The full academic year has finally concluded. Three seasons of competition have given us exhilarating storylines in nearly every aspect of the sport. Whether it be athletes, teams, coaches, or conferences, there were countless ups-and-downs throughout the season. We reflected on some of the more interesting headlines from the entire year and broke down our thoughts below...
Winner: Alabama XC
I'll be the first to admit that I was critical of the Alabama men at the beginning of the fall. Their top three were extremely impressive and actually performed better than I thought. Still, I wasn't exactly thrilled about their situation at the 4th and 5th spots. I saw weakness and a vulnerability where other teams could take advantage.
The Crimson Tide weren't perfect and they gave up a heavy number of Kolas points to other teams fighting for National Championships qualifying spots. Alabama quickly fell out of TSR's rankings and were dismissed before the first half of the season was even done.
However, not all hope was lost by other coverage outlets. Flotrack released an article and explained why Alabama should still be ranked as the 11th best team in the nation. The argument, although valid, still had fans wondering if Alabama could even qualify for NCAA's. In fact, we reviewed historical results and analyzed trends to find out Alabama's chances of qualifying...
Fast forward to November and Alabama was able to secure the last spot to NCAA's. They would eventually go on to place 14th, a finish that confirmed the power of their lethal top three. When others (and TSR) doubted them, they came up big when it counted.
Loser: The PAC 12 distance running
It was an ugly year for the PAC 12, a conference that is usually seen as the best group of collegiate distance runners. Between the 12 national titles up for grabs between XC, indoor, and outdoor track, the PAC 12 walked away with only one title (Sean McGorty).
Yet, it wasn't just a title count. There were a variety of issues that plagued the conference throughout the year. The absence of John Dressel and Joe Klecker (injury?) left Colorado with a huge void to fill. Washington was forced to separate from coach Greg Metcalf after allegations of demeaning comments came from his athletes. Grant Fisher seemingly lost an edge during the cross country and indoor track seasons. He even admitted that he wasn't 100% in the right mindset during that time in a post-race interview with LetsRun. Carlos Villarreal was unable to make it to Eugene this past spring despite running 1:46 and 3:37. And what about Matthew Maton? He's been completely absent this entire year. Will we ever see him race again?
This isn't to say that these runners ran poorly. They are still some of the nation's best athletes who can be competitive in any race.
If you're looking for a major highlight, glance at the Oregon team. They were absolutely incredible with four different men running under 3:40 for 1500 meters (which didn't include Blake Haney or Cooper Teare), multiple runners securing All-American status, grand success and promising outlooks from their freshmen, and a supporting cast that seems to be improving each and every day.
Winner: Arizona State recruiting
Arizona State has struggled in the distance events for the past few years now. On the men's side, they've lacked depth, a star individual, and (frankly) a competitive team. That might be changing after recruiting the Princeton duo of Garrett O'Toole and William Paulson who both have personal bests of 3:39.
In addition to Paulson and O'Toole, Fearghal Curtin will be transferring from Charleston Southern after a terrific freshman campaign where he ran 3:47 and 14:02. He will be one of the better young talents in the NCAA over the next year.
Admittedly, these three roster additions alone won't be able to make ASU a powerhouse, especially not in a single year. However, this is a huge step in the right direction for the Sun Devils who desperately need a spark in the distance events. It also tells us that assistant coach Cory Leslie is capable of recruiting some of the nation's best, even if they are on the other side of the country.
Loser: Any team racing Oregon in the DMR next year
What's so scary about this Oregon team is that they are so young. Although they graduate an ace in Sam Prakel, they still return three of their four men who ran under 3:40 for 1500 meters. That group doesn't include Cooper Teare or Blake Haney who have both run under the 4 minute mile barrier before. The DMR is perfectly suited for any team that is deep in the 1500 or mile and Oregon appears to be stacked in those areas.
The only concern someone might have for Oregon's DMR is their lack of a reliable 800 leg. That problem, however, has been quickly addressed after recruiting high school indoor 800 national record holder Josh Hoey who holds a personal best of 1:47.
Assuming their top group stays healthy and Josh Hoey adjusts to life at Eugene, the Ducks look nearly unstoppable. Virginia Tech loses their entire national title relay, Ole Miss graduates Robert Domanic and Sean Tobin, Notre Dame loses their 1200 and 800 legs, Sean McGorty has finished his eligibility with Stanford, and New Mexico's Josh Kerr could potentially go pro.
While there will most definitely be a new DMR contender, Oregon seems like the very early favorite for the 2019 title.
Winner: D2 Athletics
David Ribich was electrifying this year. His comeback to win the DMR only confirmed how good he was and his outdoor title was to be expected. His personal bests of 1:48, 2:21, 3:37, and 7:50 is range that some of the best D1 athletes could never accomplish. His NCAA 1500 record will stand for quite some time.
Of course, Ribich wasn't the only one making headlines. Thomas Staines erupted this year with two consecutive titles in the 800, an NCAA D2 record of 1:46, and an improved personal best of 1:45 (after the collegiate season was officially complete).
Yet, the other storylines were just as good. Dustin Nading won the indoor mile title and later teamed up with teammate David Ribich to go 1-2 at Nationals in the outdoor 1500.
The rivalry between James Ndgandu and Sydney Gidabuday (which may have just made up) was a battle we got to watch throughout the entire year and it never got boring.
This year was hands-down the best year to be a fan of D2 track and field.
Loser: Validation of record-breaking performances
Josh Kerr broke the 1500 meter national record with a 3:35, but he didn't win the national title. Michael Saruni broke the 800 meter national record with a 1:43, but he didn't win the national title. New Mexico (unofficially) broke the DMR national record after an altitude conversion, but they didn't win the national title.
See the common theme?
The past two track seasons just go to show that running fast times do not mean that you will perform well in a tactical race. In fact, not even Edward Cheserek won the national title in the mile when he broke the national record in 2017 (although he was attempting an insane 5k-mile-3k triple that year and walked away with two national titles so maybe ignore that one).
Winner: History + Loser: Anyone battling history
Earlier this year, we posted an article called Digits: The PJ Effect. The post discussed the trends that we've seen from the top collegiate finishers at Payton Jordan and what it means for their National Championship hopes.
The results? Profound.
Since 2005, the top D1 collegiate finisher at Payton Jordan has never gone on to win the NCAA title in that respective year. That still holds true today after Justyn Knight failed to win the NCAA this past spring.
We also found an interesting statistic while making our 10k predictions. The last runner to have the top 10k time in the NCAA and win the 10k NCAA title was Cam Levins in 2012. Since then, the fastest 10k runner in the nation has never won the 10k national title. That certainly hasn't changed after Tyler Day finished 4th despite an NCAA lead of 28:04.
Despite not winning an outdoor national title, both Day and Knight had phenomenal track seasons. What's really scary is that Day has the eligibility of just a sophomore. He'll be a real problem for a lot of his opponents over the next few years.