LetsRun.com’s Preview Of The 2012 NCAA Men’s Cross-Country Individual Race

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Lalang Or Kithuka? Who Is The Top American?

by LetsRun.com
November 15, 2012

Who will be the 2012 NCAA Cross-Country individual champion on Saturday?

One thing is certain. There will be no excuses for the runner-up.

With ideal running conditions in the forecast (high of 59, low of 34, sunny, 8 mpw winds and zero percent chance of rain), the best man should come out on top.

In our minds, there are really only two men who could win it and both hail from Kenya – which is only appropriate as foreign-born runners are going to absolutely dominate up front on Saturday.

Will Arizona’s Lawi Lalang – the man who won NCAAs last year as a frosh and has run 13:08 – win title number two and become just the 12th man to be a two-time NCAA cross country champion? Can he keep the quest alive to become the only 4-time individual champ in NCAA cross country history? (3 men have won 3 titles – Gerry Lindgren, Steve Prefontaine, Henry Rono)

Or will he be upset by Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech? The transfer from Wayland Baptist joined the Red Raiders with huge expectations. Afterall, it’s not that often that a team gets a recruit who has already run 13:28 and 28:08. But Kithuka hasn’t disappointed.

Like Lalang, he’s undefeated on the year. Not only has he won, but he’s more often than not won impressively. For example, he won the second meet of the year, the Rim Rock Farm Collegiate Classic, by 45+ seconds over eventual Big 10 champ Zachary Mayhew and 59.3 seconds over 13:33 man Andy Bayer. We know it was September 29th, but that’s ridiculous.

He also won the Cowboy Jamboree by 20+seconds, won Big 12 by 65+ seconds, and won the Mountain Regional by 19+ seconds.

Lawi Lalang’s closest race of the year

Of course, Lalang hasn’t let many stay close to him either – other than his teammate Stephen Sambu, who himself has run 13:13 and 27:28. Three times this year, Sambu has finished within 4 seconds of Lalang but no one else has come close. At the Greater Louisville Classic, 13:21 man Paul Chelimo was 26+ seconds behind Lalang. At Wisco, which featured 20 of the 31 teams at NCAAs, the third placer was some 21+ seconds behind Lalang. At Pac-12, the third placer, Oregon’s #1 Trevor Dunbar who has run 13:36, was some 38+ seconds behind. At the West Regional, Sambu (who tried his best to beat Lalang at Pac-12 but came up 1.02 seconds short) was 36+ seconds behind with Dunbar another 5 seconds in arrears.

Who Has The Edge?
We think the edge has to go to Lalang. In addition to having the better PRs on the track and being the defending champ, he’s used to top notch competition. Plus he’s got a 13:13 training partner and a world famous coach in James Li. Kithuka, who won the NAIAs last year by nearly a minute on the track, is used to running away from inferior competition.

Having Kithuka in the field might actually help Lalang, as he might not have to do all the work. If we were Lalang, we’d sit on Kithuka and let him do most of the work before trying to make a decisive move in the last 3k.

Anyone Else?
Considering the fact that Sambu has run 13:13 and 27:28 and has three times finished within 5 seconds of Lalang, Sambu also could win, particularly if Lalang is sick or off his game.

Many of the rest of the top runners are all foreign-born (in alphabetical order).

Mo Ahmed (Wisconsin) - Canada – 13:41/27:34 guy was 5th last year. Just started racing at Big 10 (3rd), Canadian Olympian.
Paul Chelimo (UNCG)
– Kenya – 13:21 last year. Runner-up at Pre-Nats this year but in that race he was 13 seconds behind Rotich. Earlier in the year, he was 26 seconds behind Lalang.
Henry Lelei (Texas A&M) - Kenya – SEC and South Central Champ was 4th at Wisco (behind Lalng, Sambu and Iona’s Matt Gillespie) and 2nd at Notre Dame. 9th last year.
Anthony Rotich (UTEP) - Kenya – Only ran 13:57 last year in track but his first year of XC has been really good. Pre-Nats and Conference USA winner, Cowboy Jamboree runner-up.

What About The Top American?
In terms of top American honors, it’s possible there isn’t an American in the top 10 overall. The American-born athlete who arguably has had the best season so far is above mentioned Indiana’s Zachary Mayhew, who won Big 10 and is a 13:53/28:55 guy.

Now we know some of you who haven’t been paying attention this year might be thinking, “What? The guy who was 45 seconds behind Lalang at Rim Rock might be the top American?”

Yes indeed. Admittedly, Mayhew likely wasn’t going all out then, but he likely was at the Wisco Invite, where he was 30 seconds behind Lalang. Casual fans need to realize that 30 seconds behind Lalang is a really good showing.

Realize last year, 10th place was American Colby Lowe and he was 47.3 seconds behind. German Fernandez was 11th some 48.8 seconds behind.

Andrew Colley at 2010 World Jr. Cross

Andrew Colley was 15th last year

There aren’t very many Americans that are sure things for the top 20 at all, as there are only two American returners from the top 20 last year, with the top being NC State’s Andrew Colley, who was third at ACCs this year. Colley, who has previously been known for having the best hair in the NCAAs (see picture right), might be known for  something more than that very soon.

The top 20 will be full of fresh faces as last year the top spots were dominated by seniors, as shown by the following chart (potential top American finishers appear in red).

Last Year’s Top 30 At NCAAs
1       11  Lawi Lalang     FR  Arizona     5:41    14:21   22:53   28:44.1 – Kenyan – see above.
2   1   561     Chris Derrick   SR  Stanford    5:41    14:33   23:14   28:57.5
3   2   246     Leonard Korir   SR  Iona    5:41    14:22   23:14   29:02.5
4       544     Cameron Levins  SR  Southern Utah   5:41    14:22   23:14   29:04.8

5   3   769     Mohammed Ahmed  JR  Wisconsin   5:42    14:33   23:15   29:06.7 – Wisco’s best bet is from Canada.
6       475     Luke Puskedra   SR  Oregon  5:40    14:29   23:17   29:09.3
7   4   383     Diego Estrada   SR  Northern Arizona    5:40    14:33   23:25   29:24.7
8   5   113     Richard Medina  SR  Colorado    5:41    14:39   23:34   29:27.8

9   6   622     Henry Lelei     JR  Texas A&M   5:42    14:33   23:26   29:29.1 – Kenyan.
10  7   457     Colby Lowe  SR  Oklahoma State  5:48    14:53   23:42   29:31.4
11  8   455     German Fernandez    SR  Oklahoma State  5:48    14:52   23:42   29:32.9
12  9   373     Ryan Hill   SR  North Carolina State    5:43    14:45   23:47   29:37.1

13      662     Paul Chelimo    SO  UNC-Greensboro  5:41    14:34   23:41   29:39.1 – Kenyan
14  10  60  Miles Batty     SR  BYU     5:46    14:45   23:44   29:40.0
15  11  370     Andrew Colley   SO  North Carolina State    5:45    14:53   23:49   29:40.0 13:44 guy was 3rd at ACC and Regional
16  12  176     David Forrester     JR  Florida State   5:43    14:52   23:49   29:40.6 – English guy is getting into shape late – 86th at Notre Dame, 12th at ACC.
17  13  776     Elliot Krause   SR  Wisconsin   5:45    14:53   23:45   29:41.6
18  14  566     Jake Riley  SR  Stanford    5:42    14:39   23:42   29:44.1
19  15  506     Donn Cabral     SR  Princeton   5:44    14:47   23:48   29:44.4
20  16  122     Andrew Wacker   SR  Colorado    5:42    14:45   23:48   29:44.8
21  17  495     Alfred Kipchumba    SR  Portland    5:50    14:53   23:49   29:48.4

22  18  65  Rex Shields     JR  BYU     5:46    14:53   23:50   29:51.5 – Hard pressed to repeat this year as he was just 15th at Regional.
23  19  773     Ryan Collins    SR  Wisconsin   5:45    14:52   23:47   29:52.2
24  20  109     Joseph Bosshard     JR  Colorado    5:47    14:53   23:49   29:53.7 – American but injured and out for season.
25      94  Eric Finan  SR  Cincinnati  5:44    14:52   23:50   29:54.6
26      47  Callum Hawkins  SO  Butler  5:44    14:52   23:50   29:56.4 – Scottish guy isn’t running NCAAs this year.
27      710     Mark Amirault   SR  Virginia    5:48    14:53   23:51   29:56.8
28      45  Dan Lowry   SR  Brown   5:48    14:58   24:01   29:57.2 – 13:34 guy now runs for Michigan. Been running well. 5th at Big 10, 3rd at Regional.
29  21  431     Bill Kogel  JR  Oklahoma    5:51    15:01   24:03   29:57.6 -50th at Wisco, 12th at Big 12, 10th at Regional
30      711     Will Mulherin   JR  Virginia Tech   5:44    14:52   24:02   29:58.1 -7:56/13:41 guy was ACC champ

Girma Mecheso Celebrates in 2010

Girma Mecheso (#58 on left) celebrates in 2010

Oklahoma State’s Girma Mecheso wasn’t born in this country but he’s a US citizen now and he very well could be the top American. He doesn’t appear on that list because he was hurt last year.

He’s back and has been running well (2nd at Big 12). He’s got the track credentials (13:34/28:16) but more importantly also  the cross-country credentials as he’s three times been top 25 at NCAAs – he was 16th in 2008, 24th in 2009 and 7th in 2010.

Prediction: Lalang wins and Mecheso is the top American.

More: *2012 Men’s Team Race Analysis

LRC NCAA Cross Country Fan Polls Men’s Predictions The first votes are in and we present to you the projections for 31 teams and 79 individuals at NCAAs. Voting still open in our $200,012 NCAA prediction contest.

LRC NCAA Cross Country Fan Polls Women’s Predictions Jordan Hasay is the favorite over Abbey D’Agostino, but you helped us rank 86 individuals and all 31 teams.

*2011 NCAA Men’s XC Photos
*2011 NCAA Men’s XC Recap
*2010 NCAA Men’s XC Photos
*2010 NCAA Men’s Cross Country Recap

Posted in: College