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2006 LetsRun.com NCAA Cross Country Preview
All year, the Stanford women and Wisconsin men have sat comfortably atop the LetsRun.com and NCAA Coaches' Cross Country Polls. On Monday, the Cardinal and Badgers will find out if they deserved to be the heavy favorites for the 2006 NCAA XC Championships.
The ability to run in slop will be an important factor on Monday. While the weather for Monday's race is expected to be nearly ideal (sunny and mid 40s), it rained a lot in Terre Haute this week and the course is very muddy - similar to the conditions two years ago when the heavily favored Wisconsin men finished 2nd..
Women's Team Preview: Stanford's Title to Lose
Individual Battle: Kipyego vs Lambie?
The #2 pick for the win is Stanford's Arianna Lambie (less people pick Lambie for the win but more pick her to finish in the top 10 than Kipyego which explains why Lambie has the most points in the letsrun.com poll). Lambie is hoping to become the first woman since Kara Goucher in 2000 to leave the championships with the team and individual titles. Lambie was the LetsRun.com favorite last year at nationals and finished 8th.
Other contenders for the national title figure to be two ACC runners, Michelle Sikes of Wake Forest and Julia Lucas of NC State. Lucas has been running fantastic as she's defeated Sikes in her last two races (ACCs and the NCAA Southeast regional) and prior to that she took down the Pre Nationals White Race with the fastest time of the day in any of the races.
Sikes isn't too shabby herself. In fact, we're simple amazed by her. Clearly as a runner, she's quite good as she defeated Lambie to win the Pre-Nationals Race Blue Race. However, Sikes is even more impressive off the course as she was just named a Rhodes Scholar on Sunday. We're not sure how the honor of a lifetime will effect her on Monday. A Rhodes Scholar jinx? We doubt it. Someone that impressive probably is unfazed by everything.
Our take: If Kipyego runs her best she should run away from the field like Kim Smith did in the past. She has defeated Colorado's Jenny Barringer twice this year by 45 seconds and Barringer finished 3rd in the Pre Nationals White Race, only 7 seconds behind Lucas.
Men's Preview: Wisconsin Wins Again?
The Badgers lost two-time defending individual champ, Simon Bairu, and their #4 man Anthony Ford, from last year's squad, but they return 4 All-Americans (Chris Solinsky 3rd, Matt Withrow 9th, Stuart Eagon 17th, Tim Nelson 18th) from last year's squad. If those 4 run anywhere near how they did in 2005, the crown should stay in Madison.
However, as the Badgers are well aware of, going into nationals as a heavy favorite does not always turn out well. In 2004, Wisconsin was seen as nearly unbeatable and Mark Wetmore's Colorado Buffaloes pulled the huge 4 point upset.
Colorado is expected to pose the strongest challenge to Wisconsin again. They have 3 runners (Brent Vaughn, Billy Nelson, and Stephen Pifer) predicted to finish in the top 25 according to LetsRun.com readers. The Buffaloes are attempting to rebound from a subpar (by their lofty standards) 5th place finish in 2005.
Iona made its first podium last year and coach Mick Byrne thinks this year's team is as good as any team he's ever had. However, we don't think they can contend.
John McDonnell's Arkansas Hogs don't look like they can quite win it on paper but if the last 20 years have taught us one thing it's, "Don't ever count out the Hogs at NCAAs." Younger visitors to the site may not appreciate the dynasty that is Arkansas cross country, as they haven't won a men's title since 2000. So let's give a quick history lesson, McDonnell and Arkansas have won 11 xc titles and they are overdo. We love the general's attitude as he doesn't beat around the bush like so many coaches. "One thing we are doing, we are not running for second or third," John McDonnell said. "It might be a mistake but we are going for it."
Wisconsin Flu?: We were going to pick Wisco without really even considering anyone else. The monkey's is finally off their back and they have been #1 all year. However, the course's conditions are similar to 2004 when Wisco quite simply blew it and Colorado won it by coming from behind in the slop. Of further concern to the Badgers and their fans, is the hottest rumor in the running community is that 4 of the Badgers had the flu last week. We're not sure how accurate that rumor is but do know one thing, if the Badgers run their best they'll win on Monday.
Our Pick: Wisconsin. But if they don't win, we'll predict they don't get 2nd as the flu rumor will be true.
Individual Title: Solinsky the Favorite
Nearly half of LetsRun.com viewers (48%) think Solinsky will come out on top in Terre Haute. Clearly they are basing their picks on Solinsky's pedigree and talent rather than his recent results. Solinsky appeared to be running away from the field at the Big 10 Championships this year, but apparently was pushing himself too hard as he fell on the course before he eventually got up and finished 7th. Will Solinsky be able to rebound? He claims he's "more confident now" after pushing his limits at Big 10s, but winning the NCAA XC race is extremely difficult.
Providence's Martin Fagan was on a tear last year in the middle of the cross country season. He set a collegiate Van Cortlandt Park course record in winning the Big East XC crown. But by the time nationals rolled around, he had passed his peak, and he finished 16th
This year Fagan started out a bit slower, trying to better time his peak for nationals. He started the season by finishing 7th at the Notre Dame Invite, but has been untouchable since. 2 weeks later, he won the Pre NCAA Blue Race, followed it up with a dominating 22 second win at the Big East meet in a collegiate course record time at Franklin Park, and then won the Northeast Region by 46 seconds. Plus Fagan is more confident in his closing speed this year and does not necessarily feel the need to lead every step of the way.
In his first 2 collegiate seasons, Liberty's Josh McDougal lost 2 races total- the NCAA Championship each year. This year, McDougal finished 2nd at the Southeast Regional to Eastern Kentucky's Jacob Korir. If McDougal was smart, he was saving something for this weekend's nationals, but press reports indicate that McDougal wanted the regional crown.
There are a host of other runners who could contend for the crown including a bunch of runners originally from Kenya. They included Southeast Region champ Jacob Korir (who finished 19th last year), Arkansas' Peter Kosgei, multiple time track champ Robert Cheseret of Arizona (Bernard Lagat's brother), SEC and South Region Champ Barnabas Kirui (who is coming on strong after finishing 8th at Chile Pepper and even Farleigh Dickinson's Samuel Chelanga who has been untested so far this year, but has not raced the nation's best (apparently he didn't race the best either in high school. Check out his FDU bio: "Participated in cross country training towards end of high school tenure". If this guy wins it, he'll probably win the next 3 years as well)
Other American contenders include Nike's Galen Rupp who won the Pac 10 crown, and BYU's Josh Rohatinsky who won the Mountain Region but sat out PreNCAAs with an injury.
Our take: Solinsky struggled a bit two years ago in the wet conditions and finished 16th. That coupled with his fall at Big 10s makes us nervous. Fagan has been running amazing all year. We'll pick him as it's always a bit hard to predict how people will do in the less than ideal conditions, but if we know anything it is that Irish runners are used to muddy XC courses. (Plus being from Texas we've spent our entire lives complaining about the East coast bias in the media and now that we live on the East coast we've just decided to stop complaining about it and join it). We'd say, however, that the odds are greater than 50% that a Kenyan does win. We're just not sure which one. The one that really would be amazing would FDU's Samuel Chelanga. If he wins it, he may end up being one a true running phenom (not that an NCAA XC champ isn't a phenom) but we mean an Olympic champion type phenom.
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