Updated: Jul 21, 2018
20. Oliver Hoare, Wisconsin (JR)
It feels like Oliver Hoare didn't get enough credit for his upset title victory over Josh Kerr. The magical 10k upset from Ben Flanagan surely caught most of the headlines, but it's not everyday someone beats an NCAA record holder to win the national title. Of course, Hoare can do more than just run a fast 1500...
The fall of 2017 was a big one for the Australian. With both Morgan McDonald and Olin Hacker out for the season, the pressure was on for Hoare to provide the Badgers with a reliable low-stick. He started out strong with a respectable 8th place finish at the Louisville Classic, but struggled on his home course two weeks later placing 114th at the Wisconsin Invite. Luckily, Hoare was able to rebound and pull off a huge win at the BIG 10 Championships over eventual 10k NCAA champ Ben Flanagan.
At the Great Lakes Regional Championship, Hoare was able to secure bronze and a trip to Nationals. Unfortunately, his race at Tom Sawyer Park left something to be desired. The sophomore Badger finished the day in 185th overall.
It's clear that Hoare is a legitimate ace thanks to his huge top three finishes at BIG 10's and Great Lakes. His performances at the larger meets is something be wary of, but I think he has matured as a runner over the past year. Remember, this is the same guy who ran 3:37 for 1500 and 7:51 for 3k. If you weren't on the Ollie Hoare bandwagon then, be sure to hop on now.
19. Edwin Kurgat, Iowa State (JR)
18. Andrew Jordan, Iowa State (JR)
I'm sure that most Iowa State fans are excited for the upcoming cross country season. After Edwin Kurgat transferred to Ames during the winter, fans of the NCAA have been patiently waiting to see what a Jordan-Kurgat duo would look like during the fall. They will soon be getting their answer.
The 2017 cross country season was where we got to see Jordan make his jump in fitness. In his first real test of the season, Jordan would unleash a 24th place finish at the Wisconsin Invite and act as the top scorer for Iowa State by over 60 spots. We continued to see Jordan at the top of the results throughout the rest of the season with back-to-back 4th place finishes at BIG 12's and the Midwest regional.
After being snubbed by TSR from a Top 50 ranking, Jordan put on a show at Nationals. The young Cyclone placed 15th overall to defeat some of the best names that the NCAA had to offer. In short, Jordan proved that he was the real deal.
While Jordan was dominating meets throughout the Midwest, Kurgat was putting together one of the more underrated seasons of 2017 (while running for Tennessee Martin). He was 9th at the Louisville Classic and 5th at the Crimson Classic behind the Alabama trio and MTSU's Jacob Choge. After winning the Ohio Valley Conference title, Kurgat would place 8th in a deep South region and qualify for Nationals.
Despite having no experience on the big stage, Kurgat rose to the occasion and had the race of his life. The Tennessee Martin sophomore popped off an incredible 21st place finish to become an All-American.
Not only did these two have standout cross country seasons, but they showed great progress and development during the winter and spring. Prior to Iowa State, Kurgat had personal bests of 8:29 and 14:27. By the end of the spring, he was an All-American who had run 7:56 and 13:41.
As for Jordan, he earned a new PR of 7:56 before redshirting outdoors.
Together, Jordan and Kurgat could make a dangerous 1-2 punch. They are experienced, well rounded, consistent, and big-time performers. What more could you want?
17. Jonathan Davis, Illinois (JR)
One of the more underrated distance runners throughout last cross country season was Illinois' Jonathan Davis. Luckily, Davis began to gain some recognition after running a 3:56 mile (flat-track converted) and 7:49 3k during indoors. We may not have seen the best of Davis just yet.
Davis' 2017 cross country season began at Beantown where him and teammate Jesse Reiser took the top two spots in the race. He would later finish a respectable 13th place at the Louisville Classic. Despite the pair of strong performances, the real highlight of Davis' season was his Wisconsin Invite race where he had a breakout 6th place finish. Davis wasn't just a contender, he was one of the best in the NCAA.
The rest of Davis' season was a bit of a roller coaster ride. His 9th place finish at BIG 10's wasn't indicative of his true talent, but winning the Midwest regional title over Hassan Abdi and Andrew Jordan certainly was. Unfortunately, the Illinois sophomore would end his season nine spots out from being an All-American (49th).
There are very few guys who have as much raw talent as Davis has. When he's on the top of his game, he's incredibly difficult to beat. Although he can be a bit inconsistent, his finishes haven't been bad and they certainly haven't hurt the team score for Illinois.
16. Azaria Kirwa, Liberty (SR)
First came Sam Chelanga, then came Azaria Kirwa. Liberty may be a smaller school, but that hasn't stopped them from having a history of big-time performances. In 2018, Kirwa will continue to rep the Flames against some of the nation's top competition.
Kirwa's first test of the 2017 season would come at Paul Short where he finished runner-up to Utah State's Dillon Maggard, but ahead of Jonathan Green and Nahom Solomon. The Liberty junior would follow that up with an even bigger performance at Pre-Nats where he placed 4th overall to establish himself as a true national contender.
One of the more exciting matchups for Kirwa last fall came at the BIG South Conference Championships where he toed the line against the Campbell duo of Amon Kemboi and Lawrence Kipkoech. Even with the Camel men establishing a fast pace, Kirwa was still able to hang. Kemboi would take the win, but Kirwa would stop Campbell from sweeping the top two spots by defeating Lawrence Kipkoech.
Kipkoech would get his revenge at the Southeast Regional Championship, but Kirwa still walked away with the bronze medal. Fast forward to NCAA's and Kirwa continued to produce strong results. His 25th place finish gave him the first All-American honor of his career and validated his phenomenal string of regular season runs.
It's hard to dislike Kirwa. He has never had a bad race and is someone who can truly push the best runners in the nation to the line. He still has something to prove in his own region and conference, but there is no denying that Kirwa is a top 20 talent.
15. Alex Ostberg, Stanford (Rs. JR)
Ostberg has been a name that I've been watching since he was in high school. He has always been a fierce, unrelenting competitor who isn't afraid to mix it up with some of the best in the country. After a few quiet years at Stanford, he finally had his breakout season last fall.
Ostberg's 2017 season began at the Wisconsin Invite where he finished 12th overall to give Stanford the third best 1-2 finish of the meet (behind NAU and Syracuse). Ostberg would later place 4th at the PAC 12 Championships and prove that his Wisconsin performance was no fluke. After being rested at the West regional, Ostberg continued to break expectations and secure a 16th place finish at the National Championships.
I'm not sure if there is anything else for Ostberg to prove. He's had strong finishes at the biggest regular season invite, the biggest conference championship, and the biggest meet of the year. If he stays healthy, there's no telling what Ostberg could do.
14. Robert Brandt, UCLA (SR)
I'll admit, I'm a big Robert Brandt fan. He's an aggressive front-runner who isn't afraid to mix it up with the best names in the nation. His transfer from Cal to UCLA last year took some people by surprise, but it didn't change how talented he is.
Brandt's 2017 cross country season was his first in a Bruin uniform. His first race would take place at Roy Griak where he battled with Jerrell Mock (who has since graduated). Although he would falter in the last half mile and finish 3rd, you had to commend Brandt for his gutsy racing style.
We continued to see more great things from the UCLA junior at the Wisconsin Invite. A (slightly) more conservative approach paid dividends for Brandt who would finish 7th overall. He would continue his success in the postseason by placing 6th at the PAC 12 Championships.
After being rested at the West regional, Brandt toed the line for NCAA's. Unfortunately, his finish wasn't ideal. He placed 88th and ended his season without an All-American finish.
Aside from the sub-par finish at Nationals, it seems fair to say that Brandt has proven himself as one of the best collegiate distance runners in the western half of the country. After becoming an All-American in the 10k this past spring, Brandt will look to earn that status once more come November.
13. Lawrence Kipkoech, Campbell (Rs. SR)
For years now, I have consistently found Kipkoech at the top of most results. Not only has he established himself as one of the best long distance runners in the nation, but he has built a reputation of burning his competition with aggressive front-running tactics.
Overall, Kipkoech had an excellent 2017 cross country. However, there were a few ups and downs along the way. At Panorama Farms, he placed 2nd behind teammate Amon Kemboi, but ahead of eventual All-American Brent Demarest. The Camel men would later take their talents to Pre-Nats. It was there that Kipkoech struggled and fell off the pace to finish 23rd overall.
Fast forward to the BIG South Conference Championships and Kipkoech placed 3rd behind Kemboi and Liberty's Azaria Kirwa. He was still getting top finishes, but he seemed to be missing an edge.
Luckily, Kipkoech found his edge at the Southeast Regional Championships by defeating Kemboi and Kirwa to take the title. The Campbell veteran continued to ride that momentum into Nationals where he had a monster performance to finish 9th overall.
Although there were a few shaky moments, Kipkoech showed up when it mattered the most. He did have some clutch performances, but I'd like to see how he adjusts his racing style in bigger meets like Pre-Nats. Still, it's hard to be picky when most of his losses were essentially against the same two runners (Amon Kemboi and Azaria Kirwa).
12. Jacob Choge, Mid. Tenn. State (JR)
For the past few years, Choge has slowly become one the best runners in the South region. His youth made him standout among his competitors, but as a junior, the expectations will be higher.
Choge began last fall at the Commodore Classic where he was favored to take home the win. However, Butler's Euan Makepeace had other plans, forcing Choge to settle for runner-up. Luckily for Choge, the Louisville Classic yielded a better result of 6th overall (behind the NAU quartet and Yusuke Uchikoshi).
Instead of appearing at a larger meet like Pre-Nats or the Wisconsin Invite, Middle Tennessee opted to race at the Crimson Classic. Choge would have to battle the Alabama trio on their home course, a difficult task for anyone of any caliber. Yet, even with the odds stacked against him, Choge pulled off the upset and took the win. It was a good way to make up for his loss earlier in the season at the Commodore Classic.
After cruising to the Conference USA title, Choge settled for 3rd at in the South Regional Championships. This time, Alabama's Gilbert Kigen and Alfred Chelanga got the best of Choge.
After mixing it up with the Alabama men earlier in the season, expectations were high as Choge traveled to NCAA's. The Blue Raider sophomore would end his season placing 34th at the National Championship. It was a great All-American finish, but it did feel like Choge could have done more.
The MTSU ace is no longer the youngster that we've grown used to. In 2018, he'll be racing to prove that he is one of the NCAA elites. A handful of wins could do wonders for his resume, but NCAA's will be the race that validates his collegiate racing career so far.
11. Joe Klecker, Colorado (Rs. JR)
Another year, another top ranked Colorado distance runner. It shouldn't come as any surprise to see Joe Klecker ranked 11th in our Top 50. The three-time All-American has proven himself on the track and grass throughout his collegiate career and there is no reason to think that he will be any less successful in 2018.
Klecker's 2017 cross country season validated him not only as a runner, but as a leader as well. With John Dressel out for the season due to injury, the Buffs leaned on Klecker to support them as their top scorer.
Klecker finished 4th at the Notre Dame Invite last fall, only behind the Alabama trio. He would later go to Pre-Nats and drop another low score by placing 9th overall. Once the postseason rolled around, Klecker began to look even stronger. He finished runner-up at the PAC 12 Championships and won the Mountain region title. Yet, just like Brandt, Klecker would have an off day at Nationals and finish 67th overall.
With another year of experience on his resume, it's hard to pick against Klecker in 2018. He has a wide range of accomplishments and recently ran 13:30 (unattached) this past spring. It's a (relatively) wide-open year for the individual national title, and Klecker could the guy that ends up surprising a few people.