Another week, another slew of exciting races! A handful of larger meets are set to take place and we could see plenty of exciting matchups between some of the better teams in the country. Let's dive right into it...
FSU Invitational (10/2)
Teams: Florida State, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Boston College, Clemson, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Chipola College, FIU, Daytona State, Flagler, Mercer, Miami (FL), Mobile, Point University, Seminole State, South Alabama, Tallahassee CC, Valdosta State, UAB
Written by: Sam Ivanecky
Will the Tide Roll?
On the Blue Oval Podcast a couple of weeks ago, there was discussion on how good the Alabama women would be with a full lineup.
This weekend, we might get an answer to that question.
Based on the initial entries, the Crimson Tide will run their "Big Three" in Esther Gitahi, Mercy Chelangat and Commodore Classic winner Jami Reed. Unlike the first meet of the season, Alabama is also set to field a handful of returners from last year, namely sophomore Allie Wilson and junior Lauren Brackin.
Alabama is stacked through three runners. Gitahi and Chelangat would have been All-American candidates this fall and Jami Reed showed outstanding progress at the Commodore Classic a couple of weeks ago.
However, the Tide held out a handful of runners during their time in Tennessee and ended up finishing 2nd to Kentucky. With a full roster, Alabama now becomes a lot more dangerous.
Despite keeping a low-profile, Allie Wilson showed a lot of potential as only a freshman last fall. Her biggest result was a 64th place finish in a deep Pre-Nationals field, finishing in the vicinity of names such as Holly Bent (Colorado) and Kyra Lopez (Virginia Tech). She closed her 2019 season with a 21st place finish at the South Regional Championships and could be closer to Alabama’s front three than many might expect.
That said, our big concern for this team is trying to figure out who will fill that final scoring spot. We have already mentioned Brackin, a rising junior who could take a big step up in 2020. She was solid last fall, but is still waiting on her big break-through to become a key contributor.
Alexa Cruz was one of Alabama’s stronger runners last fall, but did not compete at the Commodore Classic and is not listed to compete this weekend.
If Alabama can find one more runner at the backend of their lineup, they could be substantially stronger and maybe compete with some of the more competitive teams in this field.
Big Names Are Back
We were excited to see a handful of runners debut two weeks ago, only to have them eventually pull out.
This weekend, it appears that many of those athletes will be making their return to the cross country course (based on preliminary entries). The duo of Noel Rotich and Eluid Kipsang are slated to debut and should provide substantial firepower for an Alabama team that was trying to figure out the rest of their lineup at the Commodore Classic.
On the women’s side, Elizabeth Funderburk of Florida State and Samantha Drop of Georgia are both listed in the entries. Funderburk is currently ranked at TSR #43 while Drop is ranked at TSR #47. Both should be among the overall favorites in this race.
For a Florida State team that sits at TSR #5, the return of Funderburk should help us gauge just how strong the Seminoles are this season. However, it does not appear that Maudie Skyring or Lauren Ryan are in the entries for this weekend, so there is still a major piece of scoring potency that will be missing.
As for Drop, there will be less pressure for the Bulldogs to compete with the top programs in this meet and she should be more individually focused this weekend. The former All-American will be one of the top names to watch at the front of the race and will be a contender for the overall win.
The men's race features fewer teams than the women’s side, but it is still one to watch as the Florida State Seminoles will be led by junior Paul Stafford. In their first meet of the season, Florida State rolled to a 19 point victory at the Mountain Dew Cross Country Invitational and are slated to run much of the same roster this weekend.
The women’s individual race is a loaded field. Alabama brings their trio of Gitahi, Reed and Chelangat to battle against the likes of Drop and Funderburk, as well as Lauren White of Boston College and Nicole Feagans of Georgia Tech who is fresh off of her win at the Mountain Dew Cross Country Invitational.
The Florida State women didn't run a couple of their top scorers at the Mountain Dew Invitational a few weeks ago, but keep an eye on the Georgia Tech YellowJacks who upset the 'Noles in that race. Funderburk may be back, but the team scoring may be just as close.
Cowboy Jamboree (10/3)
Teams: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas, TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, Central Arkansas, North Texas, Stephen F. Austin, Texas State, UTEP
Written by: Ben Weisel
The Start of a Redemption Season...Maybe
The best team coming into this weekend is Iowa State and they are listed at TSR #8 for a reason. Sure, they lose the 2019 NCAA cross country champion in Edwin Kurgat, but they bring back plenty of All-American candidates and bring in some new transfers to maintain some of their scoring potency from last year.
I say all of this at the beginning of the article so you that can’t say I ignored the Cyclones. However, the story of this meet, with all due respect to Iowa State, is Oklahoma State.
After a tough finish to their 2019 cross country season which saw the Pokes fail to qualify for the National Championships, this weekend will be an opportunity for the team to prove that last year was just a fluke and that they are back to their winning ways.
In this week’s Blue Oval Podcast, Garrett mentioned that we could see an upset in this race, and I believe that he's correct. The Cyclones have much better depth, but in a smaller like this, front-runners become more important as depth is (slightly) less valuable depending on the structure of a lineup.
The Cowboys could take home the first two spots at this meet with Isai Rodriguez and Ryan Smeeton. These two are the ones to watch, especially after we barely got to see them run last year. A fully fit version of this duo gives Oklahoma State a major spark at the front of their lineup.
Going head-to-head with these two could be Iowa State’s newest addition, Wesley Banguria. The newest front-runner from Colby CC was dominant on the junior college circuit and could give Iowa State a nice facsimile to Kurgat. He will be key in unlocking Iowa State’s ceiling this fall (and maybe in the winter if competition continues).
Although the Cowboys may have a ton of potential, it's the Cyclones who also have the highest floor (which is a good thing for them). This is because of top returners Thomas Pollard, Milo Greder, Chad Johnson and Mitchell Day. Iowa State can shut down any upset bid by the Cowboys by putting these four men within the top few spots of this race.
This is a great opportunity for both teams to gauge their fitness and gives us the chance to see how well their new pieces have been integrated into their lineup.
Early Preview of Top Individuals
There aren’t many meets during non-pandemic years where we get to see three top-10 individuals go head-to-head, but thankfully for us, we could get that opportunity this weekend. Oklahoma State’s dynamic duo of Molly Born and Taylor Somers will go up against conference rival Cailie Logue of Iowa State.
These three women will be the favorite to take home the conference title later in the year, and an early-season win will be a big confidence boost for whoever comes out on top.
When you consider that Nationals were/are scheduled to be on this course, it gives many of these teams a chance to preview the venue and prepare for a National Championship there, either in the winter of 2021 or perhaps in the fall of 2021.
From a team perspective, we get to see a preview of the BIG 12 Championships with half of the conference’s teams competing. However, two talented programs (West Virginia and Texas) will not be racing.
This weekend, we will get to see how well the rest of the Cowboys lineup behind Born and Somers has developed as Ariane Ballner and Taylor Roe will be two other Oklahoma State runners to keep an eye on. Improvement from those two could change the Cowboys' ceiling significantly.
For TSR #23 Oklahoma State, this is a great opportunity for them to prove that the 2020 BIG 12 title goes through Stillwater.
Ezekiel Kibichii is reportedly ineligible to race for Iowa State this season due to transfer rules. However, this could be an opportunity for him to race unattached and test his fitness.
We could see the season debut of Texas Tech's Takieddine Hedeilli who could challenge for a top five spot in this race.
Titus Cheruiyot of UTEP just missed our Top 50 individual preseason rankings and could prove that he deserved a spot with a strong performance this weekend.
Live in Lou Cross Country Classic (10/3)
Gold Race Teams: Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Louisville, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Charlotte, App State, Marshall
Written by: Garrett Zatlin
Ole Miss vs Notre Dame: Best Matchup of the Weekend?
On the women's side, we'll get to see Ole Miss (TSR #19) and Notre Dame (TSR #20) race against each other in what should be one of the best (and most balanced) matchups of the weekend.
Both teams have plenty of depth, but the Rebels boast a lineup that is far more interchangeable with an endless amount of varsity options. However, we see didn't see Clio Ozanne-Jaques race two weekends ago and it would be huge if she returned on Saturday to give this team a spark at the front of their lineup.
That would certainly be helpful as they face a Notre Dame women's team which features Maddy Denner (TSR #32) and Jessica Schneider, redshirt freshman who ran 16:58 for 5000 meters a few weeks ago at the Irish Classic.
Each of these teams have unique strengths, so it will be fascinating to see which lineup structure emerges victorious on Saturday.
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The Stride Report has learned that the Notre Dame men will no longer be running at the Live in Lou XC Classic this weekend.
As a result, this will be the Ole Miss men's race to lose. After a strong effort against a talented Arkansas team at the LSU SEC Preview a few weeks ago, the Rebels will look to put another race under their belts.
We saw the Ole Miss men surprise a lot of people last fall when they finished 2nd at the Joe Piane Invitational. They utilized their incredible middle distance speed and translated it to the grass. Could that same thing happen this weekend at a Louisville venue which is considered to be one of the fastest courses in the nation?
This is also going to be a huge opportunity for Mario Garcia Romo to prove to the NCAA that his 6k win at the LSU SEC Preview meet wasn't just a fluke. While the field may not be as top-heavy as it would have been with Notre Dame, this should still be a competitive race and a great validation opportunity for Romo.
Finally, we'll be eager to see if Cade Bethmann, a top scorer for the Rebels last fall, will be making his season debut. He could be a key name to watch for if the Ole Miss men want to challenge Arkansas for the SEC title later this year.
Kentucky & Charlotte Are Our Sleeper Picks
Personally, I've been a fan of the Charlotte men for a while. I thought they had a chance to be one of the better teams in the NCAA back in 2018, but they were a bit unlucky as they were faced with a few injuries and a couple of lineup challenges.
However, since then, they have made some encouraging progress.
Last year, the 49ers finished 5th as a team at the Southeast Regional Championships, one spot out from eventual national qualifiers Furman. Although they lose a pair of veteran scorers, they still return a ton of promising pieces who were relatively young last year. We think that this group has a lot of upside and we could see them being competitive with some of the better teams in this field on Saturday.
As for the Kentucky men and women, it's hard to call them sleeper picks after they each took home a pair of wins at the Commodore Classic a few weeks ago. The Wildcat men put three men in the top four of that race (including two freshmen) while the women relied on strong pack-running and a tight time spread of 11 seconds between their top five.
Will either of those lineup structures benefit Kentucky on Saturday? We'll just have to wait and see.