It never gets boring talking about Alabama, does it? Just when you think things have settled down, they capture your attention and become another major storyline in the NCAA. They have gone from a middle of the pack SEC team to one of the best programs in the nation in a span of almost two years. They recruited Chelanga, then Kiprop, then Kigen, realized that wasn't enough, and came back this season with two more Kenyans. If you're looking for a team with unmatched firepower, look no further than the Crimson Tide.
This isn't the first time we're talking about Alabama's cross country team this summer. In early July, we published an article titled The Tuscaloosa Puzzle which detailed the Tide's unique team dynamic. In fact, that article already discusses everything you need to know about their 2017 season. In fear of being redundant, we suggest you read that article in you want a recap of last year.
Now, nearly two months later, things have changed. Alabama wasn't going to quietly sit back and do nothing. Instead, they added more weapons to their roster in an effort to make themselves a complete varsity lineup.
Kigen, Kiprop, and Chelanga will be dominant this year. There's no reason to believe otherwise. They handled their competition with relative ease last year and were able to maintain that momentum throughout the winter and spring track seasons. With the possible exception of NAU, there isn't a trio in the NCAA that is better than Alabama. Having guaranteed low-sticks as good as they are has to be comforting.
As exciting as those three are, it's the final two scorers on this team who have peaked my interest. Last fall, the fourth and fifth men proved to be a major issue for the Tide. The gap between them and Bama's top three was significant enough to truly hurt the Crimson Tide on the scoreboard. It almost cost them a qualifying to Nationals. Of course, the coaching staff in Tuscaloosa was well aware of their vulnerability and set out to do something about it this summer.
Enter Noel Rotich and Kwemoi Ndiwa.
As if three Kenyan distance studs wasn't enough, Coach Waters decided to find two more. Both just freshmen, the two newest additions to Alabama's roster will be monumental as the team looks to become a legitimate threat for the podium this fall.
Admittedly, there isn't a lot of information on these two individuals. However, we do know that Rotich was 17th at the Kenyan Junior National Cross Country Championships and holds a personal best of 8:52 in the steeplechase. A time that fast for someone as young as himself is a great sign for potential and further development.
What's even better is that his 8:52 was run at 7000 feet of altitude (nearly 2000 feet higher than Boulder, Colorado). When you take that into consideration, Rotich becomes (arguably) the best recruit of the entire summer. Who knows? Maybe he'll be just as good as Alabama's current top three...
As for the fifth scoring spot, we expect Kwemoi Ndiwa to fill that role. To be fair, this is a recruit who specializes in the mid-distances, specifically the 800 meters. However, his personal best of 1:49 shows us that he at least has enough talent to run on this varsity lineup. If you think that's unrealistic, just remember that UTEP's Jonah Koech had a very similar resume as he entered his freshman year as well.
It's hard to say how good Ndiwa will actually be, but keep in mind that he also played field hockey while in Kenya. He may have the highest ceiling in terms of fitness and breakout potential.
Of course, Ndiwa doesn't need to be a superstar like Kiprop, Kigen, or Chelanga. He just needs to be a reliable scorer who can finish middle of the pack at NCAA's. If he does that, then Alabama is almost guaranteed a spot on the podium.
For the most part, those are the five names who will make up the Alabama lineup this fall. However, other guys like Connor Ferrentino and JP Brinyark will be pressured to elevate their fitness to another level this fall. They've had some solid progression over the past year, but this team lacks depth and that can be a major concern at some of the larger invites. If someone in Alabama's top five has an off day, who will step up to fill the gap?
Regardless, the Crimson Tide are now an entirely different team with Rotich and Ndiwa on the roster. They'll give Alabama great support at the backend of the lineup and give this team a chance to compete with powerhouse programs around the nation.
It's a new era of distance running in the SEC and Alabama is leading the charge. Who knows? If things begin to click, the Crimson Tide could end up with a national title in more than just football...