Individual favorites in D2 this year?
Let's start with the women. Most of us at TSR are under the belief that it will be down to Leah Hanle and Eilish Flanagan this season. Both of these ladies have shown that they can easily compete with the best talents in Division Two. Outside of Caroline Kurgat, Leah Hanle was clearly the best long distance runner in D2 this past outdoor season between the 5k and 10k. She is sneaky strong and someone who is not at all phased by top-tier competition.
Eilish Flanagan has a resume with championship experience, jaw-dropping times, and countless wins. Flanagan is the top returner from last year's championship meet where she finished 2nd overall. She is more than capable of taking home the win a few months from now.
A few other candidates to mention include Hanna Groeber (Grand Valley State), Kayla Wooten (UCCS), and rising sophomore Stephanie Cotter (Adams State).
As for the men, it will likely come down to three individuals. Missouri Southern's Gidieon Kimutai looks like a very solid pick to win it all this fall after finishing 4th at last year's championship meet. He'll be the top returner and will no longer have juggernaught superstars like Zach Panning and Sydney Gidabuday in his way.
However, in order to win it all, Kimutai will likely need to battle with the Western Colorado duo of Ahmed Jama and Taylor Stack. We didn't see Jama race last fall after he was redshirted, but if he's 100% healthy, he can be someone who is a significant roadblock in Kimutai's quest for a national title. As for teammate Taylor Stack, he made significant improvements last year and looks to be one of the better rising stars in the country. Don't be surprised if he ends up challenging Kimutai come November.
Which rookie distance pro do you think has the best chance to make the world team?
I like this question a lot, but we'll hold off on answering for now. TSR has a fun preview for USA's that is currently in the works...
Will an American male win the NCAA XC title this year?
An American male can win the NCAA individual cross country title this year.
But will they win? Truthfully, it's going to be very tough. Elite returners like Edwin Kurgat, Gilbert Kigen, Vincent Kiprop, Amon Kemboi, and James Sugira are all men capable of winning the national title if everything goes right for them this season.
Of course, there are a couple American men who could potentially walk away with NCAA gold in November. Colorado's Joe Klecker instantly comes to mind after he finished 8th at Nationals last fall and put together a tremendous indoor track season where he ran 3:58, 7:49 (converted) and 13:35. He ran well at Indoor Nationals before ending his outdoor season early with an injury. He is someone who is high on our radar and someone who could very realistically win it all.
I think we can't ignore Conner Mantz in this conversation either. The BYU ace emerged as one of the better distance runners in the country last year and made a name for himself with his gutsy front-running racing style. It's clear that he is rapidly regaining fitness, so much so that he could end up with an NCAA title if he continues to make all of these improvements.
I also like Alex Ostberg who been one of the best championship runners in the NCAA over the past two cross country seasons. He finished 16th at NCAA's in 2017 and then 13th at NCAA's in 2018. He still needs to elevate his fitness to another level if he wants to contend for a national title, but I wouldn't say that it's out of reach for him.
I'm sure a lot of people are going to say "you forgot about Isai Rodriguez", but I want to see more from him before I put him in the national title conversation. Yes, he had a phenomenal race at Nationals last year (placing 4th overall), but his regular season racing schedule was relatively weak and his ensuing track seasons weren't all that exciting (with the exception of a 7:54 3k). He'll certainly be one of the top names in the NCAA this year, but I'm waiting until I see more from him.
Who are some of your sleeper D1 XC teams?
A lot of this depends on how you define "sleeper teams", but we have a few squads in mind...
- Michigan Wolverines: They return everyone from 2018. They have great depth and add veterans Devin Myrer and Ryan Robinson to their team. With John Aho leading the way, there is a lot of upside for the men from Ann Arbor.
- Indiana Hoosiers: The return of Ben Veatch gives the Hoosiers a strong 1-2 punch when you put him next to Kyle Mau. Dustin Horter showed great promise as a freshman last year and will likely make improvements. The same goes for rising sophomore Arjun Jha. There's a lot to like about this group.
- Ole Miss Rebels: On paper, this is not a team that you would think could do well in cross country. Most of these guys are better suited for the track, but this team is still young with a lot of room to grow. Waleed Suliman is a great low-stick while Farah Abdulkarim and Mario Garcia Romo are true long distance runners who are capable of acting as strong supporting scorers. Ole Miss has enough lineup options to make things interesting later this fall.
- Gonzaga Bulldogs: In a year where most teams lose a number of veterans, Gonzaga should take solace in the fact that they bring back most of their main pieces from last fall. Admittedly, they're a pretty deep sleeper pick, but James Mwaura is a low-stick with a ton of room to improve while the rest of their lineup proved that they could be consistent scorers throughout the 2018 season. Keep an eye on the Bulldogs in October and November.
- NC State Wolfpack: They lose Nell Crosby, but adding Kelsey Chmiel and Nevada Mareno to this year's varsity squad should end up as a net benefit for the Wolfpack. With the exception of Crosby, NC State returns everyone from last year's top seven. They're an experienced group of women who will be led by an elite low-stick in Elly Henes.
- Florida Gators: Maybe I'm still blown away by how much they improved in 2018, but I really like the Lady Gators this year. Jessica Pascoe is a true low-stick that the team can lean on while Elisabeth Bergh, Imogen Barrett, and Gabrielle Wilkinson should support the middle portion of their lineup. Florida will also add Bucknell transfer Payton Capes-Davis to the team this fall. The newest Gator was a top scorer for the Patriot League champions last fall and should provide additional stability for Florida later this season.
- Penn State Nittany Lions: The ladies from State College are going to have a sneaky good team this year. They return their top five* runners from last year's National's lineup and will be able to rally around rising star Julia Paternain. Not only that, but this team has tremendous growth potential. Last year's varsity seven at Nationals consisted of three freshmen, two sophomores, one junior, and one senior. There is a lot of upside for this group which now has a ton of experience on the national stage.
*We originally stated that Penn State will be returning six of their top seven.
However, Moira O'Shea will be transferring to Oregon starting this fall, making it five returners.
How do I get some TSR merch?
I'll admit, we've been playing around with the idea of selling some shirts or hats as of late. The problem is that up-front costs and shipping expenses can add up pretty fast, so we need to be sure that we can sell enough merchandise to breakeven. If we're going to do it, we need to do it right. Until then, we'll have opportunities for people to win a t-shirt or something like that in the future. But don't worry, we are thinking about it...
Preseason conference championship predictions?
We're going to hold off on answering this one because we don't want to give away too much about team rankings (which are coming out soon after our individual rankings). Plus we're working on a project that may shed some additional light on this question. Stay tuned!
Other than BYU and Portland, which team has the greatest chance of beating Northern Arizona?
I'll be honest, I don't think that BYU or Portland have a chance of upsetting Northern Arizona this fall. Portland loses way too much of their firepower as well as their supporting scorers. The same goes BYU who lost Linkletter, McMillan, and Young. The Cougars will still return a deep squad that will be led by Mantz and Shumway, but if BYU was going to upset Northern Arizona, it was going to be in 2017 or 2018.
This year, I think the Washington Huskies have all of the right pieces to be something special. The addition of Andrew Jordan gives them a Big Three when he's running alongside Tibebu Proctor and Talon Hull. When you add incoming transfer Jack Rowe, a deep group of top steeplechasers, and the best recruiting class in the country, you'll get a Washington group that could win an NCAA title. However, if Washington is going to beat NAU, then they'll need to hope that the backend of their lineup is significantly stronger.
On paper, Stanford may have the best top four in the country. Alex Ostberg, Alek Parsons, Steven Fahy, and Thomas Ratcliffe is a scary group to put together if they are all healthy. All four of those men could realistically finish in the top 30 at NCAA's. The Cardinal men will need one more reliable scorer to wrap up their top five, but they might be the only team in the country who can match the current firepower that NAU has.
Finally, we have Iowa State who had a brief scare when they lost Andrew Jordan, only to recover by adding Addison DeHaven to the team. The Cyclones will have one of the best top two's in the NCAA this fall and will have the luxury of interchangeable scorers in their top seven. They have enough firepower to keep things interesting, but will their depth and experience prove to be more valuable than NAU's exciting young talents?