August 23, 2014
The 2014 NCAA cross country season kicks off next month and over the next two weeks, LetsRun.com will be previewing what to expect this fall. We’re counting down the top 10 teams in America, two at a time, starting with the men. Then we’ll move on to the women and finish up with previews of the individual races at NCAAs this fall. A lot can change between now and November 22 in Terre Haute — who thought Kennedy Kithuka would lose his title to a freshman last year? — so these rankings aren’t set in stone. Consider them refreshers on where each team is at entering the season and a rough guideline of what to expect his fall.
Note: We determined where a runner ranked among returners by taking his place at NCAAs in 2013 and subtracting the number of seniors in front of him. We believe the following listed seniors will return in 2014: Maksim Korolev(Stanford), Blake Theroux (Colorado), Michael Atchoo (Stanford), Johnny Gregorek (Oregon). Additionally, Tyler Byrne has transferred from Louisville to Northern Arizona and Reid Buchanan from Kansas to Portland. If you know of any other transfers or seniors returning in 2014, please let us know.
2. Stanford: Great on Paper, But Will The Cardinal Underachieve At NCAAs Yet Again?
2013 results: 19th NCAAs, 1st West Regional, 3rd Pac-12, 4th Pre-Nats
Key returners, new additions in italics (lose #2, 5 finisher from NCAAs last year)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Maksim Korolev||SR||2||5th year from Harvard; 7:51/13:42/29:13|
|Sean McGorty||SO||95||5th at ’13 Pre-Nats; 4:00 mile/13:37|
|Joe Rosa||JR||13:31/29:16; 7th in ’14 NCAA 5k|
|Sam Wharton||FR||14:11; ’12 NXN champ redshirted last year; 3rd at U.S. Jr XC champs|
Over the past five years, no team has been more successful in the regular season than the Stanford Cardinal: four NCAA regional titles, two Pac-10 titles, a win at the Wisconsin Invitational in 2012 and wins at Pre-Nats in 2009 & 2010. Four times in that span, Stanford has arrived at nationals ranked in the top four in the country, but only once has it left NCAAs that way.
The interesting thing is Stanford’s poor performance at NCAAs have taken place under three different coaches. Maybe the braniacs at Stanford are too smart for their own good, do runners need a certain IQ to be a head case?
|Year||Rank entering NCAAs||Finished||Difference||Coach|
Head coach Chris Miltenberg, entering his third year in charge, wasn’t around for all of those seasons, but he knows the Cardinal has underperformed relative to its expectations recently. Still, he told us that last year’s 19th-place finish “was the best thing that could have happened to us” and believes that his team will be able to learn from past failures in 2014.
“The difference [this year] is we’ve got the maturity, the mindset, the culture in place to run at that meet,” said Miltenberg, who coached the Georgetown women to an NCAA title in 2011, earlier this month when contacted by LetsRun. “We’ve talked for two years and what really set in after Terre Haute [in 2013] is making it about what we do. The first meet of the year through NCAAs, it’s about what we do. It’s a lot more crowded and there’s a lot more going on at NCAAs. But if you look at how we ran at NCAAs indoors and outdoors, that learning’s already gone on.”
Indeed, Stanford ran better at this year’s track championships than any team outside of Oregon. The Cardinal commandingly won the DMR at indoor NCAAs and scored (top-8) in the 3k and 5k indoors as well as the 1500, 5k and 10k outdoors. Much of that talent returns.
Jim Rosa was fifth at NCAA XC last fall; this year he will be joined by twin brother Joe, who ran 13:31 on the track last year. True freshman Sean McGorty was the team’s top man — fifth overall — at Pre-Nats in 2013 before finishing just 161st at NCAAs. But he rebounded from that disappointment and ran 13:37 this spring. 2012 NXN champ Sam Wharton will debut after redshirting as a freshman. He was part of a 1-2-3 finish for Stanford in the junior race at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in February (alongside McGorty and 13:55 man Jack Keelan, who will also race for the Cardinal this year).
McGorty was supposed to run at the U.S. Junior Championships last month in Eugene but hurt his back and had to withdraw. He missed some training and is a little behind where he needs to be right now; Miltenberg says McGorty likely won’t debut until the Wisconsin Invitational or possibly Pac-12s, though he doesn’t view that as an issue.
“I don’t think he’s a guy who needs a lot of races to run well,” Miltenberg says.
And then there’s arguably the biggest addition to any team in Maksim Korolev, who was third at the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships for Harvard last year and will use his fifth year of eligibility while attending Stanford.
“We were in contact throughout last fall and the thing we talked about was he needed to be a fit with our program and we believe he is,” Miltenberg says. “That’s a potential game changer.”
Game changer indeed. If an in-form Korolev shows up, the Cardinal are going to be hard to beat as they’d have four potential top 25 guys in him, the Rosas and McGorty. The problem is, Korolev might be the most inconsistent high profile runner in the country.
As good as the Cardinal is, Stanford will have to be at the top of its game if it wants to take home any hardware this season. Colorado has won all three Pac-12 titles since moving to the conference in 2011 and will be favored to do so again.
“Oregon and Colorado, in my opinion, are the other two best teams in the country,” said Miltenberg. “We think both of them are going to be really good. We’re going to be battle-tested going to NCAAs.”
Though Miltenberg will be paying attention to the Cardinal’s Pac-12 rivals and other top teams such as Oklahoma State and Northern Arizona, he wants his runners to focus on their own races at NCAAs rather than what everyone else is capable of.
“Our biggest goal is that we want to leave Terre Haute feeling we ran the best we could on that day,” Miltenberg. “If we run the best we can on that day, we can run with anybody in America.”
1. Colorado: Defending Champs Pulled Off Upset Last Year, No Surprising Anyone In 2014
2013 results: 1st NCAAs, 2nd Mountain Regional, 1st Pac-12, 1st Pre-Nats
Key returners (lose none from top seven finishers at NCAAs last year)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Ben Saarel||SO||6||3:41/7:52/13:48; 3rd NCAA indoor 3k|
|Blake Theroux||SR||16||7:54/13:57/8:49 SC|
|Jake Hurysz||SR||32nd overall in ’12; 13:38 5k|
It’s hard to be better positioned than returning your entire top seven from the squad that captures the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships, but that is the enviable spot Buffaloes head coach Mark Wetmore finds himself in this year. That’s because Colorado also brings back 13:38 man Jake Hurysz, who finished 32nd at NCAAs in 2012 before missing last season (Wetmore says he is “completely healthy” now).
“The overwhelming favorite has gotta be Colorado,” says Iona coach Ricardo Santos, whose Gaels were sixth last year.
Colorado used one low stick (rising sophomore Ben Saarel, who was 8th overall) and a very strong 2-3-4 (all in the top 39 overall) to capture the fourth men’s title in program history last fall. But it was far from a resounding victory. The Buffaloes’ 149 points were the highest-ever total by a winning team (eclipsing Tennessee’s 134 from 1972) and CU trailed second-place Northern Arizona as late as 8k before pulling away to victory over the final 2k on a cold, muddy course.
“I don’t think we had a brilliant day at the NCAA, but it was difficult conditions,” Wetmore said earlier this month. “No one had a brilliant day.”
Colorado’s greatest strength last season was its depth at the top of the roster. Some teams have one or two runners who alternate as the #1 guy. Occasionally, a team will have three. It’s very rare for anyone to have four runners capable of being #1 on any given day, let alone the national champions. But that was the case for Colorado last year: over the Buffaloes’ four big races (Pre-Nats, Pac-12s, NCAA Mountain Regional, NCAAs), they had a different #1 runner every time. With Hurysz (Colorado’s top finisher at NCAAs in 2012), CU’s top five is essentially interchangeable.
The question for Colorado is whether that depth will be enough to hold off the firepower of Pac-12 rivals such as Stanford and Oregon. “I think Colorado’s really, really good and they’re well-coached, but I don’t know if they’re the most talented team,” says the coach of a top-10 program. Stanford is arguably better than Colorado through four runners (Maksim Korolev, Jim Rosa, Joe Rosa and Sean McGorty) and Oregon has an outstanding 1-2 punch in Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins. Wetmore will hope for each of his runners to make a small improvement on last year and count on their championship experience to carry them through.
Still, it’s difficult to win one national title, let alone two straight. Wetmore now has six national titles between men’s and women’s cross country, but he has yet to win two in a row. This is his best chance yet.
To be honest, we don’t necessarily think the Buffs will win ourselves (the staff will make NCAA predictions in a few weeks) but as the defending champs with everyone back, it’s wrong not to put them at #1. Until the champ is beat, they have to be #1.