August 21, 2014
LRC Intro: 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.
6. Portland: The Best Pilot Team Ever?
“Portland could quietly be really, really good and could be one of those teams fighting for the podium, if not for the win,”
2013 results: 7th NCAAs, 3rd West Regional, 2nd WCC, 3rd Wisconsin Invite
Key returners (lose #2 finisher from NCAAs last year)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Reid Buchanan||SR||83||8:15/13:59 (Transfer)|
|Woody Kincaid||SR||Hurt in ’13; 57th at NCAAs in ’12; 13:58/29:49|
Portland was a program-best 7th at NCAAs last year, but if it weren’t for a stress fracture to #2 man Woody Kincaid after the WCC Championships, the Pilots probably would have ended up on the podium. Portland finished with 293 points, 26 behind 4th-place BYU. Swap Danny Martinez’s 116th place finish with Kincaid in 57th (his 2012 finish, a conservative estimate), and UP would have moved up to 4th. With everyone but #2 finisher Charlie McDonald returning in 2014, Portland should be in podium contention again.
The strength of this team is just that: its strength. Perhaps the deepest team in the country outside of Colorado, the Pilots have six men who have run 29:30 or faster for 10k and two more under 29:50. That’s some depth that would even impress the Japanese. The depth should help the Pilots because, as we all know, the NCAA meet is a 10k race.
Another advantage for Portland is its experience. The projected top four of Kincaid, Scott Fauble (13th at NCAAs in ’13), Ryan Poland and David Perry are all seniors and all Colorado natives. Between the four of them, they have 10 appearances at NCAA XC and know what it takes to compete on the biggest stage.
Because they compete in the WCC, the Pilots have a tendency to fly under the radar (please excuse the horrible pun). But UP has too much talent to be overlooked this year.
“Portland could quietly be really, really good and could be one of those teams fighting for the podium, if not for the win,” says Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg.
Portland head coach Rob Conner knows that the pieces are in place but that doesn’t guarantee a podium finish. “Every time I’m feeling good about our team, I look around and realize the competition has never been more difficult,” Conner says. A few of his guys came down with injuries last spring and Conner plans to be more conservative this fall in order to keep everybody healthy. If his best seven runners make it to the start line in Terre Haute on November 22, Conner believes this squad could go down in program history.
“Our best-ever finish is 7th,” Conner says. “We’ve done that three times and we’d like to punch it through and reach that next echelon. A lot of seniors want to make this our best team ever.”
Note: This article was initially published with Reid Buchanan being mentioned. Even though we talked to Coach Conner, we failed to reaelize Buchanan had transferred in from Kanasas.
5. Oklahoma State: More-focused Cowboys hope to contend despite losing top 2 from last year’s 3rd-place team
“(Last year) we weren’t always crossing t’s, dotting i’s.”
2013 results: 3rd NCAAs, 1st Midwest Regional, 1st Big 12
Key returners, new additions in italics (lose #1, 2, 7 finishers from NCAAs last year)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Craig Nowak||JR||36||4:08 mile/8:15|
|Shane Moskowitz||SR||82||3:59 mile/7:57|
|Fabian Clarkson||JR||Did not compete in ’13; 29:09/3:59 mile|
|Vegard Olstad||JR||2nd at ’13 NCAA D-II XC champs; transfer from Western St.; 3:43/8:04/14:17|
|Cerake Geberkadine||FR||4th at ’13 NXN; 4:06 1600/8:50 3200|
For the fifth consecutive year, Oklahoma State finished as one of the top three teams in the country in 2013. Despite the team’s success in that span — which includes three national titles — head coach Dave Smith knows that it’s very difficult to build a team capable of winning an NCAA championship and even harder to maintain competitive year after year. That’s why he was disappointed with his team’s performance last fall and why he hopes that his charges fully grasp the situation they’re in this season.
“I think we weren’t as focused as we have been during the years we won,” Smith says. “We weren’t always crossing t’s, dotting i’s. Those sort of things weren’t always important to winning, but you’re making a statement in your own mind. The little things like going to bed on time make a big difference psychologically. Perhaps as coaches we didn’t do a good enough job imparting a sense of urgency and making it known that winning a national championship is very difficult.”
The Cowboys lose their top two runners from a year ago in Tom Farrell and Shadrack Kipchirchir, but they’ve reloaded with a transfer, a freshman and a runner that returned to school after sitting out 2013.
Norway’s Vegard Olstad, the transfer, was second at the Division II championships last year for Western State and has run 3:43 and 8:04 on the track. Cerake Geberkadine, the freshman, was 4th at NXN last year and has run 4:06 (1600) and 8:50 (3200). And Fabian Clarkson, who returns to Stillwater in 2014, is a sub-4:00 miler and 29:09 10k guy.
The new trio present some questions. German Fernandez and Colby Lowe aside, freshmen rarely have a big impact under Smith as he likes to limit their intensity early on. That means Geberkadine and fellow frosh Chandler Austin (8:51) may not become major contributors until 2015 or 2016. Meanwhile Clarkson has sterling track credentials but has yet to put it together in cross country, finishing 233rd and 164th in his two appearances at NCAA XC.
The biggest change from a year ago might be at the #1 spot, where senior Kirubel Erassa will be counted to assume the mantle. Erassa fell in the first five meters of the race last year and only finished 83rd after working his way up from the 200s on the muddy Terre Haute course. With PRs of 7:49 and 13:27, Erassa will need to become a reliable low stick if the Cowboys are to contend this fall.
“It’s time for him to see himself as what he is, which is a guy that’s running the top five or ten at the NCAA championships. His last indoor track season (where Erassa won the mile, 3k and 5k at Big 12s and was second at NCAAs in the 3k) was probably the best indoor track season I’ve had of anyone apart from German Fernandez.”
Erassa will be joined by fellow returners Craig Nowak (62nd last year), Brian Gohlke (91st, 29:17) and Shane Moskowitz (141st, 7:57) as part of a solid core. A lot of things will have to go right for the Cowboys to claim national title #4 under Smith, but if Erassa runs as he is capable of and the new additions perform, a sixth consecutive top-three finish — and perhaps more — is well within the realm of possibility.
“I expect we will approach this season as what it is: an extremely rare opportunity where we’re in position to win a national championship,” Smith says. “We have to roll into Terre Haute knowing that we’ve done everything possible to win. And then, the chips fall where they may.”