2014 NCAA Regionals Men’s Cross-Country Preview: Who’s On Track To Qualify For The Big Dance?

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By Jonathan Gault
November 11, 2014

NCAA Regional weekend means different things to different cross-country teams. For a top-ranked squad swimming in at-large points, such as #1 Colorado or #3 Syracuse, the goal is to make it through the 10k race expending as little energy as possible with the knowledge that a far more important 10k race awaits just eight days later.

For squads on the bubble, such as #23 Tulsa, #26 Oklahoma and unranked Iowa State (but #33 in terms of votes), who will likely be battling it out for just two spots in the Midwest, the goal is to run their best race of the season — anything less and they likely will miss the Big Dance. And for some teams — like any unranked team in the Northeast or a team like Boise State or Arizona State in the West — the goal is to run to the best of their ability and pray that a team with points has an off day, pushing them into NCAAs. Regional weekend is equal parts nerve-wracking and exciting, the penultimate step in a season-long quest.

Part of the difficulty of following Regional weekend is that it’s hard to definitively say who is in or who is out of the NCAA Championships because at-large berths are determined in part by the results of Regionals. Move a team up or down a few places from their projected finish and things change. Do that in every region — there are nine in total — and you produce a ton of different scenarios, each one selecting teams to NCAAs in a slightly different order.

I can’t tell you for sure who the qualifiers for NCAAs will be until the races have been run, but I can tell you the qualifiers given a certain set of results at Regionals. Harvard PhD candidate (and former Duke runner) Bo Waggoner has written a computer program that determines the qualifiers to NCAAs based on seasonal and Regional results. He was kind enough to share the program with LetsRun.com last year and has done so again in 2014. Below, you will find the list of men’s teams who will qualify for NCAAs if the current USTFCCCA Regional Rankings hold.

Automatically selected (projected to finish top-two at Regionals)
1 Wisconsin
2 Michigan
3 Villanova
4 Georgetown
5 Oklahoma State
6 Tulsa
7 Colorado
8 NAU
9 Syracuse
10 Iona
11 Florida State
12 Mississippi
13 Arkansas
14 Texas
15 Furman
16 NC State
17 Oregon
18 Portland

At-large teams*
19 Stanford
20 UNC
21 Virginia
22 Washington
23 UCLA
24 New Mexico
25 BYU
26 Air Force
27 Colorado State
28 Southern Utah
29 Providence
30 Eastern Kentucky
31 Oklahoma

*It was necessary to make a few assumptions based on whether a school was was running an A team or a B team at a certain meet. Check out this article for those assumptions, as well as the logic behind why each team was selected.

Total bids by region

7: Mountain
5: Southeast, West
3: Northeast, Midwest
2: South, Mid-Atlantic, South Central, Great Lakes

Ranked Teams That Will Be Left Out

#20 Indiana
#24 Penn State
#27 Michigan State
(Indiana and Michigan State would be the first two teams out)

Unranked Teams That Would Be Dancing
Colorado State (Unranked but #32 in the votes)
Eastern Kentucky (Unranked but #34 in the votes)
Mississippi (Uranked but #35 in the votes)
Texas (Unranked but #36 in the votes)

Below, you’ll find analysis of all nine regions. There’s a quick cheat sheet of the teams/regions to watch for at the bottom of the article.

South Regional

Apalachee State Park, Tallahassee, Florida
Start times: 9 a.m. ET (women); 10 a.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #21 Florida State
  2. Mississippi
  3. Auburn
  4. Middle Tennessee State
  5. Georgia Tech
  6. Lipscomb
  7. South Alabama

In the last four years, the South has qualified exactly one men’s at-large team: Georgia in 2011, when the Bulldogs were the last team into NCAAs. It’s unlikely that the South will add to that total in 2014 unless Florida State blows up and finishes third. The real battle will be for the second auto spot between Mississippi and Auburn.

The Rebels were surprisingly close to Arkansas at the SEC Championships, losing out on the title by six points. Second in the SEC – the worse major conference in the sport – might not seem that impressive since it’s a down year for the conference, but for Ole Miss and second-year coach Ryan Vanhoy, who guided Eric Jenkins from 14:04 to a 13:18 during his seven months at Northeastern, it’s a massive accomplishment. The Rebels were 10th the last two years and hadn’t finished higher than 5th since 1984. Now they’re on the brink of their first-ever NCAA appearance. How did Vanhoy turn around the program so quickly? Take a look at the Rebels’ five scorers at SECs:

3. Wes Gallagher, jr. — Northeastern transfer (where Vanhoy used to coach)
6.  Sean Tobin, so. — ’13 Irish HS XC champ joined team during ’14 indoor season.
7. Robert Domanic, so. — 5th at ’12 NXNl already there when Vanhoy arrived.
19. Taylor Caldwell, fr. — 8th at ’13 NXN; recruited by Vanhoy
25. Mark Robertson, fr. — 9:18 guy in HS; recruited by Vanhoy

Vanhoy’s not using smoke and mirrors; he’s quickly put together a real team that could become a top-25 threat in a few years if all the talent develops. It will be interesting to see how this team — and Vanhoy as a super young coach (he graduated college in 2009) — progresses over the next few years. Defeating Auburn (whom Ole Miss beat, 60-77, at SECs) and finishing second at regionals on Friday would be a good next step.

Southeast Regional

E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, Louisville, Kentucky
Start times: 12 p.m. ET (women); 1 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #16 Furman
  2. #18 NC State
  3. #22 North Carolina
  4. #28 Virginia
  5. Eastern Kentucky
  6. Virginia Tech
  7. Louisville

The top four teams in this region are very even but all should punch their tickets to Terre Haute if they finish according to the Regional Rankings. Eastern Kentucky, with wins over Tulsa, NC State, Colorado State and Southern Utah, is also a good bet to qualify from this region, giving the Southeast five teams at NCAAs. One thing that would help this region is if Villanova runs four of the same guys at Regionals as they did at the Washington Invitational on October 4. That would give Virginia an additional point, raising their chances of getting in (and the chances of anyone who beats them at Regionals, such as UNC). Individually, look for Louisville’s Kenyan pair of Ernest Kibet and Edwin Kibichiy and Eastern Kentucky’s Amos Kosgey to be near the front.

Northeast Regional

Van Cortlandt Park, New York, New York
Start times: 12 p.m. ET (women); 1 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #3 Syracuse
  2. #5 Iona
  3. #19 Providence
  4. Cornell
  5. Dartmouth
  6. Yale
  7. Columbia

Syracuse and Iona are virtual locks to grab the auto spots in this region. The Orange has qualified for NCAAs five years in a row (winning the region four of those times) while Iona has made it to the big dance every year since 2002. Syracuse is so deep that its top two guys could have a bad day and the Orange would still auto-qualify. And it’s unlikely Providence leapfrogs Iona after the Gaels beat them by 173 points at Wisconsin without Kieran Clements (who returned to action at the MAAC Championships).

Providence will likely take third and get in on its own, and the only way anyone else from the region gets in is if Providence has an awful day and finishes fourth, pushing a team like Cornell or Dartmouth into NCAAs (Editor’s note: LRC has run the computer program, if Providence is fourth, they will almost certainly push whoever is third in).

Some may be surprised that a region that sent six teams last in 2013 could only send three a year later, but that is likely to be the case this year and not that shocking as this region historically hasn’t been a big producer of NCAA spots, Last year was the anomaly – not this year. Blame the Ivy League — all three Heps squads that made it from the Northeast last year (Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard) graduated a bunch of key contributors. Here’s what they lost from last year’s Regional:

Columbia: Jake Sienko (#1 runner, 6th overall); Nico Composto (#3 runner, 10th overall); John Gregorek (#4 runner, 23rd overall); Joe Kotran (#5 runner, 30th overall). People who are criticizing first-year coach Dan Ireland need to wait a few years as it’s hard to replace four of your top five.

Harvard: Maksim Korolev (#1 runner, 1st overall); James Leakos (#2 runner, 33rd overall); Kurt Ruegg (#6 runner, 52nd overall)

Dartmouth: Will Geoghegan (#1 runner, 5th overall); John Bleday (#2 runner, 8th overall); Steve Mangan (#3 runner, 27th overall); Henry Sterling (#6 runner, 34th overall). Dartmouth didn’t run well at Heps but overall they’ve been surprisingly good in 2014 given what they lost.

Looking at those losses, it makes what Syracuse has accomplished in 2014 even more impressive. SU lost its #2 (Robert Molke, 4th overall), #3 (Griff Graves, 13th overall) and #6 (Joe Whelan, 22nd overall) runners from Regionals last year yet is still much better this year than it was in 2013.

Mid-Atlantic Regional

Blue and White Golf Course, University Park, Pennsylvania
Start times: 12 p.m. ET (women); 1 p.m. ET (men)

The Princeton men won Heps comfortably but they're far from a lock to make NCAAs.

The Princeton men won Heps comfortably but they’re far from a lock to make NCAAs. (Photo courtesy of Sami Aziz)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #7 Villanova
  2. #14 Georgetown
  3. #24 Penn State
  4. Princeton (1st unranked team, #31 in votes)
  5. Navy
  6. Penn
  7. Bucknell

Penn State and Princeton are in near-identical situations. Both teams ran poorly during the regular season (11th at Notre Dame, 9th at Pre-Nats for Penn State; 8th at Notre Dame, 23rd at Wisconsin for Princeton) before running their best races of the season at conference (Penn State was third at Big 10s behind heavyweights Wisconsin and Michigan; Princeton routed the Heps with 30 points). However, none of the teams Penn State or Princeton beat at their conference meets are projected to make it to NCAAs. That means it will be exceedingly difficult for the Nittany Lions or Tigers to garner an at-large spot. They almost certainly need to be top two to go dancing.

It’s seems almost impossible that Villanova, which has qualified for seven straight NCAA Championships and has three strong front runners in Patrick Tiernan, Sam McEntee and Jordy Williamsz (who went 1-2-3 at Big East), misses out on an auto spot. That leaves Georgetown, which was second at Big Easts (behind Nova) and third at Pre-Nats as the team that Penn State and Princeton need to beat. With wins over Furman, Tulsa, Texas, Mississippi, NC State and Colorado State, the Hoyas should have enough points to go even if they get third. The big question at this meet is: can one (or both) of Penn State and Princeton leapfrog Georgetown into NCAAs? Obviously if Penn State or Princeton finishes second, it will go automatically. If Georgetown blows up and takes fourth, both Penn State and Princeton could make it (one automatically, one pushed in by Georgetown). The most likely scenario is still Georgetown finishing second (shutting out Penn State and Princeton) but if the Hoyas falter and Penn State/Princeton run like they did at their conference meets, the Mid-Atlantic could end up sending three or four teams.

The weird thing about Regionals is the individual at-large spots depend on the team results as at least the top four individuals not on a qualifying team advance (assuming they are in the top 25 of the region). Heps champ Tommy Awad (13:48 5,000 PR) has a lock on one of those spots. Patriot League champ Steve Schroeder of Navy, who ran 14:02 as a sophomore last year, is looking strong as well.

South Central Regional

Agri Park, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Start times: 1 p.m. ET (women); 2 p.m. ET (men) 

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #24 Arkansas
  2. Texas
  3. Lamar
  4. North Texas
  5. Texas A&M
  6. Rice
  7. UT Arlington 

The South Central makes the South region look like a powerhouse. Though it seems impossible to believe, the South Central hasn’t sent a men’s at-large team to NCAAs since 2002. 2002! That usually means that Arkansas and Texas have what amounts to a bye to NCAAs (Arkansas has missed qualifying once in the past 40 years; Texas once in the past 10). History looks set to repeat itself in 2014, as SEC champion Arkansas is the only ranked team in the region. Texas, which was seventh at Pre-Nats and fourth at Big 12s, seems likely to grab the other spot. Lamar is ranked third in the region and I’d like to tell you what they’ve done this season, but the cross country page on their website still has the 2013 schedule even though it’s now November 2014 (Looking at TFRRS, they’ve done nothing of note nationally, taking 29th at Wisconsin, but did score just 20 points at the Southland Conference meet).

One could make a convincing argument to combine the South and South Central regions. If they merged to form a single region (the South South Central? Or maybe This Is the South, We Don’t Care About XC, Just Football?), that would free up two more at-large spots for the rest of the country. If you look at the two regions’ recent history at NCAAs, it’s not very impressive:

Men

YearSouth teamsSouth Central teams
2013Florida, 29thArkansas, 12th
Georgia, 31stTexas, 14th
2012Florida State, 5thTexas, 9th
Georgia, 19thArkansas, 10th
2011Florida State, 12thTexas, 11th
Georgia, 29thTexas A&M, 18th
Florida, 30th
2010Florida State, 2ndArkansas, 10th
Alabama, 11thTexas, 26th
2009Alabama, 3rdArkansas, 26th
Auburn, 25thTexas, 28th
Florida State, 30th

Women

YearSouth teamsSouth Central teams
2013Florida State, 8thArkansas, 15th
Vanderbilt, 27thSMU, 31st
2012Florida State, 4thArkansas, 18th
Florida, 23rdTexas, 25th
Vanderbilt, 27th
Georgia, 30th
2011Florida State, 4thArkansas, 14th
Vanderbilt, 6thTexas, 26th
2010Florida State, 2ndTexas, 20th
Florida, 29thRice, 31st
2009Florida State, 2ndSMU, 25th
Florida, 7thBaylor, 28th

Here are the biggest issues with combining the regions:

1. Travel

Schools would have to travel further to the regional championship site. In a region that stretches from central Texas to South Florida, that could be inconvenient, forcing schools to fly to a meet that they could previously drive to. Then again, the Mountain Region stretches from the U.S.-Canada border in Montana to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, so I’m sure they can figure it out.

2. Teams could start getting stronger

These things go in waves. Remember how we said the Northeast sent six teams last year but will likely only send three this year? That could happen in the South/South Central too, only in reverse (though given the regions’ track records, it seems less likely to happen).

3. Too many teams

Last year, 26 men’s teams ran at the South Regional, while 21 men’s teams ran at the South Central Regional (the women’s numbers were 27 and 20). That means lining up 47 teams on a cross country course — a total of 329 athletes (assuming each school sends seven runners). That’s not a huge deal in a 10k since the majority of those schools are uncompetitive and the field will string out relatively quickly. But navigating that traffic could be problematic in 6k women’s race, especially if the course is muddy.

To be honest, I know this isn’t going to happen. I just was going through the intellectual exercise of imagining what it would look like.

Forty-seven women’s teams on the start line at a regional championship would be a mess and it’s not as if those extra auto-spots are keeping out national title contenders. Perhaps the NCAA could adopt a provision such as removing an auto spot if a region only has one ranked team entering regionals (though this could lead to biased coaches’ polls), but the best option is probably to keep things the same and endure years like this one, where a flawed team like Mississippi or Texas can snag an auto bid. 

It’s less of a hassle to keep the South and South Central separate, even though the two regions have a history of sending sub-par teams to NCAAs. In basketball, the 68 best teams don’t make the Big Dance. In cross country, if a few unranked teams don’t go dancing, it’s not the end of the world. As an Ivy League grad, I certainly don’t want to see the Ivy’s auto spot in the basketball tournament going by the wayside as a result of a similar exercise.

Midwest Regional

Newman Golf Course, Peoria, Illinois
Start times: 1 p.m. ET (women); 2 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #4 Oklahoma State
  2. #23 Tulsa
  3. #26 Oklahoma
  4. Iowa State
  5. Missouri
  6. Illinois
  7. Minnesota 

The Midwest is going to be one of the key regions to watch on Friday. Oklahoma State is all but assured of a spot after dominating Big 12s; the Cowboys have made it to NCAAs 11 straight years. Tulsa and Oklahoma are well-positioned to go, but it could be close; Oklahoma is the last team in according to Bo Waggoner’s projection based on Regional Rankings. As things stand, Iowa State is on the outside looking in, but if the Cyclones beat Oklahoma (and everything else stays as is), we’ve run the program and Iowa State would become the final team to get into NCAAs. If not, the Cyclones could endure another year of heartbreak — they were the highest-ranked team (#24) not to make NCAAs last year.

When Martin Smith took over for Cory Ihmels last year, he was able to guide the ISU men to their best-ever finish at Big 12s (second), but he couldn’t get them back to NCAAs for the first time since 2009 (they were third at Regionals, which was their best showing since ’09). For Smith and the Cyclones to take the next step, they’ll need to make up ground on Oklahoma (who beat them by 15 points at Big 12s) and finish third or better on Friday.

Great Lakes Regional

Zimmer Championship Course, Madison, Wisconsin
Start times: 1 p.m. ET (women); 2 p.m. ET (men)

Mick Byrne, Michael Van Voorhis and Malachy Schrobilgen should lead the Badgers to their 43rd straight NCAA meet

Mick Byrne, Michael Van Voorhis and Malachy Schrobilgen should lead the Badgers to their 43rd straight NCAA meet. (Photo courtesy of Badger Track)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #6 Wisconsin
  2. #12 Michigan
  3. #20 Indiana
  4. #27 Michigan State
  5. Eastern Michigan
  6. Notre Dame
  7. Indiana State

Over the past 12 years, the Great Lakes Region has sent 61 teams to NCAAs — an average of just over five per year. If the Regional Rankings hold in 2014, the Great Lakes will send just two. Even if the Spartans beat the Hoosiers on Friday (they’ve lost to IU at Wisconsin and Big 10s), they won’t be able to grab an at-large spot if the rest of the results proceed according to the Regional Rankings. MSU and IU need a team in another region to blow up. Since they’re the next two schools in, if another team with points has a bad day, Michigan State or Indiana would fill that spot (depending on who finishes higher at the Regional).

The top two spots are likely to go to Wisconsin and Michigan, who went 1-2 at Big 10s two weeks ago. The Badgers xc team, with 42 straight NCAA appearances, are among the surest bets in all of collegiate sports; they’ll make it 43, whether that means auto-qualifying or using their bevy of points from the Wisconsin Invitational (where they were third). Michigan should also make it in even if it comes in third or fourth (the Wolverines won Notre Dame and were ninth at Wisconsin, giving them plenty of points).

Individually, this might be the hardest region to qualify for NCAAs. Indiana State’s John Mascari, Purdue’s Matt McClintock and Michigan State’s Caleb Ryhnard qualified as individuals last year and finished as All-Americans; all three are back this year. Add in Butler’s Erik Peterson (4th at Big Easts, 10th at Pre-Nats, 2nd at Notre Dame) and it’s going to be really difficult for anyone else to grab one of the four individual spots to NCAAs.

Mountain Regional

UNM North Golf Course, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Start times: 2 p.m. ET (women); 3 p.m. ET (men) 

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #1 Colorado
  2. #10 Northern Arizona
  3. #13 New Mexico
  4. #15 BYU
  5. #29 Air Force
  6. Colorado State
  7. #30 Southern Utah

Welcome to the deepest region in the NCAA. The Mountain Region is currently projected to send seven teams to the Big Dance after sending six in 2013 (Mountain Region teams took three of the top four places at NCAAs). Six of the teams listed above are in good position; Air Force will need a little help. The Falcons didn’t do themselves any favors in the regular season, finishing just 12th at Notre Dame and 18th at Pre-Nats (losing to the likes of Yale and Washington State) but rebounded to defeat Colorado State at the Mountain West Championships, finishing second overall. If Air Force can beat Colorado State once again (or even Southern Utah) on Friday, that should be enough to push them into NCAAs. Weber State, which almost beat Southern Utah at the Big Sky meet (SUU held on, 66-67), could also get pushed into NCAAs with a good race even though it can’t get in on its own (though Weber State and Air Force couldn’t both go to NCAAs as only one team can get pushed into NCAAs in each region). With the top four spots spoken for barring a blowup, the key will be which schools finish in spots five, six and seven.

With seven teams possibly dancing, it’s worth reminding everyone that an individual has to be in the top 25 at Regionals to get one of the four at-large spots. If there aren’t four individuals in the top 25, those spots go into a nationwide at-large pool (which includes the fifth and sixth individuals in each region that also finished in the top 25).

West Regional

Stanford Golf Course, Stanford, California
Start times: 2 p.m. ET (women); 3 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #2 Oregon
  2. #8 Portland
  3. #9 Stanford
  4. #11 Washington
  5. #17 UCLA
  6. Boise State
  7. Arizona State

Traditionally one of the strongest regions, the West only sent three teams to NCAAs last year; expect that number to be higher in 2014, as five squads are currently projected to make it. Oregon, Portland and Stanford are locks to make it after racking up points at Pre-Nats and Wisconsin. Washington and UCLA ran well enough early in the season that they should end up going as well. UCLA enters with some question marks though, as the Bruins were fifth at Pac-12s with 168 points; they were much closer to sixth-place Arizona State (182) than fourth-place Washington (87). If the Sun Devils or Boise State (fourth in the Mountain West but six points behind second) can take fifth and UCLA finishes sixth, the fifth-placer will get pushed into NCAAs. But things have to break exactly right; if UCLA runs terribly and finishes seventh (with Boise State and Arizona State fifth and sixth), Boise State and Arizona will have effectively blocked each other from going to NCAAs. Neither team will have the requisite points to go on their own and UCLA can’t push both of them in. That’s the disaster scenario for all three schools.

Pay Attention To …

If you read the whole preview, you’ll know which schools/regions to look out for, but I’ll recap them quickly here.

  • Southeast: This region should send five schools, but pay attention to the fourth/fifth-placers since they are likely to be among the final teams selected (Furman, NC State, UNC, Virginia and Eastern Kentucky are all in the conversation).
  • Northeast: Cornell, Dartmouth or any other team not nationally-ranked would need a HUGE race (and a bad race by Providence) to get pushed in. Don’t count on it.
  • Mid-Atlantic: Villanova is going for sure, but the number of at-large bids depends on how Georgetown does. If the Hoyas are fourth, Penn State and Princeton could both end up going. If the Hoyas are second, no one else will qualify from the region.
  • Midwest: This region will probably only send three teams. Tulsa, Oklahoma and Iowa State will battle to join Oklahoma State in Terre Haute.
  • Great Lakes: Indiana and Michigan State have a shot at qualifying but will need some help in other regions.
  • Mountain: Look for seven teams to qualify — the question is whether Air Force or Weber State can be one of those by finishing in the top six and getting pushed in.
  • West: Boise State or Arizona State could get pushed in if UCLA drops to sixth (but no lower).

What do you think? Vote in the 2014 LetsRun.com Regional Polls. We’ll compile the votes and then run the computer program to see who gets in and who is left home after the fans vote.

Discuss in our fan forum: 2014 NCAA Cross Country Regionals – Let the madness begin.


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