Below are three conferences that may not have the deepest fields in terms of competition, but there are a handful of runners and teams that will surely make these respective meets entertaining.
West Coast Conference
Heading into conference week, the men of BYU are the favorite to win the WCC, both on the team and individual sides. The Cougars are coming off of a somewhat surprising two point victory over Colorado at Pre-Nationals despite not having Clayson Shumway.
Conner Mantz has been on a roll this season and is three for three on individual wins this fall. Jacob Heslington, who finished 50th last fall at NCAA's, has improved to the #2 spot for the Cougars and has beaten several top individuals this season. Meanwhile, Brandon Garnica and Daniel Carney have been very solid supporting pieces for the Cougars and will add key points for the remainder of the season. BYU’s 5-6-7 haven't finished as close to their top scorers as one would like, but they still provide decent depth.
The Portland Pilots are expected to be the 2nd place team on Friday. However, Coach Rob Conner is known for holding out his top runners at the conference meet and for giving his younger guys a chance at showing what they are made of.
The Pilots are coming off of a 9th place finish at Nuttycombe and were led by Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse’s 19th place finish. Behind Roudolff-Levisse were Caleb Webb and Evert Silva who both finished inside the top 30 for the Pilots.
This group provides a very good scoring base for Portland, but things go a little south after that trio. Portland will need their #4 and #5 runners to move up, especially their #5 (who finished in 160th at Nuttycombe), if they want to compete with BYU.
But again, they likely won't run their top men.
Gonzaga is one more team to watch this Friday. The Bulldogs just missed our XC Top 25 team rankings after their 16th place finish at Nuttycombe, but they should still be a team in the NCAA qualifying discussion.
James Mwaura will compete for a top three finish at WCC's after establishing his place among the nation's best thanks to his 15th place finish at Wisconsin. Runners 3-4-5 were only separated by 10 seconds, but they need to minimize their overall time spread if they want to find themselves in the runner-up spot.
Individually, Andrew Snyder of San Francisco will try to make a run for a top five finish. After transferring from Washington to San Francisco, Snyder has seen some success. He placed 11th at Griak, but at Pre-Nationals he competed in the “B” race. Although he walked away with a 3rd place finish, his time would’ve placed him just inside the top 100 in the championship race. Snyder will need to rebound from his Pre-Nationals performance if he wants to surprise the WCC before the West Regional Championships.
The women of BYU will dominate the WCC this weekend. No other team in this field can come remotely close to the talent that the Cougars have at the front, middle, or backend of their lineup. Whittni Orton and Aubrey Frentheway did not compete at Pre-Nationals, but both are expected to be on the line this weekend, getting in one final tune-up before the regional meet. When you add in Erica Birk-Jarvis, Courtney Wayment, Olivia Hoj, and Anna Camp, BYU will be impossible to stop.
One runner that could disrupt a 1-2-3-4-5 sweep for the women of BYU would be San Francisco’s Aoibhe Richardson. Richardson recently won the “B” Race at Pre-Nationals, but her time would have placed her 14th in the championship race, just ahead of BYU’s Hoj.
American Athletic Conference
Tulsa shocked the nation when they finished a surprising 3rd at Nuttycombe, placing all five runners in the top 46. Nine seconds separated their final four scorers and after such a convincing performance, winning the AAC should not at all be a surprise for the Golden Hurricanes. Peter Lynch will look to lead the team with Patrick Dever, Cameron Field, Isaac Akers, and Scott Beattie close behind.
The only concern for Tulsa is that they don’t have a dependable #6 and #7 heading into the postseason. At Nuttycombe, Tulsa’s #6 finished 183rd and their #7 was 212nd. If one person in their top five falters, there is no one there to pick up the slack. AAC's will be the Golden Hurricanes chance to focus on finding a way to clean up those final two spots.
Temple was runner-up last fall at the AAC Championships and will most likely take the same spot this fall. Temple has seen a 3rd place finish at the Iona Meet of Champions and a 1st place finish at Penn State National Open so far this season. Zach Seiger, Kristian Holm Jensen, Harry Powell, and Kevin Lapansky are four solid runners who will all help lead Temple to a strong finish.
Aside from teams, there is an individual to watch out for and that is Cincinnati’s Aaron Bienenfeld. Bienenfeld placed 1st at Pre-Nationals in the “B” Race, winning easily by 42 seconds. Before Pre-Nationals, Bienenfeld won the Rhodes College Cross Country Invite, so he could try to make it three for three at the AAC in terms of wins this Friday.
The Shockers of Wichita State should be crowned the team champions in Memphis, Tennessee. Winny Koskei will lead the team and will be supported by Rebekah Topham. Topham has had a bit of a rocky season thus far, but the conference meet will give her a chance to prove her All-American honors on the track were not just a one-time deal.
Koskei is by far the favorite to win the AAC title. In their two big meets this fall, Koskei has finished 13th (Bill Dellinger) and 7th (Pre-Nationals). Her 7th place finish at Pre-Nationals is far more stellar when you look at the competition she pulled away from in that race. Koskei was an All-American last fall and is on track to repeat that honor this season.
Caitlin Klopfer of Tulsa is one to look for near the front of this race after placing 36th at Nuttycombe the other week. Last fall, Klopfer was 6th at AAC's before earning All-Region honors. Klopfer is already ahead of where she finished last season and could challenge for a top three finish at AAC's.
Connecticut’s Mia Nahom, the AAC’s 9th place finisher in 2018, placed 2nd at the Princeton Cross Country Invite a few weeks ago. Nahom has steadily improved this fall and that is very apparent based off of her new personal best at Paul Short. She ran 27 seconds faster this fall and should be near the front of this AAC Championship field on Friday.
It will be a race for the MAC team title on the men’s side. No one team is a clear favorite as there are three programs to keep an eye on: Miami (OH), Eastern Michigan, and Akron.
Miami (OH) is the reigning team champion, but they are without Christopher and Sean Torpy this season. Eastern Michigan has a solid pack and if they can keep each other close, the team could come away with the title. Akron was the top team at the All-Ohio XC Championship and looks like a legitimate contender to come out on top this weekend.
At the NIU Huskie Classic, Toledo’s Jacob Harris won the race over Kent State’s Clark Bookman. Zachary Sleeman and Mark Beckmann, both of Central Michigan, were also in the race and these two could challenge for the win.
Caleb Covell of Buffalo and Migliozzi of Akron are two other individuals to watch in this race. Those two men finished 3rd (Covell) and 4th (Migliozzi) at the Penn State National Open.
Overall, the team and individual races are wide open in the Mid-American Conference.
Eastern Michigan University has won the Mid-American Conference title since 2015, but there could be a new champion this fall. The women of Northern Illinois University have been on a roll this season and have beaten each MAC school they have competed against so far this season.
At the NIU Huskie Classic, NIU hosted three other MAC schools and won the meet with a mere 32 points. A little over a month later, NIU competed against three more MAC schools at Pre-Nationals and came out on top once again, placing 27th compared to 31st (Toledo), 33rd (EMU), and 35th (Miami of OH).
Northern Illinois is led by Ashley Tutt who has won three of the four meets the Huskies have competed in this fall. Recently at Pre-Nationals, Tutt finished 17th in a deep individual field and is the favorite to win the conference individual title. Tutt has earned All-Regional honors over the past two years and looks to be fighting for a third honor this fall (as well as a qualification to Nationals).
Behind Tutt are Mackenzie Callahan, Ericka Hibser, and Vivian Overbeck who have packed together well throughout the season. They will be the engine that pushes the Huskies towards a conference win.
Racing against Tutt for the individual title will be EMU’s Natalie Cizmas who was only seven seconds behind Tutt at Pre-Nationals. Mackenzie Andrews of Akron, Emily Shelton of Central Michigan, and Emily Akin of Miami (OH) will be three more runners near the front of the lead pack.
Those four runners, plus the NIU four, will keep this race very competitive in DeKalb, Illinois this weekend.