by Scott Bush for LetsRun.com
October 31, 2013
What: 2013 Pac 12 Men’s Cross Country Championships
When: Saturday, November 2
Men: 10:40 am MT, Women 11:40 am MT
Where: Coal Creek Golf Course – Louisville, CO
Broadcast Info: Pac-12 network, tape-delayed on Nov. 4 9:30 pm ET
Set up as the perfect rematch of US#1 Colorado and US#4 Oregon from their close battle at Pre-Nationals, the Pac-12 Championships in Louisville, Colorado this weekend should be a clash against some very top-end trophy level talent and a deep field with potential for upsets. Here’s the breakdown of the men’s team and individual races.
Oh, and before we get started, know that Arizona senior star Lawi Lalang will not be competing due to a calf injury.
Team Race: Oregon versus Colorado For All The Marbles
While Oregon entered Pre-Nationals as perhaps the most intriguing team in the country, Colorado came away with a big time mid-season victory, beating the Ducks 90-113. Breaking it down to a dual meet between the two squads, Colorado edges Oregon ever so slightly, showing these two teams are very evenly matched on paper.
Dual Meet Breakdown (based on Pre-Nationals results)
Colorado – 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 = 26
Oregon – 1, 4, 5, 9, 10 = 29
One or two changes in place and Oregon can take home the Pac-12 (more like Pac-9, with only nine teams on the men’s side) title.
Colorado put up a sweet 19 second 1-5 split in Terre Haute, turning in a typical Buffalo performance. The squad started conservatively and worked there way through the course, putting in a monster finish to score the victory. Their lead five of sophomore Morgan Pearson, frosh Ben Saarel, senior Blake Theroux, sophomore Pierce Murphy and junior Connor Winter continue to show consistency this fall and will use their home state advantage (and 5,300 feet elevation) to try to fuel a repeat Pac-12 victory.
Meanwhile, Oregon looks for progression. With All-American transfer and 13:18 man Eric Jenkins questionable the rest of the season (he is entered this weekend, however), it’s up to their core pack to pull off the upset win. Oregon will once again follow the lead of Saarel’s freshman rival Edward Cheserek, who continues to show he’ll be a top ten threat at NCAAs in a few weeks.
At Pre-Nationals, senior Parker Stinson rebounded from a roller coaster start to his season with a high level performance, while NCAA 1,500m champion senior Mac Fleet kicked off his season well finishing a stride behind Parker. These three need to match Colorado and beat them man for man up front if the Ducks hope to win.
The question mark for the Ducks is if they can best Colorado’s 4-5-6 depth. Savvy cross country veterans junior Daniel Winn and sophomore Matt Melancon are go-to number four and five runners, but other standouts like Jeremy Elkaim (13:39 5000 pb), Brett Johnson and Tanguy Pepiot could step in to those final scoring spots.
Behind the US#1 and US#4 ranked teams are two more ranked squads. US#13 Stanford shot up in the national coaches poll after their fourth place finish at Pre-Nationals. The Cardinal finished with 148 points and gained much momentum heading into the back half of the season. Led by freshman Sean McGorty, senior Erik Olson and junior Jim Rosa, with a little luck, Stanford could pull off the surprise win. Similar to Oregon, their overall success is really going to come down to how well their 4-5 runners perform, as they’ll expect Michael Atchoo, Garrett Sweatt and Tyler Stutzman to come up big.
US#25 Washington follows the lead of pre-race individual favorite Aaron Nelson. We’ll get to Nelson more later, but he has a shot to put one point in the scoring column for the Huskies. While this squad lacks upfront firepower outside of Nelson, they’ll run a tight 2-5 with hopes of edging one of the top three squads should they falter even slightly.
Two previously ranked teams, Arizona State and UCLA, look to prove their worth heading through conference into the West Regional. Arizona State finished 20th at Wisconsin and will need their pack to step it up a bit if they hope to challenge for top four. Senior Garrett Seawell leads the Sun Devils. For UCLA, they miss the presence of Lane Werley, who’s been absent all season. He finished fifth last fall at Pac-12s, and while sophomore Nick Hartle has stepped into their top spot and should challenge for top five Saturday, the squad is lacking a couple of low scorers up front to have a legitimate change at top three.
A Lalang-less Arizona, Cal and Washington State round out the field.
At the 2012 Pac-12 Championships, it was a two-man race, with Arizona teammates Lawi Lalang and Stephen Sambu asserting dominance early and simply running away from the field., besting the rest of the field by over half a minute. This time around things are a bit different, with Sambu having graduated and Lalang out for the rest of the fall with a calf injury.
Without Lalang in the field, it’s now anyone’s guess who wins.
One of the big surprises of the season thus far is the standout performances of Washington’s Aaron Nelson, who has just a 14:30 5000 pb (8:52 steeple). Nelson is having a breakthrough season, winning the Bill Dellinger Invitational earlier in the season, while finishing fourth at Wisconsin. Nelson found consistency in his big-time performances this season and continues to show he’s a legit title contender at Pac-12s and a top ten threat at NCAAs later this fall. Nelson has to be licking his chops now heading to Colorado, eyeing a big-time win in a big-time conference.
Here Come the Freshmen
Remember when Chris Derrick and Luke Puskedra were freshmen? Remember how Derrick and Puskedra both finished top ten at NCAAs? Well, this year’s trio (possibly quartet) of Pac-12 freshmen is equally as talented and running just as well. Cheserek finished fourth at Pre-Nationals, followed closely by McGorty in fifth and Saarel in ninth. These three guys are simply ridiculous and don’t be surprised if all three finish in the top five this weekend. We’re not forgetting Oregon freshman Jake Leingang either. Leingang is running so well, and should push for top five, but his Pre-Nationals showing puts him a step behind the top three frosh.
Colorado v. Oregon – Part II
In the individual race, Cheserek and Saarel lead the way for their respective squads, but the Colorado v. Oregon clash should produce the majority of the top ten finishers. Colorado’s Murphy, Theroux and Morgan all seem capable of pushing for top five. Theroux was the leader prior to Pre-Nationals for the Buffs and early race pack running could lead to some high (low point) finishes for their top guys.
Oregon will be counting on Stinson grinding out the lead pack early on, with hopes that he can hang on for a top five spot, with Fleet kicking hard for another strong finish. Regardless of how it shakes out, the battle between Colorado and Oregon defines the men’s race.
Last, but not least, Nick Hartle leads UCLA. Hartle finished 47th at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, running as the third Pac-12 runner behind Nelson and Lalang.
One piece of the puzzle that’s not being discussed much is racing at altitude. Louisville, Colorado has a listed elevation around 5,300 feet. Outside of Colorado and Utah (in the women’s race), no other team has a home school above 2,500 feet. That’s a big jump and will affect some runners towards the end of the race. Obviously this favors Colorado, but what can you do?
LRC Prediction (Not Scott Bush): It would be foolish to think Colorado doesn’t win this at home in the altitude unless Eric Jenkins runs. Then all bets are off the table.