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TSR's 2023-2024 Current Freshman Class Rankings Rubric


Yep, we're bringing it back!


One of our most popular series of content each and every year is our Freshman Class Rankings. What we do is look at all of the CURRENT freshmen around the NCAA (who specialize in the 800 meters and up) and attempt to evaluate which programs brought in the best young distance talents.


Now, I know what you're thinking.


"Garrett, the academic year is already half-way over. We've got indoor track races coming soon! Why are we doing these rankings now?"


Well, simply put, we just don't have enough time to post these rankings during the summer months. That is, after all, when our preseason cross country lists dominate the site. Not only that, but many schools don't have updated rosters at that point in the year.


It's also unlikely that we'll have any major results on the indoor oval until the second weekend in January. This makes the next week and a half a fairly good time for us to fill the void with something that will probably cause a lot of arguments (which have already started at TSR).


Before we release our current freshman class rankings, we thought it would be a good idea to give you an idea of how we constructed these lists, how we collected the data and when you can expect to see our content...


The Content & Our Publishing Timeline

The Stride Report is aiming to release our top-10 Division One freshman class rankings starting Wednesday (beginning with our "Just Missed" and "Honorable Mention" groups). Our top-five Division Two rankings and our top-five Division Three rankings will likely be published starting early next week.


We will also be following the same release schedule that you saw last year.


For D1, that means that we will be publishing teams 10-9-8 for the men and 10-9-8 for the women on the first day. The next day, we'll be publishing 7-6-5 for the men and 7-6-5 for the women. The day after that, we'll be publishing 4-3-2 for the men and 4-3-2 for the women. Finally, on the last day, the top-ranked freshmen classes on both the men's and women's sides will get their own articles.


Then, next week, D2 will post 5-4-3 on one day followed by their top-two teams the next day. The D3 rankings will follow the same schedule immediately after.


An Important Clarifier...

We understand that the timing of these rankings is a bit odd, especially since we already had cross country action take place this past fall. However, it's important to note that we are ranking CURRENT TRUE FRESHMEN.


So, to be very clear, we're looking at athletes who graduated from high school in 2023. We are NOT looking at the Class of 2024. These are athletes that are CURRENTLY in the NCAA.


Additional Criteria

Redshirt freshmen are not included in these rankings. Transfers from other universities are also not included in these rankings unless they are true freshmen. If an athlete has anything other than freshman eligibility in any season for this academic year, we will not consider that athlete in these rankings.


Mission trips, however, are a very challenging aspect to manage when it comes to our rankings. Ultimately, we decided that if you were a high school senior who graduated in 2023 and committed to run for a certain university, then you'll be factored into these rankings even if you went on a mission this year / in the near future.


That, however, entirely depends on if we were able to find your commitment at all.


Data Collection & Rankings

Our TSR crew has spent the past two-ish (maybe three-ish) weeks scouring the internet for any and all true freshmen who we could find, mainly via rosters. We looked at essentially every program that has been even remotely competitive in the distance events over the past few years.


The good news is that, unlike past years, these rosters were updated and actually had their new names listed. We didn't have to go to a ton of different places to find our data this year.


Of course, actually ranking these groups is an entirely different story.


Let me just throw out this disclaimer while I'm here: There are going to be A LOT of strong and impressive freshman classes that didn't make it into our rankings. We have about 14 men's teams and a small handful of women's teams who we thought could have been considered for a top-10 spot -- maybe more depending on who you talk to.


When it comes to rankings, we looked a variety of things such as...

  • Personal bests

  • Overall depth

  • Championship experience and championship accolades

  • Superstar talents / nationally-recognizable names

  • Roster needs

  • Balance between the middle distances and longer distances

  • Subjective factors such as...

    • Racing style

    • Consistency

    • Roster fit

    • Etc.


Just like last year, the first three pieces of criteria that we listed hold the most weight in our rankings.


Naturally, you have to be fast / have fast times. We can look at as many intangibles as we want, but at the end of the day, you need to have a top mark or two. And when you are able to have a lot of fast times via a lot of athletes (read: a lot of depth), then that certainly helps a team's ranking as well. The same can be said about national meet / championship experience. In our eyes, we view that as a major asset as someone enters the NCAA level.


Of course, we also looked at a handful of other things, many of which are listed above.


Roster fit, for example, is a bigger deal than some people may think. If someone is middle distance focused, but ends up attending an aerobic-centric or short sprints-centric powerhouse, then on paper, that doesn't always align as well as we think it would.


But conversely, if a team is cross country dominant and needs more event diversity via a greater middle distance presence, then that should only help the team over the long-term.


And with that line of thinking, you can see how those are two conflicting aspects to balance.


Those of you who read The Stride Report often also know that consistency is a MAJOR factor that we consider. It's great to see someone run a monster time or have a phenomenal race, but can they replicate that kind of performance consistently? Or was their breakout effort more of an outlier performance?


That matters, especially at the NCAA level when the postseason rolls around.


Racing styles are something that we lightly analyze, although it's admittedly tough to offer detailed breakdowns for every. single. athlete. who we'll be mentioning in these rankings. However, for those who we do have tape on, racing styles matter.


If someone understands the nuances of tactics, how to capitalize on their strengths and when to make moves, then that should give them a massive advantage as they continue to build their fitness. In theory, their growth as a nationally competitive talent should be accelerated.


Oh, and in addition to everything we just mentioned, we should also note that every division had at least three TSR contributors reviewing our rankings. Simply put, we were very thorough.


International athletes

There are a handful of NCAA programs that we looked at who are bringing in international athletes. In a few instances, those athletes may be older than 18 or 19 years old. However, they are listed on their respective rosters as freshmen.


Unless we've been told otherwise, we have based our rankings off of what those rosters say.


Is it possible that there are one or two athletes who we included who aren't actually considered true freshmen? Sure, maybe. And is it possible that a program added an athlete who is beginning school this winter? Yes, that's also possible.


But otherwise, we feel like these rankings should be a fairly accurate representation of which programs brought in the best collection of young distance talents.

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