2014 Men’s XC Preview: #4 Oregon & #3 Northern Arizona

By LetsRun.com
August 22, 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.

4. Oregon: Scoring 4 To Everyone Else’s 5, Can The Ducks Contend?

2013 results: 5th NCAAs, 2nd West Regional, 2nd Pac-12, 2nd Pre-Nats

Key returners, new additions in italics (lose #2, 4 finishers from NCAAs last year)

Name Class # returner from NCAAs Credentials
Edward Cheserek SO 1 3:36/7:47/13:18; 1st NCAA indoor 3k, 5k, outdoor 10k; 2nd NCAA outdoor 5k
Tanguy Pepiot SR 34 3:44/8:06/8:33 SC; 6th NCAA steeple
Jake Leingang SO 87 8:12/14:07
Johnny Gregorek SR 111 3:42/14:12
Matthew Melancon JR 152 14:09/29:31
Daniel Winn SR 160 3:42/14:16
Eric Jenkins SR 67th overall in ’11; 13:18 5k; 4th at ’14 NCAA 5k; has not run XC since 2011
Sam Prakel FR Redshirted last fall; 3:41/8:12; 10th in ’14 NCAA 1500
Jeramy Elkaim SR 3:42/13:39
Blake Haney FR 2nd at ’13 NXN; US #1 8:46 3200 (won Arcadia)

In Edward Cheserek, the Ducks have the single greatest asset of any team in the country. Cheserek ran to an 18-second victory at NCAAs last fall and was near-invincible in championship races on the track. The only man that could threaten him, Lawi Lalang, forfeited his final year of eligibility this fall to turn pro, leaving Cheserek as the odds-on favorite to win NCAAs. Another individual title is not guaranteed (Lalang and Kennedy Kithuka both entered as heavy favorites after winning XC titles only to get beaten the following year), but it’s hard to see anyone touching Cheserek in 2014. Knowing that, if healthy, Cheserek is a near-lock to score win the individual title is a big benefit to the Ducks as they essentially only have to score four runners, not five.

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This is far from a one-man team, however. The Ducks have two solid returners from last fall in Tanguy Pepiot (58th at NCAAs) and Jake Leingang (who finished right with Cheserek at the Battle in Beantown in September before tailing off toward the end of the season). If Leingang and Jeramy Elkaim (13:39 5k PR) run to their capabilities, they are both threats to finish in the top 40 at NCAAs.

Senior Eric Jenkins is also expected to run for the Ducks this fall and could have one of the biggest impacts of any new addition. With a 13:18 5k PR and a 4th-place finish at the NCAA outdoor 5k in June, Jenkins is a huge talent and could be a top-10 finisher at NCAA XC. Though he hasn’t run a cross country race since 2011, Jenkins’ skill 13:18 [b and championship experience should negate any rustiness on that front.

Two other track stars could also help: freshmen Sam Prakel (redshirted in XC last year but made the final of the 1500 at NCAAs outdoors) and Blake Haney (second at NXN in 2013, U.S. #1 8:46 3200). Both of them have the talent to step right in and contribute right away.

There’s also grad student Johnny Gregorek, who was an All-American in the mile last year for Columbia. He was 4th at Heps in 2013 in cross country but there’s a question as to whether he has any eligibility left (he is not listed on Oregon’s XC roster). We do know for sure that fellow Ivy grad student Will Geoghegan only has indoor/outdoor eligibility and Gregorek not being listed on the XC roster suggests he may be in the same boat. (Oregon refused an interview request for men’s coach Andy Powell saying they don’t normally make assistants available to the press).

It’s hard to tell what this team will look like behind Cheserek. The horses are there for a run at the NCAA title and the Ducks really came through when it mattered most last year — witness Cheserek’s upset in NCAA XC last year and Oregon’s 47 distance points at NCAAs in June. The prospect of Cheserek and Jenkins up front should strike fear in the hearts of rival coaches and among Pepiot, Leingang, Elkaim, Prakel and Haney there’s a good chance someone will be able to make a jump as a strong #3 runner. The Ducks have more uncertainty about who their five scorers will be compared to other teams, but there’s little doubt that whoever toes the line in Terre Haute for Oregon will be ready to go.

3. Northern Arizona: So, So Close Last Year

2013 results: 2nd NCAAs, 1st Mountain Regional, 1st Big Sky, 1st Wisconsin Invite

Key returners, new additions in italics (lose #3, 4 from NCAAs last year)

Name Class # returner from NCAAs Credentials
Futsum Zienasellassie JR 3 3:45/13:50
Matt McElroy SR 17 13:55/28:51
Tyler Byrne SR 18 Transfer from Louisville; 14:12/29:30
Nathan Weitz JR 42 3:44
Caleb Hoover SR 80 14:05/8:43 SC; 7th NCAA steeple
Andy Trouard SO 120 3:49/13:56

At the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships, the Lumberjacks came as close as you can to winning an NCAA title without actually winning it. NAU led Colorado by 19 points with 2 kilometers remaining in Terre Haute last year, but fifth man Nathan Weitz lost 27 places over that span while four of the Buffaloes’ top five moved up, relegating the Lumberjacks to second place.

Futsum Zienasellassie (middle) and Matt McElroy (right) will lead the Lumberjacks in 2014 Futsum Zienasellassie (middle) and Matt McElroy (right) will lead the Lumberjacks in 2014

Though the result wasn’t exactly what head coach Eric Heins wanted, he believes that his team performed very well given the expectations heaped upon it during the season (NAU entered NCAAs ranked #1 in the country). Northern Arizona finished 14th in 2011, 4th in 2012 and 2nd last year. In 2014, it will look to take the final step and claim the first NCAA title in school history.

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NAU loses its third and fourth finishers at NCAAs last year in Brian Shrader and Josh Hardin, but it returns junior Futsum Zienasellassie (4th overall) and senior Matt McElroy (25th) and will also benefit from new addition Tyler Byrne, who was 29th last year for Louisville.

That gives NAU a very strong top three, but to contend for the national title it will need strong performances from its #4 and #5 runners, likely Weitz, 13:56 man Andy Trouard or senior Caleb Hoover. Heins believes that Hoover in particular could make a leap after finishing 139th at NCAAs last fall.

“He scored in the steeplechase at NCAAs but didn’t have a real good cross country season,” Heins says. “I think he’ll have a much better cross country season this year.”

If the Lumberjacks are competitive at #4 and #5, they have the horses up front to contend with — and beat — anyone in the country.

“We’re going to approach this season just like we did last year,” Heins says. “I think our guys are ready for the challenge. The only way to approach this season is to approach every week and training run like we’re going to contend for the national championship.

Previous: *#6 Portland & #5 Oklahoma State 
*#8 Wisconsin & #7 Indiana
*#10 Villanova & #9 Iona

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