Teams are hard to rank when you're coming off of a long summer of training. There are often new transfers, new recruits, improvements over the track season, coaching changes, and others who run out of eligibility. Organizing the Top 25 is certainly not an easy task...
But at TSR, we have decided to put together our Top 25 teams and update them throughout the fall. Some of our picks may surprise you...
The criteria for our team rankings will be very similar to our individual rankings. At the same time, we will also look at aspects of a team such as low-sticks, depth, returners, consistency, and so much more.
JUST MISS (in no order)
NC State Wolfpack
Last year, we saw the Wolfpack find their rhythm in the post-season by placing 3rd at ACC's and shocking the Southeast region to earn the title (and an automatic qualifier). They would eventually go on to place 22nd at NCAA's.
NC State returns a solid group from last year as a majority of their squad will become experienced upperclassmen. Unfortunately, they lost a key low-stick in George Parsons as well as their #2 man Aubrey Myjer. It's expected that a team loses key runners every year, but losing their top two from 2016 will certainly hurt the Wolfpack this fall.
I believe in this program and I believe that they have some young talent who can rally around their depth and make it back to NCAA's. However, they'll need to find someone who can take the role that George Parsons has now left.
It was tough leaving the Braves off the list. They have been kept under the radar for years now and are certainly on the rise. They return a legitimate low-stick in Michael Ward and have a reliable group to support him.
This isn't a team that takes advantage of weak fields, either. The Braves toed the line at Notre Dame and Pre-Nats in 2016 and did quite well by earning Kolas points (wins) over NC State and Texas. They also defeated other respectable teams like Furman, Cal, and San Francisco.
The future is bright for the Braves, but they lost two key pieces in Patrick Campbell and Caleb Beck due to graduation. Because of that, they will be kept outside of our Top 25 until they show that they have guys who can fill their gaps in the scoring.
Yes, Texas struggled in 2016. They placed 30th at NCAA's and failed to gain a single Kolas point in 2016. Still, this is a squad that brings back their entire top five from Nationals, three of whom were underclassmen. This fall, the Longhorns will most likely build upon their experiences from last year and get a boost with the addition of high school star Sam Worley added to the roster.
There are certainly a lot of areas to address, but I think it's safe to say that Texas is trending in the right direction.
Big Blue had a very up and down year in 2016. They showed promise at Roy Griak and Pre-Nats, but struggled in the post-season and were unable to make NCAA's. There were some problems with their depth and other guys just didn't have the experience to prosper at BIG 10's or the Great Lakes Regional Championships.
Luckily, there are a lot of good things about UM's upcoming 2017 season. Although Connor Mora is gone, he will be replaced by an experienced Michigan veteran in Ben Flanagan who is coming off of a redshirt season. At the same time, Aaron Baumgarten returns as a strong low-stick who is hungry to make-up for missing out on NCAA's last fall. Others like Billy Bund and Jordan Hewitt showed promise last year as just freshman and will be able to capitalize on another year of experience.
Despite all of the positives and encouraging signs, the loss of Mora and Connor Herr is a big hit to this team. At the same time, the Wolverines are still very young and inexperienced. For all of those reasons, Michigan will start the season outside of the Top 25.
But if there was a 26th team? The men from Ann Arbor would be my choice...
Ole Miss Rebels
Is there a team more exciting than the Rebels have been in the past three years? Ryan Vanhoy has taken this program from just being just another average SEC team to an NCAA distance running powerhouse. Some have even proclaimed this team as "the Oregon of the south".
That said, the Rebels lost a HUGE portion of their 2016 squad to graduation which is the biggest reason why they won't start the 2017 season in our Top 25. MJ Erb, Wes Gallagher, Robert Domanic, and Craig Engels are all out of eligibility and will leave this Ole Miss squad scrambling to find replacement pieces. Luckily, they still keep a low-stick in Sean Tobin.
The Rebels success will depend on how guys like Derek Gutierrez, Taylor Caldwell, Mark Robertson, and incoming freshman Waleed Suliman perform this season. If they can show significant improvement and stay reliable, then there is no reason that Ole Miss can't return to NCAA's and sneak into our Top 25.
Honorable Mentions (in no order)
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Virginia Tech Hokies
Eastern Michigan Eagles
Utah State Aggies
California Golden Bears