By: John Cusick
We’re back. This time we are here with a brand-new series called What If. I’m sure you, the reader, can gather an idea of what this means as we are talking about cross country. But in case you can’t, it’s the idea of asking the question, "If an athlete redshirts, what happens to the rest of their team and their chances of being successful?"
You get the idea. Let’s begin.
Ahmed Jama is the person of topic today. Why? Because we think he might be the most important piece when it comes to Western State’s cross country team. He is now a senior, but with younger athletes all around him, it doesn’t seem amiss to speculate that he could be redshirted to preserve his eligibility for one more year. In fact, sources close to TSR have suggested that the Western State staff is heavily contemplating that exact idea. A 2019 title run could be in play...
We’ve spoken about Jama’s accolades in some of our previews earlier this summer, but if you need a reminder, we have you covered. He was 24th at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships giving him his first All-American award. Jama later became an All-American on the track when he finished 6th at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and put his name in the hat of athletes with a shot at winning the individual title if all goes well for him.
But WHAT IF he redshirts? What if coach Jen Michel decides she wants to take a shot at the team title next year? For starters, in-state rival Adams State will be graduating one of the best Division 2 runners ever in Sydney Gidabuday, giving way for a potential new champion in 2019 (if the Grizzlies repeat this year, that is). That’s a huge piece of the puzzle that is gone in terms of the Mountaineers chasing a national team title.
Ross Husch and Taylor Stack are the other top returners for the Mountaineers and another year of experience underneath their belt would be a huge factor in the 2019 race for gold. They both had success during their track seasons and would equally benefit from a Jama redshirt.
It's also worth noting that the Mountaineers brought in 11 new freshmen athletes. Obviously, expectations are tempered as athletes move from high school to college. However, with a year of development, the Mountaineers could find themselves in a very promising situation after we finish the 2018-2019 academic year.
For those wondering how WSCU would fare without Jama in their lineup this season, it’s important to know that they have strong returners from last year's squad who will be able to bridge the gap in their scoring. That includes redshirt senior Marc Marcano and sophomore Luke Miller. Although neither individual had great performances at the national meet, you can still expect both of these men to make improvements in their fitness and consistency. Still, we have to keep things in perspective for 2018. Unless there is a big-time performance from another runner on their roster, the chances of the Mountaineers making a run at this year’s team title is slim.
While there is no official word yet, Jama maintaining his eligibility could make Western State one of the more interesting storylines in 2019.