back football this fall, there is still a lack of clarity regarding cross country competition for these conferences. Until further notice, we will work under the assumption that XC competition for the BIG 10 and PAC-12 is not taking place this fall.


Garrett:

  • ACC (men): Notre Dame (5)

  • ACC (women): NC State (8)

  • SEC (men): Arkansas (5)

  • SEC (women): Arkansas (9)

  • BIG 12 (men): Iowa State (4)

  • BIG 12 (women): Oklahoma State (9)

  • Conference USA (men): Charlotte (3)

  • Conference USA (women): Middle Tennessee State (6)

  • Sun Belt (men): App State (5)

  • Sun Belt (women): Arkansas State (2)


Ben:

  • ACC (men): Notre Dame (6)

  • ACC (women): NC State (9)

  • SEC (men): Arkansas (4)

  • SEC (women): Arkansas (9)

  • BIG 12 (men): Iowa State (6)

  • BIG 12 (women): Oklahoma State (9)

  • Conference USA (men): Middle Tennessee State (4)

  • Conference USA (women): Middle Tennessee State (6)

  • Sun Belt (men): App State (7)

  • Sun Belt (women): South Alabama (2)


Maura:

  • ACC (men): Notre Dame (7)

  • ACC (women): NC State (9)

  • SEC (men): Arkansas (5)

  • SEC (women): Arkansas (10)

  • BIG 12 (men): Iowa State (5)

  • BIG 12 (women): Oklahoma State (9)

  • Conference USA (men): Middle Tennessee State (3)

  • Conference USA (women): Middle Tennessee State (6)

  • Sun Belt (men): App State (6)

  • Sun Belt (women): Troy (4)


Eric:

  • ACC (men): Virginia (2)

  • ACC (women): NC State (9)

  • SEC (men): Ole Miss (2)

  • SEC (women): Arkansas (7)

  • BIG 12 (men): Iowa State (5)

  • BIG 12 (women): Oklahoma State (7)

  • Conference USA (men): Charlotte (2)

  • Conference USA (women): Middle Tennessee State (8)

  • Sun Belt (men): App State (8)

  • Sun Belt (women): Arkansas State (3)