August 20, 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.
Previous: #10 Villanova & #9 Iona
2013 results: 9th NCAAs, 2nd Great Lakes Regional, 3rd Big 10s, 4th Wisconsin Invite
Key returners, with new additions in italics (lose #2, 4, 5 finishers from NCAAs last year)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Malachy Schrobilgen||SO||21||8:01/14:10; ’13 Big 10 XC champ|
|Michael Van Voorhis||SR||92||13:57/29:06|
|Addison DeHaven||FR||17th NXN/18th FL Finals 4:16/9:00|
|Joseph Hardy||FR||4th FL Finals 4:07/8:55|
|Morgan McDonald||FR||33rd at World XC jr race in ’13; 3:45/14:07|
|Kai Wilmot||FR||NXN champ (course record); 8:57 3200|
The Badgers were expected to take a step back last year after losing their top three runners from an NCAA runner-up team in 2012. And in some ways, they did. Wisconsin did not contend for the national title. And for the first time since 1998, the Badgers lost at Big 10s.
But Wisconsin managed to rebound from its Big 10 disappointment to keep two other streaks intact. First, it qualified for NCAAs for the 42nd (!) consecutive year. And then the Badgers finished in the top 10 at NCAAs for the 18th year in a row. Wisconsin loses three of its top five from NCAAs in 2013, but the returning talent and a stellar incoming class mean that both streaks are likely to continue this fall.
The Badgers are led by sophomore Malachy Schrobilgen, the individual Big 10 champion, who finished 33rd at nationals last fall. Seniors Alex Hatz (3:39), Michael Van Voorhis (29:06) and Jake Erschen (8:08) also return to provide veteran leadership.
The most intriguing question — and the one that will determine if this is merely a good Wisconsin team or a great one — is how will the freshmen run? The Badgers hauled in the nation’s top class, led by NXN champ/course record holder Kai Wilmot. He’ll be joined by Joseph Hardy (4th Foot Locker Finals), Addison DeHaven (18th FL Finals/17th NXN – son of 2000 US Olympic marathoner Rod DeHaven) – and Australian Morgan McDonald (33rd in World XC junior race in 2013, 3:45/8:15/14:07 pbs). If all four run, it’s a good bet that at least one of them will improve enough to become a major contributor.
No matter what head coach Mick Byrne elects to do, his track record and the program’s history will make the most of whatever resources are on hand this fall. Big 10s will be a battle again, as Indiana returns all five scorers from its championship team. Contending for a national championship will be difficult, but surpassing last year’s 9th-place finish is certainly a possibility.
“You can never rule out Wisconsin,” said Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg to us earlier this month. “Maybe they don’t have the same firepower, but I would never rule them out.”
2013 results: 8th NCAAs, 4th Great Lakes Regional, 1st NCAAs, 1st Paul Short
Key returners (lose #6 finisher from NCAAs last year)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Jason Crist||SO||30||8:05/14:16/8:51 SC|
|Carl Smith||SO||31||8:09/14:27 (possible redshirt)|
|Rorey Hunter||JR||128||3:40/13:55; 9th NCAA 1500|
Indiana finished 7th at NCAAs in both 2010 and 2011, but returned just one runner from its top seven in 2012, fading to 18th. Head coach Ron Helmer expected 2013 to be another building year, and until November, it was. The Hoosiers were ranked just 24th midway through the season and hadn’t picked up at-large points after splitting their squad for Wisconsin/Pre-Nats.
Then Indiana got very good, very quick. At Big 10s, the Hoosiers placed four runners in the top 10 to bring Wisconsin’s 14-year run of conference titles to an end. Three weeks later at NCAAs, IU ran another great race to finish 8th.
Helmer thought it might take a year ago for the Hoosiers to return to their status as a top-10 program. Instead, they arrived ahead of schedule and look poised to remain there for the next few years.
Indiana doesn’t have a clear #1. Though senior Evan Esselink was the team’s top finisher at regionals and nationals, Jason Crist and Carl Smith finished within four seconds of him in both races. That top three might get broken up in 2014 as Smith has been unable to train at full capacity this summer due to injury. Helmer told us that he is leaning toward redshirting him but may reevaluate in November if Smith is healthy and ready to help the team.
One runner that could fill Smith’s shoes is Rorey Hunter, who was just 210th at NCAAs but ran well at Big 10s.
“He came to us as a 800/1500 runner and in his second year he ends up being seventh in the Big 10,” Helmer said.
Hunter shone on the track last spring, running 3:40 and 13:55 and qualifying for the final at NCAAs in the 1500. If he can become more consistent in cross country, the Aussie is a real threat to finish in the top 50 at NCAAs. Helmer will also be hoping that his youngsters can take a cue from last year’s team and make a leap in 2014.
“[Rising sophomore] Jeremy Coughler is young but really good,” Helmer said. “I think he could be a force.”
Helmer believes that the program is well-positioned to repeat or improve upon its 2013 performance but it will take work to ascend to podium contention.
“We’ve got some growing to do to feel as if we’re one of the top four or five teams in the country,” Helmer says. “But we’ve been in the top 10 three of the last four years and we feel we’re better than we have been in any of those years.”
Helmer certainly will do everything he can to make sure that’s the case. Complacency isn’t part of his vocabulary. Over the summer he replaced much of his assistant coaching staff for track, leading the way with Ohio State head coach Ed Beathea who decided to leave OSU to come to Bloomington as an assistant.