2015 NCAA XC Conference Preview, Part I: What To Watch On Friday

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By LetsRun.com
October 29, 2015

It’s conference week across the country, which is a very good thing in college cross-country. Conference results matter to athletes, coaches and alumni, and while teams may leave a banged-up athlete on the bench for conference, most of the squads we see this weekend will resemble the ones that will toe the line at NCAAs in Louisville in three weeks’ time.

College XC can be hard to follow as it is, and considering few of these meets are televised, much of what we’ll have to go on this weekend comes in the form of tweets, Instagram posts and result pages. However you’re following the action (hopefully at a cross country course near you), we’ve got you covered with our preview below. We’ll hit all the major conferences and tell you what storylines to monitor this weekend.

This is the first of a two-part preview. Part I will preview the Friday meets (except for the Heps, which has its own men’s preview here). Part II will deal with the rest of the weekend’s action.

We’re going chronologically, which means we start with…

ACC Championships (Apalachee Regional Park, Tallahassee, Fla.)
When: 
Friday, 9:00 a.m. ET
Ranked men’s teams: No. 2 Syracuse, No. 7 Virginia, No. 12 NC State, No. 18 Virginia Tech
Ranked women’s teams: No. 7 Virginia, No. 8 NC State, No. 16 Syracuse, No. 17 Notre Dame, No. 29 North Carolina
Results will be posted: HERE

The first conference meet of the weekend is also one of the few that you can watch live online — WatchESPN will air both the men’s and women’s races live beginning at 9:00 a.m. ET on Friday. This also figures to be one of the most compelling races in America this weekend.

Storylines

  • Can the Syracuse men stay perfect? Not only have the No. 2 Orange won both of their races in 2015 (the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown on September 25 and the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on October 16), but they’ve also won both ACC XC titles since joining the conference in 2013 (they also won their final conference meet in the Big East in 2012). Syracuse will be favored to three-peat, but No. 7 Virginia, who finished fourth at Wisconsin, could pose a challenge. The Orange soundly defeated the Cavaliers at Wisconsin, 101-238 and had three men in before UVA’s #1. It’s hard to see Virginia overcoming that, but Syracuse can’t take the Cavs lightly.

    Syracuse's Knight already owns school records at 1500 and 5,000 as a true freshman

    Knight at World XC earlier this year

  • Who will win the individual race? This is the most compelling individual battle of the weekend (sorry Pac-12, we expect Edward Cheserek to rebound with a win). Thomas Curtin of Virginia Tech, who defeated Cheserek to win Pre-Nats, would be a no-brainer in most conferences, but it’s possible he doesn’t even finish in the top three at ACCs. Justyn Knight of Syracuse almost won Wisconsin before Tulsa’s Marc Scott unleashed the kick from hell, while Knight’s teammates Martin Hehir (4th at Wisco; defending ACC champ) and Colin Bennie (6th) have been right with him all year. And don’t forget about Virginia’s Henry Wynne (9th at Wisco), Duke’s Shaun Thompson (7th at Pre-Nats, beat Curtin at Princeton Inter-Regional) or Louisville’s Edwin Kibichiy (13th at Pre-Nats). We’ll give Knight the slight edge, but Curtin should be right there duking it out with him.
  • No. 7 Virginia vs. No. 8 NC State in the women’s race. Thanks to their surprising third-place finish at Wisconsin, Virginia leaped from No. 17 to No. 7 in the most recent coaches’ poll. They’re essentially neck-and-neck with No. 8 NC State, who took fourth at Wisco and could easily have beaten the Cavs had Ryen Frazier not bled places over the final kilometer (Virginia finished 23 points ahead). If Frazier can return to top form, she could be the difference in a very close race. Behind them, Syracuse (11th at Wisco) and Notre Dame (12th) should battle it out for third and could surprise the top two on the right day.
  • Can Ryen Frazier rebound? Frazier, a true freshman, impressively won the Notre Dame Invitational on October 2 but struggled in her first collegiate 6k, fading to 38th at Wisco after running with the leaders most of the way. ACCs will once again be contested over 6k, which could give the edge to NCAA 10k champ Molly Seidel of Notre Dame, who was the top ACC finisher at Wisconsin (2nd). ND frosh Anna Rohrer (12th at Wisco), NC State senior Samantha George (13th at Wisco) and Syracuse senior Margo Malone (17th at Wisco, top returner from 2014 ACCs) should all also be in the mix. We’ll go with Seidel FTW.

Talk about the ACC on our messageboard: Odds of Duke Showing up to ACC Champs this year?

SEC Championships (Dale Watts Cross Country Course, College Station, Tex.)
When: 
Friday, 11:00 a.m. ET
Ranked men’s teams: No. 8 Arkansas
Ranked women’s teams: No. 4 Arkansas, No. 13 Mississippi State, No. 26 Vanderbilt
Results will be posted: HERE

Storylines

  • Does Ole Miss have any fight left in them? Ranked No. 15 by the coaches in the preseason (and No. 9 by us), the Rebels were a trendy pick to unseat five-time defending champions Arkansas in the SEC. But the Rebels have flopped, taking 4th at the Greater Louisville Classic and, most distressing, 24th at Wisconsin. Meanwhile Arkansas, despite the loss of All-American Stanley Kebenei, has exceeded expectations, taking third at Pre-Nats two weeks ago. Ole Miss was missing Wes Gallagher (3rd at SECs last year) at Wisconsin, but even if he runs SECs, the rest of the team will need to step up for the Rebels to have any chance of pulling off the upset.

    Scott at NCAAs last year

    Scott en-rout to a 6th-place finish at NCAAs last year

  • Can anyone beat Dominique Scott and the Arkansas women? Scott and Arkansas will both be going for the three-peat on Friday and they will be heavily favored to retain their titles. Led by Scott’s third-place finish, the Razorback women finished an impressive second at Wisconsin. The only squad that could challenge them is No. 13 Mississippi State, which was fifth at Pre-Nats behind the 1-2 punch of Marta Freitas (12th) and NCAA 1500 champ Rhianwedd Price (14th). That won’t be enough to topple Arkansas, and Scott is a better XC runner than both Freitas and Price. Rather, the best bet to beat Scott is Tennessee’s Chelsea Blaase (3rd at Pre-Nats), who was 10th at NCAAs last fall.

Talk about the SEC on our messageboard: SEC Cross Country.

Pac-12 Championships (Colfax Golf Club, Colfax, Wash.)
When: 
Friday, 1:30 p.m. ET
Ranked men’s teams: No. 1 Colorado, No. 3 Oregon, No. 15 UCLA, No. 20 Washington, No. 21 California, No. 23 Stanford
Ranked women’s teams: No. 3 Colorado, No. 5 Oregon, No. 10 Stanford, No. 12 Washington, No. 19 Utah
Results will be posted: HERE

With question marks surrounding the Colorado men and Stanford men and women, we may learn more about NCAAs from this meet than any other this weekend. If you want to watch video of this race, you’ll have to wait three days — the Pac-12 Network will air tape-delayed coverage on Monday night at 9:00 p.m. ET.

Storylines

  • McGorty winning the U.S. junior XC title in 2014

    McGorty winning the U.S. junior XC title in 2014

    Who will suit up for the Stanford men? Stanford’s No. 23 national ranking is not indicative of its potential at NCAAs. At full strength, the Cardinal men are as good as anyone in the country — and good enough to potentially challenge No. 1 Colorado, which has won this meet every year since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. But Stanford has yet to run a full-strength team in any meet this year. Part of that is by design — coach Chris Miltenberg had success with the same approach last year — but part of it is due to injuries. Neither Jim Rosa (5th at NCAAs in ’13) nor 13:54 man Collin Leibold have raced this fall. Sam Wharton, 39th at NCAAs in 2014, was only 200th at Wisconsin in his first race in six months following a stress fracture. Even Joe Rosa, who was an impressive second at the Washington Invitational, didn’t race at Wisconsin (whether this is injury-related is unclear). Then there’s Grant Fisher, the freshman phenom who was second at the Stanford Invitational but who has not raced in a Stanford jersey this fall. Will Miltenberg remove the redshirt and allow the two-time Foot Locker champ to run Pac-12s? The one given is that Sean McGorty (3rd at Wisco) will be on the line, and you can expect the junior to finish to battle it out up front with Edward Cheserek, Washington’s Izaic Yorks and Colorado’s Pierce Murphy. But beyond that, it’s totally up in the air. The Rosas have already redshirted, so if we don’t see them on Friday, it likely means they won’t be factors at NCAAs — which would be a shame given the promise of this Stanford team. Whatever happens, we’ll have a much better idea about the 2015 Stanford men after Pac-12s.
    Update: Stanford appears to be running all of their guys so this should be interesting: MB: Stanford Men Back at Full Strength

  • Will Ben Saarel run for the Colorado men? Saarel, who was 8th and 7th at NCAAs the last two years, has not raced in a CU uniform this year. In the one race he did run, the Rocky Mountain Shootout on October 3, he was only sixth on the team, over 40 seconds back of CU’s top group. Saarel is a mega-talent but CU coach Mark Wetmore is unafraid to redshirt top talents if he thinks his squad is good enough to win without them. It worked last year with Morgan Pearson and so far it’s working in 2015 — the Buffs won Pre-Nats with true freshman John Dressel as their fifth man. If Saarel is fit and healthy, Colorado goes from the favorite NCAAs to a near-lock. But if he doesn’t run Pac-12s, Colorado could be had at NCAAs on the right day.
  • Will anyone take the race to Edward CheserekAt Pre-Nats, Cheserek suffered a rare loss when Virginia Tech’s Thomas Curtin got out to an early lead and Cheserek didn’t try to run him down until it was too late. Cheserek outkicked everyone else for second, so it will be interesting to see if anyone tries Curtin-style tactics on Friday. However, since this is a championship race, Cheserek will likely be more careful about letting anyone amass even a moderate lead. We’re still betting on him for the win.
  • A Colorado-Oregon rematch in the women’s race. Oregon is the defending champ, while Colorado will be looking for its first title since its first year in the league in 2011. At Pre-Nats, Colorado edged Oregon, 151-175, and even if you score it dual-meet style, CU still comes out on top (26-29). But the two teams, ranked #3 and #5, respectively, are very even, especially when you factor in that Maggie Schmaedick, Oregon’s #2 at the Washington Invitational, didn’t run Pre-Nats. The Buffs have the edge at #1 in Erin Clark, but Oregon is as deep as any team in America. It should be a tremendous race.
  • Can anyone challenge Erin Clark in the individual race? If Stanford’s Aisling Cuffe (15:11 PB, 4th at NCAAs in ’13) is healthy, she should give Clark a great race and could definitely beat her. Cuffe won the Washington Invitational on October 2 but sat out Pre-Nats as an injury precaution — is she healthy now? Another woman who could beat Clark, Cal’s Bethan Knights, was also MIA at Pre-Nats. Knights won Roy Griak by 16 seconds over Boise State’s Allie Ostrander, who in turn won Wisconsin. Other women to watch include Utah’s Hannah McInturff (5th at Pre-Nats) and Oregon’s Waverly Neer (8th at Pre-Nats). Unfortunately Cuffe’s teammate, Elise Cranny (12th at NCAAs in ’14), has not raced at all this season and if she’s not at Pac-12s, she’s likely done for the fall.

Other Meets of Note on Friday

Mountain West Championships (Montreux Golf Club, Reno, Nev.)

Ranked men’s teams: No. 16 Boise State, No. 26 Air Force, No. 30 Colorado State
Ranked women’s teams: No. 1 New Mexico, No. 9 Boise State

The New Mexico women should handle the team competition easily, but will any of them be able to hang with Boise State’s freshman sensation Allie Ostrander, who beat them all at Wisconsin?

You can watch this meet live on TheMW.com. The men’s race goes off at 1 p.m. ET followed by the women at 1:45.

Heptagonal Championships (Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx, N.Y.)

Ranked men’s teams: No. 17 Columbia, No. 27 Penn
Ranked women’s teams: No. 20 Princeton, No. 25 Columbia

You can read our extensive preview of the men’s race at Heps here.

In the women’s race, it’s been a series of streaks. Princeton won 5 in a row, then Cornell won two in a row and then Dartmouth won two in a row. Dartmouth seems unlikely to win this year – will someone else start a new winning streak?

More: LRC 2015 Heps XC Preview: Breaking Down the Men’s Race in Just 3,700 Words as Heps Returns to VCP for the First Time in 5 Years
*MB: Official 2015 Heps XC thread


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