The first day of June always feels like the first real day of summer. And with the summer, comes our cross country analysis. Of course, it's hard to ignore the fact that a global pandemic is still mischievously hovering over the upcoming fall season of college athletics.
While we don't know what the future holds, we can at least anticipate what the 2020 cross country will/would look like if athletes are still able to toe the line.
There have been a plethora of transfers so far this year and The Stride Report is still expecting plenty more moves to be announced. However, of those transfers already made public, only a handful have eligibility in cross country. Let's take a look at a few of those newly committed transfers with cross country eligibility and see how they could potentially impact their new teams this fall...
Stephen Jones Completes Colorado's Lineup
Entering the 2019 cross country season, we ranked the Colorado men at #11 in our TSR Top 25 team rankings. The team had a lethal top three, but there were major question marks about the backend of their lineup. The lack of depth (in that moment) left us with doubts about Colorado.
In retrospect, that was a mistake. The Buffs would go on to win the PAC-12 title and finish 3rd at the NCAA XC Championships, just one point out from 2nd place Northern Arizona.
As we venture into this year, Colorado's team still looks promising. Yes, they lose Klecker and Dressel, but the team still returns three All-American caliber talents in Kashon Harrison, Alec Hornecker and Eduardo Herrera. The second half of their lineup isn't quite as clear, but the recent addition of Stephen Jones fills at least one spot in that top seven.
Jones raced only three times during the 2019 cross country season, winning the Blazer Classic, placing 11th at the South Regional Championships (where he earned the third at-large qualifying spot to Nationals) and later went on to place 80th at the national meet.
With a personal best of 8:42 for the steeplechase, Jones brings a legitimate scoring presence and plenty of upside potential with him to Boulder, Colorado. He will stabilize the middle portion of Colorado's top five and allow the Buffs to stay competitive on a consistent basis rather than being solely reliant on how their backend scorers perform.
Of course, this team still has plenty of options when it comes to formulating a complete top seven. Between Paxton Smith, Gabe Fendel, Austin Vancil, a plethora of other young talents and an incoming 8:44 3200 meter runner in Jace Aschbrenner, Colorado may actually be one of the deeper teams in the country. Adding Jones to the mix only supports that theory.
Colorado was going to be competitive this year regardless of whether or not they brought in someone like Jones. However, adding the former MSU Bulldog to this year's roster quells any concerns about depth or consistency.
Hannah Steelman is the Key to NC State Winning It All
It's easy to look at the current NC State roster and think "national title favorite". The program has plenty of veterans, extensive depth, one of the greatest distance recruiting classes ever assembled, and now the best women's distance running transfer of the year (at least for cross country).
Even before Steelman joined the Wolfpack, it was clear that they had a chance to compete for the overall team title this season. However, the loss of Elly Henes was a major blow from a scoring standpoint and the addition of elite recruiting -- while certainly helpful -- likely meant that the team was going to rely on youth and inexperience at the national meet in November.
However, Steelman's introduction to Raleigh, North Carolina suddenly shifts our thinking from "Maybe NC State could win it all if everything goes perfectly" to "NC State is a clear national title favorite right now".
The former Wofford runner beautifully fills the scoring gap left behind by Elly Henes. Although Steelman didn't place as high as Henes did at the 2019 National Championships, she did finish 23rd overall, just one spot behind new teammate Kelsey Chmiel. When you factor in high school prodigy Katelyn Tuohy (and others), the Wolfpack may have enough firepower to hoist the 1st place trophy six months from now.
Admittedly, most title-winning teams nowadays typically have a low-stick closer to the top-10 rather than the top-20. Steelman, Chmiel and Tuohy can absolutely reach that level, but none of them are locks to do so (at least not yet).
But for the Stanford women, the story is a bit different. Both Ella Donaghu and Jessica Lawson are top-10 talents nationally and the Cardinal can boast enough depth to match what the ladies from NC State have on their team.
The idea that the Wolfpack women will simply cruise to a national title this fall is a bit exaggerated, but adding Steelman to this squad will make standing atop of the podium more of a realistic possibility rather than a pipe dream.
JP Trojan Makes Syracuse Much Better Than Some Realize
I've said this numerous times before, but last year's Syracuse team was just flat-out confusing. They easily won the Battle in Beantown, but were terrible at the Nuttycombe Invite. They later went on to upset Notre Dame for the ACC title, but then faltered at the national meet.
To be fair, the Orange were without Aidan Tooker for most of last year and had to rely on numerous youngsters to score for the team. That likely explains the inconsistency.
But the fall of 2020 brings high hopes for the men from upstate New York. Numerous members of last year's ACC-winning lineup will be returning and Aidan Tooker is expected to be back and healthy. When you pair all of that with an incoming transfer like JP Trojan, it's hard not to be optimistic if you're a Syracuse fan.
The former William & Mary runner has always been a solid athlete, but this past winter was when he truly broke out. Trojan would run a pair of personal bests in 8:03 (3k) and 13:48 (5k) at the IC4A Championships this past winter, both resulting in wins. This followed a cross country season where he won the Penn State National Open and finished runner-up to Alex Masai at the CAA Championships.
It's difficult to gauge just how good Trojan will be with the Orange considering that his best races may still be ahead of him. However, bringing in a 13:48 runner is certainly not going to hurt anything.
As we already mentioned, last year's team showed plenty of inconsistency and even with another year under their belt, it's comforting to know that Trojan can at least offer stability in the middle portion of their lineup. That alone should help Syracuse avoid the wild swing in their team finishes that we saw from them last fall.
Yet, what truly makes Trojan such a valuable recruit is his upside. A 13:48 5k PR translates to a finish that is much better than a 52nd place finish at the Southeast Regional Championships. He doesn't have to be at the same level as Aidan Tooker or an even All-American threat.
However, if he is able to replicate the same scoring potency that Joe Dragon showed us last year, then the Syracuse men could be a very real problem for their ACC rivals in the fall of 2020.