For some of our readers (ok, many of our readers) this may come as a surprise. Charlotte isn't a traditional top team that you'd expect to be ranked among the best in the NCAA. They've done well, had a few decent runners go through their program, and have made solid progress over the past few years. Still, they don't have the history of success that other top teams have had.
That, however, shouldn't deter you from giving these guys the respect they deserve. In 2018, they'll return a squad that is hungry to prove that they are just as good as any other team in the Southeast region.
The 49ers first true test of the 2017 season would come at the Panorama Farms Invite, a meet hosted by Virginia. Despite the smaller venue, the field would consist of strong talent that included UVA, Campbell, and William & Mary (among others). This was not going to be a cake-walk by any means.
Charlotte held their own throughout the race. They maintained contact with the top teams and ensured that they had low-sticks near the front. Nobles would finish 6th overall behind three eventual All-Americans while Coulter was close behind in 8th. Zach Marchinko had a strong race of his own, placing 13th overall. Unfortunately, gaps in the scoring began to form after UNCC's third scorer. Alex Cornwell would finish 25th while Paul Arredondo capped the scoring at 29th. Charlotte would settle for 3rd overall behind Virginia and Campbell. It was an encouraging result, but there was still work to do.
Fast forward to Pre-Nats and the results were rather similar. As expected, Nobles and Coulter held their own, posting strong results of 21st and 25th overall. Unlike his race at Panorama Farms, Marchinko wasn't able to stay quite as close to the top two, finishing 65th overall. Cornwell would place 83rd to secure the 4th position.
However, it was the 5th man spot that became the obvious problem within this Charlotte lineup. Paul Arrendondo didn't run, leaving Todd Gunzenhauser with the pressure to fill in the final scoring spot. Gunzenhauser would drop to 219th overall, leaving the 49ers with 400 points and an 11th place team finish.
It's clear that UNCC had the talent and supporting scorers to make this a special season. However, the loss of Arrendondo to a season-ending injury greatly hurt Charlotte in the team standings. Had he run at Pre-Nats and finished 100th (a reasonable assumption), Charlotte would have finished the day in 6th overall. That would have been enough to defeat teams such as Utah State, Texas, Campbell, and Arkansas...
As we move into the postseason, the Conference USA meet would essentially be a one-on-one matchup with Middle Tennessee State. With potential Kolas points on the line, UNCC needed to pull off an upset title victory before heading into the regional championships.
However, the 49ers fell short once again. Coulter and Nobles would place 3rd and 4th while Marchinko and Cornwell finished 6th and 7th. Unfortunately, their 5th scorer slid to 18th overall, enough to give MTSU a seven point win over Coach Lynn's group.
Charlotte had missed multiple opportunities to secure Kolas points. They needed to put together one last all-out effort at the Southeast Regional Championships if they were going to have any shot of potentially getting pushed into the national meet.
When the gun went off, it was clear that the 49ers were running with a goal in mind. Nobles and Coulter finished 14th and 16th overall while Marchinko and Cornwell finished 47th and 48th, respectively. Through four men, Charlotte was in contention with other top teams. Yet, the 5th man proved to be the decisive factor once again, finishing 114th in the team scoring. UNCC ended their season with a 6th place finish in the Southeast region.
Last year had to hold a mix of emotions for the Charlotte men. It was clear that they had a promising future and the possibility of going to NCAA's wasn't out of the question. Of course, no one could have expected that a scorer would sustain a season ending injury.
So what is the status of this team in 2018? They have to be losing a few scorers...right?
In 2018, UNC-Charlotte returns their ENTIRE top seven from last year and that doesn't even include Paul Arrendondo. Charlotte's top seven consisted of one junior, five sophomores, and one freshman. If you include Arrendondo, the total number of sophomore reaches six. Simply put, this was a very young team that lacked experience, especially at the big meets.
Charlotte is now another year older and looking to have an impact. If we assume that Arrendondo returns to full health, their lineup this fall could consist of one senior and six juniors. It's rare to see a varsity squad with that much maturity and untapped potential...
Nobles and Coulter look like a wicked 1-2 punch that will give the 49ers a scoring edge that other teams lack. They both qualified for Nationals this past spring in the steeplechase after Coulter ran a PR of 8:43 while Nobles ran 8:46. Together, they could be the Jack Bruce and Alex George of 2018.
Marchinko and Cornwell were solid supporting scorers who proved to be valuable assets at the big meets where the rising point totals can get out hand. Having reliable 3rd and 4th guys can do wonders for a team that is trying to get out of a very deep Southeast region.
The 5th man will be the main area to watch for UNCC this fall. The readdition of Arrendondo will be huge if we're assuming that he's 100% healthy. He was in Charlotte's top seven as a freshman and finished close behind Cornwell at Panorama Farms before his season was cut short. He doesn't need to blow us away, but he does need to cut down the gap between the 4th and 5th scorers.
In fact, no one on this team needs to have a breakout season or race. One characteristic about this team is that they are incredibly consistent. UNCC's top four rarely had a poor race and always got the job. With more stability at the final scoring position, this team could surprise a number of unsuspecting fans.
At the same time, it wouldn't be shocking to see this team improve anyway. The sophomore to junior jump usually generate big returns, especially for distance runners. There is still a lot of youth on this squad who are looking to build upon their fitness. It wouldn't be crazy to think that at least one of these men will step up to another level.
If you're looking for a sleeper pick, look no further than the Charlotte men. They have everything you need in a national contending squad. Between their low-sticks, consistency, and room for growth, it's hard not to like what they bring to the table. Get on the bandwagon now before it's too late...