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.
For the first time since 2017, Iowa State was set to enter the upcoming cross country season without their top runner Edwin Kurgat.
The expired cross country eligibility of Kurgat, Addison DeHaven and David Too would have truthfully hit this team hard and seemingly limited the number of lineup options that they would had for a theoretical 2020 cross country season.
Fortunately, they still bring back a solid core and have added some key reinforcements that once again put them in the hunt for a top-10 spot in our "If Everything Was Normal" preseason rankings.
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The most interesting runner on the team for this coming year is Wesley Banguria. A transfer from Colby CC, the junior comes to the NCAA after winning the NJCAA Division 1 XC Championships with a time of 22:54 for 8000 meters. He went on to run 7:51 in the 3000 meters and 13:43 in the 5000 meters during the most recent indoor indoor season.
Those times and performances earned him a TSR #44 ranking, although the consensus among our TSR contributors is that he has enough potential to maybe even be a top-20 talent some day.
Injecting a potential low-stick like Banguria to this team is critical as he gives the Cyclones someone who could help fill the void left by Kurgat. He may not be able to replace all of Kurgat's scoring potency, but he will certainly make up for some of it.
Banguria will likely be the lead scorer for this team whenever they return to competition, but Iowa State would not be listed at TSR #8 in our preseason rankings without their four highly-valuable and experienced returners.
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What was most exciting to see from the Cyclones last yer was the development of the middle of their lineup. Chad Johnson, Milo Greder, Thomas Pollard and Wake Forest transfer Mitchell Day all took encouraging steps forward in 2019 and all four were set to return this fall, each acting as key pieces for a hypothetical ISU lineup in 2020.
Chad Johnson met all of our expectations last year to finish 43rd at the NCAA Championships -- just three spots out from All-American honors. For the most part, he was a solid, reliable and consistent contributor who had a solid regular season and had only one poor performance (95th at Nuttycombe).
Not only did he have a terrific cross country season, but he also earned three new personal bests during the indoor track season. Johnson ran 4:04 (mile), 7:59 (3k) and 14:09 (5k) on the indoor oval this past year, validating his recent leap in fitness.
Johnson broke out in a big way last year and would have entered 2020 with championship experience of an upperclassman and underrated momentum.
In his first year with Iowa State, Mitchell Day was a pleasant surprise. He put his name on the map with his 15th place performance at the John McNichols Invite and did not slow down the rest of the year as he finished 42nd at Nuttycombe, 11th at the BIG 12 Championships and 51st at the national meet. One of our toughest omissions from our Top 50 rankings, Day gives Iowa State another consistent runner with low-stick potential.
We then have long-time veteran Thomas Pollard who was set to come back in 2020 for his final year of eligibility. After battling some health issues earlier in his career, the elder Cyclone runner returned to competition last fall and secured a string of consistently respectable performances such as 20th at John McNichols, 72nd at Nuttycombe, 15th at the BIG 12 Championships and 95th at the NCAA Championships.
Overall, Pollard is a super reliable piece of this lineup who gives the Cyclones extra depth and scoring stability. He also has so much more to give if he is able to return to his freshman-year form when he finished 45th at the 2016 national meet.
The last runner of this group is Milo Greder who built upon his solid 2018 season. He did not have an overwhelmingly impressive regular season, but he came alive at the right time. In the postseason, he finished 9th at the BIG 12 Championships and later finished 72nd at Nationals.
He might not be the All-American contender that Johnson and Day are, but Coach Martin Smith could not ask for a more consistent veteran presence who is arguably just as valuable to this team as anyone else.
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We then come to Nehemia Too who was a teammate of Banguria's at Colby CC. He has also ventured to Ames, Iowa to continue his collegiate career with the Cyclones. Iowa State would have depended on him reverting to his 2018 form.
Too did not race on the grass in 2019, but he finished 2nd at the 2018 NJCAA D1 National Championships. However, what a lot of people don't know is that Too was actually a distance star at the Division II level just a couple of years ago.
While at Harding University, Too secured outstanding personal bests of 8:01 for 3000 meters and 14:12 for 5000 meters. He was an extremely close runner-up finisher at the 2018 D2 indoor national meet in the 3000 meters, losing only to Sydney Gidabuday by 0.08 seconds and beating David Ribich by 0.21 seconds.
In other words, his talent is sky-high, but we still need to see him replicate that kind of fitness if he's going to be the standout scorer that we think he can be.
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Admittedly, this is an odd year where Iowa State does seem to have the same overwhelming depth that we have grown used to seeing. Instead of the typical 11 or 12 options that they have to field a varsity lineup, that number is a bit closer to six. Of course, having six varsity-caliber runners would usually be considered a luxury for most teams struggling to assemble a complete top-five.
Two runners to watch out for are redshirt freshmen Matthew Meinke and Timothy Sindt. Both came to Iowa State with top high school credentials.
Meinke was a two-time NXN qualifier and owns personal bests of 4:15 (mile), 8:59 (3200), and 14:49 (5k). His experience on the national level during high school should help him as he makes the leap to collegiate cross country scene whenever he does compete.
An Iowa native, Timothy Sindt has run 14:51 for 5000 meters and won two Iowa state titles in cross country. A winner on the grass from his high school days, the Cyclones would have needed Sindt to take a big step forward in 2020 to fill out the backend of this lineup. While he likely won’t have been a scorer for this group, he will give the team some much needed depth and a great developmental piece in the future.
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Overall, there aren't many teams in the country with a lineup structure that is as ideal as Iowa State's. They seemingly have a true front-runner in Banguria with a handful of fringe All-American candidates behind him. The middle of this lineup is incredibly consistent and they are now highly experienced. Their depth, while not the best we have ever seen it, is still very strong.
Could the Cyclones have returned to the podium in 2020? Yes, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility, especially if guys like Johnson, Day, Pollard and Greder continue to improve off of their 2019 performances.
However, none of that is guaranteed. We also don't know how Banguria will translate his success from JUCO to Division I and we haven't yet seen Nehemia Too return to that top-tier level that we saw from him in 2017.
In other words, this team needs far more guaranteed firepower and as of right now, we don't have a clear picture of that looks like.
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Even so, we still really like Iowa State. While teams behind them in our rankings have plenty of question marks within their top-five, Iowa State is well-positioned because of the reliability and consistency of their projected lineup.
There aren't many programs that can lose the national champion from their top seven and still be ranked inside the top-10 teams the following year.
But then again, Iowa State isn't like many programs...