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LetsRun.com Previews The NCAA XC Season - This Might Be The Year For Oklahoma State

By Emory Mort for LetsRun.com
September 15, 2009

**Oklahoma State Preview**

#1 LRC XC Ranking

To get a first-hand feel for the Oklahoma State team, read our exclusive interview with head coach Dave Smith.

LRC Preseason Ranking: #1 in the country
Why #1: Return NCAA #8, 16, 21 plus a top-10 lock in German Fernandez. Beyond that they're deep, talented and experienced.
Last Year: 8th at NCAAs, NCAA regional champions, Big XII Champs in landslide victory 

Cowboy's Possible Top - 5
* German Fernandez * John Kosgei * Ryan Vail * Girma Mecheso * Colby Lowe * Big, talented supporting cast *

Cowboy Overview

Oklahoma State has on paper the best team in the country, hands down. They have four "low sticks" (guys who on a decent day are going to score less than 15 points each at the NCAA meet) and at least five or six other guys who will be very legitimate top-40 or top-50 threats.

If a team scores under 100 points at NCAA's, they are almost certainly going to win. The Cowboys, with their big stars and depth, are certainly going to be close to breaking 100 and might break 70 or go even lower, they are that good.

Key Players

Cross Country: 37th IAAF World Championships-Press Conference German Fernandez:
One of the best young runners in the world. Absolutely dominated as a freshman before getting hurt at the NCAA meet. He seemed headed for a top-5 individual finish at XC NCAAs. Went on to win NCAAs outdoor in the 1500m and set a world junior indoor mile record at the Big XII meet in 3:55.01. To the left he's pictured talking to world record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen at World Cross '09, either picking his brain on running or figuring out which way to the breakfast buffet. Shaheen is a self-professed big LetsRun.com fan.

Coach Dave Smith on Fernandez: "There aren't enough superlatives to describe him. Phenomenally talented, he is extremely disciplined, works very hard, very competitive, wants to win, wants to do things the right way, a coach's dream, really."

John Kosgei (KEN): One of the best xc runners in the country, was 8th last year at NCAAs.

Girma Mecheso (ETH): Auburn transfer from Ethiopia (pictured right) was 16th at NCAA XC last year and is a BIG TIME talent.

Cross Country: NCAA Championships Coach Dave Smith on Mecheso: "With Girma he's on the same level as Vail, German and John Kosgei. Those guys are all top-10, top-15 type guys at the NCAA championships on the right day. With Girma, his life experiences just make him not sweat the everyday things.. Great guy."

Ryan Vail: Top US finisher at World XC in 2009, finished 21st at NCAA XC last year. Top tier talent and experience.

Colby Lowe: True sophomore is tough and very talented. Was the 5th freshman in the country behind guys like Luke Puskedra and Chris Derrick at NCAAs last year.. Scored 63 points last year at NCAAs in XC but look for him to be a top-25 guy this year and an All-American. Had a great freshman track season. Coach Dave Smith raves about him. He could be the guy who wins the championship for the Cowboys.

Coach Dave Smith on Lowe:
"Colby's a guy who has made huge strides between last year and now. If you look at cross country last year he had one bad race and it was at the national championships. It wasn't bad, he was the 5th freshman overall in the race, it wasn't terrible, but for what he could be it wasn't his best."

David Chirchir (KEN): Kenyan is not on the same level as the top guys but was the Cowboy's 5th man at NCAAs last year counting German Fernandez.

Joseph Manilafasha (BUR): Originally from Burundi, true freshman Manilafasha escaped civil war and grew up in a foreign refugee camp before coming to HS in the states. 3-time Foot Locker finalist, 14:16 5k in high school. Manilafasha is the real deal and could be a top-40 type runner as a true freshman.

Coach Dave Smith on Manilafasha: "He came in as someone who I thought three or four years down the road might help us but kind of like Colby Lowe last year - I kind of thought the same thing with Colby last year but he jumped up and proved me wrong - Joe is flirting with the top-5 consistently right now. Not going crazy, he's running with those top 5-7 guys with consistency right now."

Here's what Coach Smith had to say about some other Cowboy runners in their talented pack:

Sean Fleming (8:07, 14:01) was 10th in the Big 12 as a redshirt freshman but struggled last year with some little injuries. Seems to be back to the form of 2007 right now.
 
Dan Watts (8:06, 14:00) was newcomer of the year in the Big 12 in 2006 as a redshirt freshman, has been a pretty consistently solid performer for us but was hit by a car while on a run in the late spring of '08 and missed quite a bit of training. He also seems to be back up to where he left off in fall of 2007.
 
Ryan Prentice (8:14, 14:16) was 8th in the 2009 USATF Junior XC champs and was 2nd at the NACAC champs running for the US. He had a great summer and has an outside shot of cracking our top 7.
 
Tom Farrell (3:52, 8:16) - another notable newcomer -  was the #1 finisher for the UK junior team in Amman. He was the English High Schools champion at 3000m.

Cross Country: NCAA Championships The "Feel Good" Story From Stillwater

There is a lot to feel good about with this Oklahoma State team. They have the excitement that comes along with a phenom-level talent like German Fernandez (pictured right alongside John Kosgei from NCAA championships, 2008). They have some international talent with life stories that just blow you away. Guys who went from refugee camps to running cross country in the US and getting college diplomas. They have the tough guys with names many American distance fans recognize like Texan Colby Lowe or veteran Ryan Vail who finished first for the US at world cross country in 2009.

 

Their coach, Dave Smith is a coach who always seems humble, caring, willing to talk about his team. He seems to be doing a great job developing talent patiently, developing a sense of team, and bringing excitement for running to a place where it had not been before. Oklahoma State is a team that is hard not to like. They've provided a great rival to traditional power Colorado in the Big XII. They should provide a great rivalry to 2-time NCAA defending cross country champions Oregon. And it's all taking place in a relatively obscure midwest town.

 

We know some people are going to think we are crazy for saying Oklahoma State is a clear #1 team. After all, it was just announced that Oregon is the #1 ranked team in the country according to the USTFCCCA poll. Folks, we're not attached to either team. Just look at Oregon's scoring from 2008: (1, 4, 8, 36, 44). They lose their "1" and "8" and they simply do not have the guys on their roster who jump out at you as point-for-point replacements for Galen Rupp and Shadrak Kiptoo. They have lots of 20-30 guys. Oklahoma State is likely to score something like this in 2009: (3, 7, 10, 18, 35). That's Fernandez 3rd, Kosgei 7th, Vail 10th, Mecheso 18th and Lowe (or Manilafasha or Prentice or Farrell) 35th. That's 73 points. Oregon scored 93 last year and there is no way their team is better in 2009 than it was in 2008 without Rupp and Kiptoo (maybe Duck distance coaches Vin Lananna and Andy Powell have something up their sleeves, we'll find out). Barring injuries to major runners, we are pretty sure Oklahoma State is the better team on paper, despite what the USTFCCCA coaches say.

 

Back to the building of the Oklahoma State cross-country program. The Cowboy program is set up for primarily cross-country success, no doubt about it. It's not like it's "magic" or Dave Smith is this genius mind who takes no-talent runners and produces NCAA top-10 finishers. He doesn't pretend to be a wizard. They use their scholarships for distance runners and that is a luxury few programs have. However, to build a program like Dave Smith has is some part good fortune and big part competence. Actually, we think building a program like Oklahoma State's takes a lot of competence and ability to communicate and structure training. Believe it or not, coaching really talented, really accomplished, really motivated runners (try 15 of them) can be a big challenge. So we think Dave Smith deserves a lot of credit for being a leader as well as doing all of the X's and O's.

 

His best trait seems to be his tendency to be a little cautious with his talented group. In our interview he talked about his task of holding back his runners: "As a coach I think it's a little tricky in that you don't want to go out there and overdo things. You have to be really careful to not let things get carried away, not let the momentum of the group get going to where you can't slow it down. I think you have to be very careful and very structured." We agree. High school coaches seem to always talk about pushing their runners harder. College coaches of top talent usually discover they have the opposite task. They have to teach discipline and dedication but the number one challenge is getting 19-year-olds to hold back when they're in a pack training with their talented peers.

 

We'll be previewing some of the other top NCAA teams in the coming days and weeks, so check back for more LetsRun.com interviews, previews and analysis. Enjoy the 2009 xc season!

 

 

            
  

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