Yes, we're still talking about this.
Our Individual Rankings are done, but it never hurts to go back and reflect on our work. A couple members of the TSR team got together to chat about how we constructed the rankings and how well we think we did. Did we get it right? Be sure to let us know...
Which individual got robbed from a ranking?
Sam: On the women’s side, I honestly don’t feel like anyone got robbed. I’m sure that in the first couple of weeks someone will make a huge statement and make us reevaluate the rankings, but for now I think they really got every athlete pretty accurately. If anything, you could make a case for a handful of women for the last few spots, but I wouldn’t consider them getting “robbed” of a ranking in that case.
Garrett: I would have to agree with Sam here. You could probably find an argument to put one runner over the other, but for the most part I don’t necessarily think anyone was robbed. That goes for the men and women. However, if I have to pick one, I’ll go with Miler Haller. The Boise State ace has been one of their better runners for a while. He’s not super consistent, but he shows up at big meets when it matters the most. He’s been an All-American before and for the most part, there is good reason to think that he could do it again.
Ben: The one guy on the men’s said that I really wished we could have worked into our Top 50 was Ian Shanklin from NC State. He was the leader for a Wolfpack team that improved tremendously over the last few weeks of the season last year. His 54th place finish at Nationals is a baseline for where he will be this coming year. In addition, he had a breakout track season that saw him finish 11th in the 5k during outdoors. While I would agree with Sam and Garrett that no one got robbed, I feel the worst about leaving Shanklin on the outside.
What did you value the most when thinking about the rankings?
Sam: Trend and cross country. It doesn’t matter if you used to be really good, it matters what you’ve been doing. Did you start the season strong and fade or did you start slow and get better? Trend is more important than one single showing. Also, cross country performances were definitely weighted more than track. Plenty of runners are good at both sports, but there always seem to be plenty of really strong cross country runners who are only mediocre on the track.
Garrett: I have always been a big consistency guy. Yes, I understand that this somewhat goes against what I preached with Miler Haller in the earlier question, but just work with me here. It’s great if you run well once, but how often can you do that? Can you be a great scorer for your team every weekend? Can they rely on you every time you toe the line? I think consistency is one of the most underrated aspects in our sport. One race doesn’t define you as a competitor.
Ben: For me, I want to see a history of solid running throughout a cross country season, but I also want to see at least one solid performance at Nationals. The National meet is so much different than any other meet and poor performances might indicate that a runner just isn’t built for Nationals. Like Sam, I value trending in the right direction, but I incorporate track performances into that as well. If an athlete looked out of place on the track, then I have second thoughts on ranking him or her highly. Conversely, if an athlete has a breakout track season, then I look at placing them a little higher.
Who was the most difficult to rank?
Sam: For the women, definitely the true freshmen. It’s a challenge to gauge what high school performances mean on the collegiate scale and if the talent level will necessarily translate. Both Emily Covert and Kelsey Chimel made our women’s Top 50 as true freshmen because they were consistently strong on the national stage in high school. The other big factor in giving them a mention was that they’re going into strong programs that should develop them into top collegians.
Ben: In general, I find it tough to rank middle-distance runners for the men and women. Take Sinclaire Johnson. The 1500 ace looked incredible this past spring, but will she be able to compete in cross country? While the distance is only 6k, it is a lot different than a 1500. She might be the next Dani Jones or she might be a fringe All-American. That’s a huge range.
For the men, there are similar middle-distance talents like Waleed Suliman and Yared Nuguse who have succeeded in the 10k, but I wonder if there is a hard ceiling for them when it comes to cross country. To pick one person on the men’s side, Isai Rodriguez was a tough name to pin down. Sure, he had that incredible 4th place finish at Nationals last year (and a more consistent cross season than most people realize), but he hasn’t done anything special on the track yet. Maybe he is just a cross country specialist, in which case his ranking at #9 makes sense, or maybe he just had the race of his life last year, in which case his ranking might be a little high.
Garrett: For the men, I think we could have put the MTSU duo (Chemadi and Choge) pretty much anywhere between #28 and #44. They are super great talents, but there are legitimate concerns regarding their health, consistency, and recent absences. I didn't feel super convinced putting them #41 and #42, but I also didn't think it was completely unreasonable. Generally speaking, it was a difficult balance.
When it comes to the women, I really struggled to figure out where Stanford's Christina Aragon should go. There is no question that she is a top-tier talent, but she hasn't really had a major performance since the fall of 2016 or the spring and winter of 2017. The talent is there, but her health and lack of racing is a major red flag. I think her #38 ranking was appropriate, but I could also see her being ranked much lower or higher.
Which ranking do you most disagree with?
Sam: Despite doing a lot of the women’s rankings, I think Taylor Werner should have been ahead of Ednah Kurgat. When you look at recent performances, Werner is coming off an incredible track season whereas Kurgat was only 9th at NCAA's. Even during cross country, Kurgat was certainly strong, but nowhere near what we saw in 2017. Werner had one bad race which happened to be at NCAA's - otherwise she was easily having her best season to-date. In a time trial on grass, I think Kurgat still might win, but in a championship style race I give Werner the nod.
On the men’s side, I don’t know how to honestly feel about Kigen or Kiprop. Both of them being ranked so highly seems a bit aggressive to me given that they haven’t ever done incredible in cross country. We also haven’t seen much of Kiprop which worries me a bit. I would have slotted them somewhere between #4 and #7 with room to move up as the season went on.
Oh, and Samantha Drop probably got ranked too highly after such a long absence. She really should have started in between #45-#50 until she has proved she is “back”.
Ben: While I don’t have many gripes with the rankings, I do think that Aidan Tooker is a little high at #16. His poor performance at Nationals aside, I worry that someone who finished 8th at ACC's and 6th at the Northeast Championships will be able to earn a top 20 place at Nationals. He did have outstanding cross performances last year early on in the season, most notably a runner-up finish in the Pre-Nats White race, but his inconsistency worries me.
Additionally, his injury and lack of good performances during the track season are red flags for me. I have no problem putting him in the Top 30, but being ahead of guys like Robert Brandt and Geordie Beamish doesn’t feel right.
On the women’s side, I would have liked to see Jessica Pascoe a few spots higher and into the Top 20. Her performances on the cross country course were consistent even though they weren’t against elite competition. This past track season proved that cross country wasn’t a fluke as she finished 9th in the 5k during outdoors.
Garrett: This is going to piggyback into what Ben says for the next question, but I thought Katrina Robinson should've been closer to the #10 spot. I think she is clearly Arkansas' best runner in cross country, more so than Taylor Werner. I get that Werner had great performances on the track, but Robinson was simply better on the grass and has so much more upside given her youth.
But when it comes to the men, I really don't have any problems. I think they were all good choices and maybe we could disagree with a few, but there is plenty to argue in favor of.
Which ranking do you think a lot of people will disagree with but that you think was a good choice?
Sam: Putting Anne Forsyth at #21 was bold. She didn’t even earn All-American honors as a true freshman and she got ranked amongst the elites of the NCAA. It seems like a stretch until you remember how good she was in every other race. Despite coming up a bit short at NCAA's, she was 3rd to Rohrer and Monson at the Great Lakes Regional Championships. I have no doubt that she earned that ranking.
For the men, I think people will be upset that Villarreal fell all the way to #47 because he’s become a household name and “deserves” to be higher. The reality is that he tends to struggle a bit at NCAA Championships and that his track performances are more impressive than his cross country performances. I think he’s a phenomenal runner, but he needs to earn a higher ranking rather than being given one by default.
Ben: Katrina Robinson at #16 might look a little generous considering we didn’t see her run at all during the track season, but then you remember how impressive she was during her freshman campaign on the cross country course. Her worst race of the season was probably at Nationals where she finished 41st. If your worst race nearly makes you an All-American, then expectations should be high for the following year.
Some might be surprised to see Andrew Jordan at #26, but I think that is because some people may have forgotten about what an elite talent the new Washington Husky is. He was 15th at Nationals only two years ago and even in a down year he finished 46th (last fall). He ran pretty well during indoors, qualifying for Nationals in the 3k, but then redshirted outdoors (with a rumored injury). I think #26 might end up being not good enough for the former Cyclone who should get back into the Top 20 with an elite Washington team surrounding him.
Garrett: I know for a fact that people aren't thrilled with Cooper Teare at #31, but the guy has never been an All-American (at least not in cross country)! He's a respectable runner who provides great scoring consistency, but he hasn't been able to be the true low-stick that people thought he could be. His 13:32 5k from this past spring puts him an elite category and it's a major reason why he was given a ranking of #31. However, until he puts it all together during cross country, I can't give a spot any better than that.
As for the women, BYU's Courtney Wayment at #22 may seem a little too nice, but she is truly one of the most valuable scorers in the country on a VERY good team. She was a stud All-American who can consistently gave the Cougars an excellent scoring presence at the top of the results last year. She still has a lot of upside potential and I think she will continue to make a name for herself this fall.
If you were solely in charge of the rankings, what would you change?
Sam: I would have done it all based on a model. Coming from a data science background, I don’t particularly like bias, so I would have scraped up as much running-related data as possible and used it to develop a points-based model for ranking runners based on their credentials and such. Plus, then when I was completely wrong, I could just blame it on the model.
Garrett: Give Cailie Logue a better spot and move Aubrey Roberts back a few places. Then give Clare O'Brien a better spot while moving Sinclare Johnson into the mid 20's. But for the men? Gosh, I'm not sure I would change much. In retrospect, maybe Tooker should've been just outside of the Top 20 and maybe Casey Comber deserves a little more credit. Regardless, I feel comfortable with our choices.
Ben: Truthfully, I wouldn’t have done much different. Perhaps we could have shared each of our rankings or invited readers to share their Top 50, but other than that I was very happy about how the rankings turned out.