As mentioned in our rankings rubric article, we are aware that certain conferences and universities will not be competing this fall due to ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19. However, for the sake of content, we have constructed these rankings as if a regular cross country season will happen.
50. Brandon Garnica, Junior, BYU
As a consistent top-five scorer for the BYU Cougars, Garnica had a strong season during the fall of 2019 and was able to make a significant impact for the eventual national champions.
The rising junior started off last fall at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, finishing 16th overall for what was a respectable, but otherwise quiet performance.
However, Garnica would truly step up at Pre-Nationals, finishing an impressive 14th place and acting as a key scorer who helped the Cougars upset the Colorado men for the team victory. He finished ahead of numerous top distance talents such as Kasey Knevelbaard, Peter Seufer, and Emmanuel Cheboson.
After cruising through the West Coast Conference Championships and easily making it out of the Mountain region with his team, Garnica toed the line in Terre Haute, Indiana for what would end up being a legendary team performance. At the National Championships, Garnica finished 42nd overall, just two spots out from All-American honors and arguably the best cross country race of his career.
Garnica was a consistent runner throughout the 2019 season and he rarely faltered. He wasn't necessarily a superstar and his Bill Dellinger performance could have been better, but his value as a scorer proved to be at an all-time high throughout last fall.
Not only that, but Garnica would go on to drop excellent personal bests of 8:06 (3k) and 13:45 (5k) during the indoor track season. Those times were only extensions of what had been a breakout year for the BYU ace.
49. Tibebu Proctor, Senior, Washington
48. Talon Hull, Senior, Washington
There was plenty of debate surrounding these two men when our XC Top 50 was crafted. Proctor and Hull had been extremely strong talents during 2018, with Proctor earning All-American honors and Hull nearly upsetting Grant Fisher for the PAC-12 title.
However, the 2019 cross country season was simply not as good. Proctor didn't compete until Pre-Nationals where he recorded a 31st place finish before going on to place 18th at PAC-12's. He ended up finishing 106th at the National Championships.
As for Talon Hull, he had a very nice start to his season with a 3rd place finish at the Battle in Beantown, but began to regress throughout the rest of the season. He finished 23rd at Pre-Nationals and then 27th at PAC-12's before being shutdown for the rest of the postseason with a reported injury.
It's no secret that the 2019 season was a brutal one for the Washington Huskies. However, it's also fair to say that had these men been at 100%, they would have very easily been in the All-American conversation.
Their 2018 performances were too strong to ignore and unlike a few other names, they were able to compete in some capacity during the 2019 cross country season. Still, we're remaining cautious about their health and fitness which is ultimately why they were pushed towards this end of our preseason rankings.
47. Ryan Raff, Junior, Northern Arizona
One name that hasn't received much appreciation for what he brings to the table for the Lumberjacks is Ryan Raff. A respectable distance runner who truly broke out this past winter, Raff is primed for a breakout cross country season season (whenever that may be).
Raff began his 2019 cross country season at the John McNichols Invitational, posting a surprisingly strong 13th place result. That finish put him ahead of numerous key role scorers from both Stanford and Iowa State.
Unfortunately, he had a less-than-impressive performance at the loaded Nuttycombe Invitational, placing 56th overall. He did, however, rebound at the BIG Sky Championships and Mountain Regional Championships where he placed 6th and 9th, respectively. Raff would not compete at the National Championships as Coach Mike Smith opted to go with a different lineup combination.
Those were decent cross country performances, but what truly boosted Raff's value in our rankings was what we saw from him this past indoor track season. The rising junior ran a PR of 8:00 for 3000 meters this past winter as well as an altitude-converted time of 13:40.99 for 5000 meters -- a time that helped him qualify for the Indoor National Championships.
The Northern Arizona roster may be loaded, but Raff has found a way to piece together a very respectable resume. He had a nice result at John McNichols and can now pair his growing experience with a breakout indoor track season which validated his true talent.
46. Jackson Mestler, Rs. Senior, Oregon
Mestler had a fairly long and thorough 2019 cross country season where he raced six times from September to November, putting together a few decent performances in the process.
The first half of Mestler's 2019 cross country season wasn't anything too exciting. He placed 24th at Bill Dellinger and then 106th at Nuttycombe. As far as the regular season was concerned, he wasn't a top 50 talent.
However, Mestler began to really find his groove in the postseason. A strong 14th place finish at the PAC-12 Championships was an encouraging performance and a 6th place finish at the West Regional Championships was great as well. He finished the 2019 cross country season with a respectable 73rd place finish at NCAA's.
Generally speaking, those performances wouldn't have been enough to get Mestler into our preseason rankings, but his 2020 indoor track season was hard to ignore. The Oregon veteran dropped an outstanding personal best of 13:36 for 5000 meters, easily qualifying him for the indoor national meet and placing himself among the top distance talents in the NCAA.
If Mestler can translate his indoor track success to the grass (whenever the next cross country season may be), then he'll end up as one of the top names in the country.
45. Aaron Bienenfeld, Senior, Cincinnati
Bienenfeld is a lesser-known, underrated name who has made a significant impact on the east coast when it comes to NCAA distance running. In fact, he went undefeated throughout the entire 2019 collegiate cross country season (but more on that in a moment).
The Cincinnati ace truthfully didn't compete against much elite competition throughout last fall, but that shouldn't take away from how consistent he was. He won the Rhodes Cross Country Invitational and later finished 1st in the Pre-Nationals White race, beating the 2nd place finisher by a total of 42 seconds. He also took home gold at the AAC Championships against a talented Tulsa team that was content to take the next five spots behind him.
Bienenfeld ended his collegiate cross country season with a win at the Great Lakes region. Although it was an impressive, all-out effort that qualified him for Nationals, the veteran distance runner opted to compete for the German U23 team at the European Cross Country Championships instead of competing at the NCAA Championships.
It would have been easy to question the overall talent level of Bienenfeld if he didn't do anything more than simply cruise through a cross country season seemingly unchallenged. However, his indoor track season validated his four cross country wins.
After running personal bests of 8:01 (3k) and 13:48 (5k), Bienenfeld cemented himself as a legitimate distance ace and someone who could have very easily been an All-American in a regular, unaltered 2020 cross country season.
44. Wesley Banguria, Junior, Iowa State
Banguria recently transferred to Iowa State after spending two quality years at Colby Community College...and his potential impact on the NCAA distance running scene could be massive.
In the five cross country races that he ran in during the fall of 2019, Banguria won them all, including the NJCAA Division 1 XC Championships. At that race, he ran an unbelievable time of 22:54 over eight kilometers and finished over a minute ahead of the 2nd place competitor. That kind of experience and raw talent should translate well in a BIG 12 conference that is top-heavy with similar-caliber talent.
Banguria has proven to be a major name on the track as well. He has personal bests of 7:51 (3k) and 13:43 (5k). That 3k PR came against Nebraska star George Kusche, finishing only a few strides behind the South Africa native. At the 2020 NJCAA Indoor National Meet, Banguria took home the 5000 meter title, finished runner-up in the 3000 meters and placed 3rd in the mile.
Banguria is an exciting athlete who has dropped ridiculously fast times and has been largely unchallenged on the cross country course at the JUCO level. On paper, he's already a top D1 talent, but his lack of experience against this level of competition is what held him back from being ranked higher.
Regardless, the newest Iowa State Cyclone should be ready to give the men from Ames, Iowa yet another low-stick to lean on for the next couple of years.
43. Blaise Ferro, Rs. Junior, Northern Arizona
Coming in just a few spots ahead of teammate Ryan Raff is Blaise Ferro who is coming off of a relatively successful 2019-2020 academic calendar.
A cross country All-American in 2018, Ferro has battled nagging injuries throughout his career. He was, however, healthy enough to compete in three races last fall. He posted an unexciting 70th place finish at Nuttycombe before placing 15th at the Mountain Regional Championships. Ferro was kept in the national meet lineup where he ended up placing a respectable 63rd overall.
Like Raff, Ferro performed exceptionally well during the indoor track season. He dropped an incredible time of 13:39 for 5000 meters and ran an altitude-converted PR of 8:05 for 3000 meters.
When Ferro is healthy, which isn't always a given, he is absolutely one of the best distance runners in the country. He placed 26th at the 2018 National Championships and was able to rally this past winter to qualify for indoor national meet.
If Ferro has an uninterrupted block of training and is able to capitalize on his experience, then it's hard to suggest that he isn't a top 50 talent, nationally.
42. Aidan Tooker, Rs. Senior, Syracuse
On paper, Tooker is an All-American front-running star. He boasts underrated range, great times on the track, success at competitive invitationals and plenty of veteran experience. As far as true low-sticks are concerned, Tooker is certainly one of them.
However, the past year has truthfully been a tough one for the Syracuse ace. He sustained a season-ending injury during the spring of 2019 and only competed once during the 2019 cross country season before he was sidelined yet again.
Back in 2018, Tooker was 2nd at the Battle in Beantown to Amon Kemboi and 2nd in the Pre-Nationals White race in what was a very top-heavy field. He later finished 8th at the ACC Championships, cruised through his regional meet, but struggled at the National Championships.
Overall, Tooker is a no-brainer Top 50 talent. However, his extended absences are tough to overlook and that's the main reason why we've opted to push him to just outside of our top 40. Even so, when Tooker is healthy and able to toe the line, he's an All-American caliber talent.
41. Stan Niesten, Senior, Portland
One of the newest Portland Pilots comes by way of the Netherlands. Stan Niesten will join the Pilots as a graduate transfer and will look to make an immediate impact in America. While in Europe, Niesten was able to post outstanding personal bests of 8:01 (3k), 13:40 (5k) and 29:03 (10k).
In August of 2019, Niesten finished 30th at the European Cross Country Championships, a field that was filled with top international athletes. With that said, it's tough to gauge Niesten's overall talent level compared to the elites of the NCAA without being familiar with the competition that he was racing against overseas.
Instead, we'll rely with what we have on paper (which is pretty darn good).
Niesten has been able to prove his strength over the longer distances and will have the ability to make a huge impact on a Portland squad that is looking to fill some holes after losing some high-quality talents at the end of last year.