It's finally that time of the year! Coaches have signed new contracts, recruits are beginning to meet their new teammates, and transfers are finding new homes. With more and more teams publishing their 2018 rosters, we thought it was time to begin our annual Preseason XC Top 25 Team Rankings.
Just like last year, we'll be publishing a newly ranked team during each new day...for 25 straight days. Admittedly, 25 straight days of team rankings is a bit much. We'll be making an effort to post two teams a day whenever possible. Hopefully we can keep this under three weeks...
Our Top 25 teams are set. Unfortunately, that means there are a handful teams that won't be starting the 2018 season in our preseason rankings (don't worry, they'll have a chance to prove themselves). With that in mind, don't discount these teams. They could have a huge impact later this season...
JUST MISS (no order)
Illinois Fighting Illini'
The men of Illinois have a lot of great things going for them. Obviously, having an elite low-stick like Jonathan Davis (TSR#17) is a huge help when it comes to the team scoring.
However, Davis can only do so much on his own. After placing 6th at the Wisconsin Invite and winning the Midwest regional title, any improvement Davis makes will have little to no impact on the rest of the squad (seriously, he literally can't do any better than his finish at Midwest Regionals).
Joining Davis at the top of Illinois' scoring is Jesse Reiser who has been on the rise for the past few years. He's not the most consistent, but he has shown plenty of potential with a scatter of strong performances. As he enters his senior year, he should have the necessary experience to thrive against top level talent.
However, it's the rest of the scorers where things get a little dicey. This is a very deep team with a variety of lineup options. However, they lack the potency in the bottom half of their top seven to truly contend with some of the best in the NCAA.
Zack Smith, Dan Lathrop, and Billy Magnesen are all rising seniors who have slowly developed their fitness over the past few years. They consistently finish near each other and have a huge amount of experience. However, someone needs to step up. This team tied for 3rd in the Midwest region last year, but had to settle for 4th after Tulsa won the tiebreaker.
If one of those men or rising sophomore Jack Lalonde moves to a higher tier of fitness, this is a team that could take advantage of a relatively weaker region. The BIG 10 is also lacking some superstars and Illinois doesn't need to blow it out of the water to prosper. Still, they would benefit from someone in their depth becoming a more reliable middle scorer.
One of the more underrated teams in the NCAA hail from the BIG East. The Bulldogs were looking like a potential sleeper pick to qualify for Nationals as they entered the 2017 cross country season. However, the loss of leader Euan Makepeace (TSR#47) took this team out of contention.
Fast forward to now and the Bulldogs looks like they have the ability to regroup for another exciting season. However, we have to acknowledge the loss of senior Matt Lunbar. He was a clutch postseason performer who helped make up for the loss of Makepeace (at least somewhat). Although his departure will hurt the team, Makepeace's (assumed) re-addition to the Bulldogs should be a net benefit for this squad.
What about Barry Keane? He's one of the best kept secrets of the NCAA. As a freshman, he finished 5th in the BIG East and 12th in the Great Lakes region. If he was able to do that in his first year of collegiate competition, imagine what he can do with a year of experience under his belt.
There plenty of others names on this squad with strong credentials. Johnny Leverenz was one of the most exciting 1500 meter runners in the nation this past spring while Evan Johnson has shown promise during the postseason when he was sophomore.
In 2018, this will be a veteran squad with a lot of talented individuals that can come together and create something special. However, there are still a lot of questions to be asked. Is Euan Makepeace healthy? What is the situation with their 5th man? Can they replicate and elevate their postseason performances from last year?
With so many uncertainties and reliability questions, the Bulldogs won't be able to crack our preseason rankings. However, a strong showing early in the season could easily catapult them into our Top 25.
We haven't seen the Wildcats be a national contending team since the Tiernan, Williamsz, and Denault days. Now, the men from outside of Philadelphia look to have a promising group.
Andrew Marston (TSR#44) and Casey Comber (TSR#45) are one of the best duos in the nation. They are capable of mirroring each other's performances and are clearly some of the best in the BIG East and Mid-Atlantic. At the conference and regional level, there isn't much more that they can do.
There are a handful of 'Nova Wildcats to look at it when thinking about this year's scorers. Martin Barr showed a lot of promise as just a freshman after placing 21st at regionals. His regular season performances need to improve, but that will come with time and experience. Hopefully we will see that progress during his sophomore year of competition.
Paul Power could be another guy who finds himself in their top five. His 9th place finish at the BIG East Championships tells us that he has the potential to be a legitimate scorer for this squad in 2018. However, he'll need to be far more reliable if the Wildcats are going to make it into NCAA's this year.
This a great team, but they don't have a complete lineup. Their supporting scorers are decent, but they need to be better until Villanova is able to find a 5th man. That could be Nick Steele, Paul Nichols, or even Logan Wetzel. Whoever it is, they'll be the deciding scorer in Villanova's goal of qualifying for Nationals.
Utah State Aggies
Good news and bad news.
Good news: Utah State returns four of their five scorers from NCAA's.
Bad news: They lost one of the best runners in the NCAA (Dillon Maggard) to graduation.
The Aggies had a very underrated fall last year with a variety of strong performances throughout the regular season and postseason. Admittedly, Dillon Maggard more or less carried the scoring burden for three months and even at Nationals where he finished 6th overall.
Brody Smith will be another name not in a Utah State singlet this fall. He transferred to Purdue after finishing up his freshman year in Logan, Utah. While that may be a concern for some programs, this team is deep enough to make up for that loss. Not only are they deep, but they have a great pack-running strategy which can help minimize unexpected scoring swings in big meets.
As great as this group is, they need to remedy their loss of an elite low-stick. Maggard was a special runner who kept his squad competitive for longer than I can remember. Now, it's time for the once underclassmen to embrace their roles as upperclassmen.
Luke Beattie has shown promise as a potential long-distance ace after running 29:34 for 10,000 meters this past spring. He has developed as a runner over the past few years and is relatively consistent in his performances. Still, he'll need to make a big jump if he's going to give USU a spark up front.
James Withers is another solid name to keep your eye on. He was 16th at the Mountain West Championships and 37th in the Mountain region last year. He doesn't jump off the page in terms of his racing credentials, but he at least has the potential to add some firepower to the Aggies this fall.
Princeton will continue to be one of those teams that consistently qualifies for the National Championships. The Tigers had three months of respectable performances last year, thanks to a string of consistent finishes from most of their scorers.
Once again, Conor Lundy will be the leading ace of this team. He can end the season as an All-American finisher which should be enough to make him one of the best runners in the Ivy League and Mid-Atlantic region.
I also like what we've seen from Gannon Willcutts over the past year. This past spring, he ran 14:15 and 29:46 as a sophomore. This is someone who finished 9th at the Ivy League Championships and 8th in the Mid-Atlantic region. Don't sleep on the potential 1-2 punch of Lundy and Willcutts.
Viraj Deokar is another key scorer who found himself in the key 5th man position last year at the Ivy League Championships. They also have Steven Sum who is set to return after being M.I.A. throughout the entirety of last year. Two years of training and development could make him an interesting piece in the Tiger lineup this fall.
After those four, things get finicky. Top Ivy League scorers such as Noah Kauppila, Garrett O'Toole, and William Paulson, are no longer with the team while Wolfgang Beck and Robert Stone are two others that have graduated. Not only did Princeton lose a heavy portion of their scorers, but they also lost individuals that made up the back-end of their lineup.
Despite these roster casualties, Princeton will stay competitive. They have a history of success and a strong reputation within their conference and region. If Coach Vig continues his training regime, there is a very good chance that this program can return to the National Championship.
Michigan State Spartans
I'll admit, we may be underrating the Michigan State men. This is a solid squad with some respectable names that could have a strong impact during the 2018 season. They'll need to dip deep into their roster to stay competitive, but there is some potential for this group.
However, the loss of two veteran seniors (Clark Ruiz and Max Benoit) will be a tough pill to swallow. Having that kind of experience in your lineup certainly makes your life easier and gives you a greater sense of reliability. Now, the men from East Lansing will have to work with a slightly younger squad.
Luckily, Morgan Beadlescomb (TSR#46) is primed for an exciting 2018 season after back-to-back 5th place finishes at the BIG 10 and Great Lakes Championships last year. He'll be a great low-stick for a team that lost a nice chunk of their firepower to graduation.
I'm also a fan of the supporting scorers on this team. Jesse Hersha is an aggressive front-runner who isn't afraid to mix it up with some of the best in the nation. Brayden Law was 17th in the region as just a freshman last year. His clutch performance helped give Michigan State the regional title and some excitement for the future.
Despite the promise that we've seen out of this projected top three, the second half of this lineup doesn't jump off the page. Joe Riordan received valuable experience as a freshman last year, but he is still young and needs to make some improvements if he is to become an impact scorer. Daniel Sims is entering his senior year and will add some maturity (from an age standpoint) to this squad. However, he'll need to close the gap between him and the rest of the top three.
If Michigan State can continue to improve and find other men to fill any gaps in their depth, this is a team that could find themselves in an autoqualifying spot at regionals.
Army Black Knights
If there is any team that is under the radar, it has to be the men from West Point. We nearly forgot to add them to this list! This is a special group who could do some serious damage if all goes right.
Last year, the Black Knights surprised many fans by upsetting Navy for the Patriot League title by only four points. Their postseason success continued at the Northeast regional where they ran a strong second half to place 3rd overall. Admittedly, they were quite a ways back from the top two teams, but it was clear that Army had made significant adjustments for the postseason.
As great as the 2017 season was, there is even more to be excited about in 2018 if you're an Army fan. They return six of their top seven from regionals and have a squad that mostly consists of juniors and seniors.
This program has a lot of momentum and there is no reason to believe that they'll be any less competitive this fall. With Syracuse and Iona both graduating heavy portions of their top scorers, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Army fighting for a top two spot and maybe even a chance at qualifying for the National Championships...
HONORABLE MENTIONS (no order)
Isaac Harding looks like he has the potential to be an ace for the Wolverines this fall. However, the departure of their BIG 3 (Flanagan, Baumgarten, and Mora) as well as Billy Bund will be a huge hit to this squad. With that in mind, a history of success and a massive recruiting class may be able to compensate for at least a few scorers in their depleted lineup.
They have a great ace in Ben Veatch (TSR#29) and solid second scorer in Kyle Mau. After that, the rest of their varsity lineup gets a bit thin. Millar, Murphy, and Burks are supporting scorers that need to improve if they want to make it out of the (very) deep Great Lakes region. Luckily, incoming recruit Dustin Horter should be a huge help when points are tallied at the end of each meet.
The Lions are a solid team across the board. Between Vasbinder, Zabilski, Schreiner, and Schumacher, this may be one of the most well-rounded programs in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. However, they lacked consistency and lost two solid names to graduation (Dylan Tarpey and Ivy League champ Ryan Thomas). They'll stay in our Honorable Mentions for now, but that could easily change.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Between transfers and graduation, the Cowboys lost a ton of key names and may be in trouble this season. Still, they have a few pieces that will keep them somewhat competitive. Ryan Smeeton showed a lot of promise as a freshman last year while Isai Rodriguez and Kevin Mulcaire almost went unnoticed during the spring season despite running PR's of 13:53 and 14:05, respectively. There may be a lot of pressure, but the Cowboys can still make it to Nationals this fall.
You have to be excited about the 1-2 punch of Jaret Carpenter and Curt Eckstein. Both of these guys are young, but show a lot of potential. They could contend with the superstars of their conference and region this fall. The addition of Brody Smith from Utah State could help, but Purdue's supporting scorers will need to improve if this team wants to make it to the Big Dance.
Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies will be hurting after graduating a heavy portion of veterans this past spring. Joseph, Gourley, Ciattei, and Jaskowak were all scorers that had a respectable impact on the team. Replacing them will be hard, but the Hokies still have plenty of decent athletes. With Peter Seufer (TSR#31) leading the way, supporting scorers like Jack Joyce, Fitsum Seyoum, and Diego Zarate will help keep the Hokies afloat.