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LetsRun.com 2005 NCAA XC Men's Analysis
LetsRun.com
November 18, 2005

Men's Team Title Analysis

"Colorado can not win, Wisconsin is the heavy favorite, and Arkansas has a shot." Think we're talking about the 2005 NCAA XC Championships? So did we, until we looked into the letsrun.com archives and saw that actually the exact same thing was predicted last year. In the 2004 NCAA XC Prediction Poll, Colorado was only picked by 4 people out of 348 to win the title. They were actually only picked to finish 4th. (They are doing better in this year's polls, currently predicted to finish 3rd). Yet they drove out of Terre Haute, Indiana with the champions trophy. So let's stop and pause and give a moment of silence to the incredible job Mark Wetmore's squad did last year. Seriously it was truly amazing. (Ok now you message board posters can continue on and say he's a bad coach).

Now let us turn to 2005: "Colorado can not win, Wisconsin the heavy favorite, and Arkansas has a shot."

On paper, Wisconsin and Arkansas have the strongest top 3 of any team in the country, and very strong 4th and 5th runners which should put them ahead of the others in the field. And on paper, Wisconsin is stronger than Arkansas. Wisconsin has the defending NCAA champ and current Big 10 champ, Simon Bairu; NCAA indoor 3000m champ Chris Solinsky; and 2005 World XC team member for the United States (while redshirting his freshman year), Matt Withrow, as its front 3, with all 3 being picked by some to win the NCAA title individually. Currently, all 3 are predicted to be in the top 10 at NCAAs (Bairu is the favorite for the title, Solinsky is picked 4th, and Withrow 7th), and if that happens Wisconsin is going to be very tough to beat.

However, while having 3 title contenders may appear to be every coaches' dream, it can present some problems. If any of the top 3 Badgers puts the individual title quest before the team title, and blows up due to a scorching opening pace, then Wisconsin would have its hands full. (Last year Wisconsin had Bairu, Solinsky, and Matt Tegenkamp, nearly a world XC junior medallist, as its top 3 and still lost).

Arkansas' top 3 is not far behind Wisconsin's on paper. The Hogs are expected to be lee Josphat Boit, who was 3rd last year, and is predicted to finish 3rd this year. According to LetsRun.com voters, Peter Kosgei is the #2 Hog, currently predicted 10th, with Shawn Forrest 3rd predicted 17th. True freshman and 2004 National Foot Locker champ (high school national championships) Ken Cormier, who has steadily improved throughout the season and actually finished ahead of Kosgei at the SEC meet, is in the Hogs top 4. The Hogs top 4 is more interchangeable than Wisconsin's which can be a plus.

Although the LetsRun.com prediction contest is not a perfect indicator (we only ask for your predictions for people to finish in the top 10 and score everyone from this), if we score the meet through 4 people (tossing out the individuals finishers) Wisconsin has 1-3-6-25 for 35 points, while Arkansas has 2-8-13-24 for 47 points. Not much of a difference.

The beautiful thing about cross country is it is a team sport, and the majority of team points are accumulated from the 3rd, 4th and 5th runners so those are the guys that make or break a title team. You think Bairu and Withrow have the most pressure on them? Think again, the biggest pressure is on the guys trying to "stop the bleeding" for Wisconsin (and Arkansas), guys like Stuart Eagon, Christian Wagner, and Antony Ford for Wisconsin (Marc Rodrigues, Adam Perkin , Seth Summerside for Arkansas). At the NCAA meet 20 seconds (only 3 seconds a mile), does not cost the guys in the top 10 much in terms of place. But last year 20 seconds is all that separated 20th place from 50th place. You cost your team 30 points, and likely their goes the title shot.

Wisconsin's team is definitely stronger than Arkansas when looking at runners 5-7, the good thing for Arkansas however is that only 5 people score in cross country, so they can try and negate Wisconsin's greater depth. Wisconsin took 8 of the top 9 spots at the Big 10 Conference meet. Truly amazing. So that means Ben Gregory, Wisconsin's #8 guy would be the #1 guy on any other team in the Conference (except Indiana) yet he likely won't be running at NCAAs. Antony Ford, Wisconsin's #5 guy at the conference meet, finished 16th at NCAAs 3 years ago while at Montana, and 26th 2 years ago, so he has had NCAA championship success, which is essential.

The one drawback for Wisconsin is believe it or not is confidence. They were the heavy favorites last year and lost. You read interviews with them this year, and they seem to deny the fact they are heavy favorites. Maybe they do not want to sound overconfident. Yet the fact they were in this same situation last year and got beat by a less talented Colorado squad has to be in the back of their minds. John McDonnell says the hardest national title he had to win was his first one and Wisconsin coach Jerry Schumacher has yet to get his guys over the hump.

Wisconsin skips the prenationals every year, and does not run big invitationals with a full team. Racing in a big field at the National Championships is a different beast all together than racing at the Jim Drews Invitational. Especially when your team is the heavy favorite. Wisconsin must overcome racing in a crazy environment with the pressure of being the heavy favorite once again.

Conclusion
If Wisconsin runs their best they will win. If Wisconsin absolutely dominated this meet, we wouldn't be surprised. That is what people talked about before the year started, then Arkansas emerged into the picture (and was ranked #1 for the middle part of the season). But never, ever discount the Razorbacks. Amazingly they have not won a cross country title since 2000, but they are the dominant program in the history of the sport. They won 7 NCAA XC titles in the 1990s and in some of those years you thought they had no chance (like Colorado last year). This year, they definitely have a chance.

Prediction: The great thing about the NCAA cross country championships is that there are many, hungry, talented runners and the best years are when the unexpected happens. Expect some chaos of some sort on Monday, but in the end Wisconsin somehow should come out on top.
1) Wisconsin 2) Arkansas 3) Colorado 4) Arizona 5) Notre Dame 6) Stanford 7) Iona

Disagree? Vote in our NCAA Prediction Contest.

Individual Predictions

The men's individual race this year is expected to be one of the most competitive in recent years. Simon Bairu the defending champ is back, along with Josphat Boit, 3rd last year for Arkansas, track stud Robert Cheseret of Arizona, Martin Fagan of Providence who broke the two decade old Van Cortland Park (VCP) collegiate record, Richard Kiplagat of Iona who defeated Fagan in the Northeast region, and defeated Boit earlier in the season at the Iona Meet of Champions, and the man some are counting on to be the first American to win the title not from the University of Colorado since Bob Kennedy in 1992 (the last 3 US Champions Dathan Ritzenhein, Jorge Torres, and Adam Goucher all were coached by Colorado's Mark Wetmore), Josh McDougal of Liberty.

Simon Bairu was the unexpected champ in 2004. He's running even better than 2004, so that makes him the man to beat. Bairu has raced all-out three twice this year and both times he got convincing victories (Roy Griak and the Big Ten Champs). But repeating at the NCAA meet is not easy to do and that is one reason only two people have repeated as champ in the last 30 years (Henry Rono of Washington State and Godfrey Siamusiye of Arkansas, although Bob Kennedy did amazingly win as a freshman in 1988 and then again as a fifth year senior).

Bairu is a slight favorite in the LetsRun.com polls over Josh McDougal, a true sophomore from Liberty. McDougal just like he was last year, is undefeated heading into the national meet. This year his season has been even more impressive than in 2004, as he has beaten some studs along the way. Most impressive of all was his 20 second win in the 'White' Pre NCAA race over Richard Kiplagat of Iona. McDougal 'only' finished 13th at nationals last year, as he faded over the final mile (he lost 20 seconds on the leaders in the last mile). The questions on McDougal this year, is has his stream of 120 mile weeks made him able to perform at a higher level than last year and has he learned how to better time his peak so he can win nationals?

By virtue of his 3rd place finish last year and his victory over a sea of African runners over 10k at the Chile Pepper meet this year, Josphat Boit, is the LetsRun.com viewers' third pick at NCAAs. The pace at Chilepepper was suicidal during the first mile (4:20) and Boit came out on top so he should be ready for the fast opening pace at nationals. Boit started his season slowly with a defeat at the Iona Meet of Champions but has been getting better each time out, so it appears once again he'll be ready to run in Terre Haute.

Richard Kiplagat (who defeated Boit at Iona, nearly setting a VCP course record, but lost to McDougal by 20 seconds at PreNCAAs), Martin Fagan who ran away from the fields at the Big East Champs (setting a VCP collegiate record) and Penn State meet (but lost to Richard Kiplagat in the stretch at the regional meet), Robert Cheseret (undefeated except for a loss to Boit at Chilepepper), Westly Keating (who won the South Central region by a minute over Boit who was taking it easy), and even Wisconsin's #2 and #3, Chris Solinsky (indoor 3k champ), and Matt Withrow (World XC qualifier for team USA last year) are being picked by some to contend for the crown but all have some question marks coming in.

Predictions: Bairu is the champ and although this isn't boxing, he deserves to be picked to win again until someone beats him. 1) Bairu 2) Boit 3) Kiplagat 4) McDougal 5) Cheseret 6) Solinsky  7) Withrow 8) Fagan
Darkhorse to watch: 2004 Footlocker champ Ken Cormier has been progressing nicely through his freshman season.

*LetsRun.com 2005 NCAA XC Prediction Poll Results


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