September 2, 2014
We’re done counting down the top 10 men’s and women’s team in America but we’re not quite done previewing the 2014 cross country season. We came across a lot of interesting information during our research and put together this guide to share the knowledge.
If you missed any of our team previews, you can check them out here:
Re-scoring 2013 NCAAs
The best place to start when analyzing a new season is NCAAs from the previous year. Obviously, some teams have bad days one year and bounce back and NCAA results can’t account for incoming freshmen, which can have a big impact on the team race (although normally more of an impact on the women’s side than men’s). Still, it’s a useful tool to sketch an outline of each team’s returning talent and we’ve dug into the results of 2013 NCAAs to look for anything useful.
One of the most basic ways to use last year’s results as a predictor is to re-score the meet, minus seniors. We’ve done that, with the top five teams appearing below.
Note: We counted Maksim Korolev (formerly of Harvard) for Stanford, Tyler Byrne (formerly of Louisville) for N. Arizona and Reid Buchanan (formerly of Kansas) for Portland.
|2013 NCAA XCs Meet Scoring W/O The Seniors|
|Team (2013 place)||#1||#2||#3||#4||#5||Total|
|N. Arizona (2)||3||14||16||27||65||125|
As expected, Colorado is comfortably on top with 90 points. If 90 seems high for a defending champ returning its entire top seven, remember that a year ago CU won NCAAs with the highest point total ever (149). The Buffaloes are very strong through four runners but fifth man Ammar Moussa was only 95th (78th in team scoring). The return of Jake Hurysz (32nd overall in 2012) could make the Buffs untouchable, but as it stands the 35-point margin between them and Northern Arizona is significant but not insurmountable.
The surprise team here is Indiana, which returns its entire top five from last season and comes out as the #3 team in the nation with the re-scoring. Coach Ron Helmer told us he doesn’t believe his squad isn’t quite ready to challenge for the podium this year but the Hoosiers are definitely in a good place right now.
Perhaps Helmer knows that several of the teams behind him under the re-scoring will be stronger than they were in 2013. Oregon didn’t crack the top five with the re-scoring – they have 318 returning points – but that tally doesn’t account for the addition of Eric Jenkins. If we give Jenkins a 10 in the team scoring, Oregon goes all the way down to 198 (fourth). Likewise, Stanford will probably score lower than 225 by adding in Joe Rosa. If he’s 10th in the team scoring, then the Cardinal are third with 138 points.
Aslo Portland could get close to 150 points as they return their number two man from last year, Woody Kincaid, who missed NCAAs with a stress fracture.
The Pac-12 is incredibly loaded
With Colorado, Stanford and Oregon, the Pac-12 has three of the top four in LetsRun’s preseason rankings. With Stanford going to the Wisconsin Invite while Colorado and Oregon run at Pre-Nats, the Pac-12 Championships will be the first time all three teams compete against each other this season.
How good is the Pac-12? After NCAA outdoors in June, we scored the men’s distance races (1500, 3k steeple, 5k, 10k) by conference. These were the results:
Big 12 18
Big 10 17
No conference has as much distance talent as the Pac-12, and it’s not even close.
Though the Pac 12 meet will be hosted by Cal this year at the Metropolitan Golf Course in Oakland, it’s only 27 miles from the Stanford campus. Perhaps the Cardinal — who will also host the West Regional — will benefit from getting the chance to see the course a few times before the big race on October 31.
Just like NCAAs, however, Colorado deserves to be the favorite, as the Buffaloes have won Pac-12s every year since joining the conference in 2011. They won in dominant fashion last year, going 3-4-5-7-9 to score just 28 points. It’s worth noting that the meet was held at altitude, granting Colorado home course advantage, but the Buffaloes beat Oregon and Stanford badly at NCAAs as well, so it’s hard to tell how much of an effect the altitude had.
The individual race in Oakland should also be very good as three of the top four returners from NCAAs — Edward Cheserek, Maksim Korolev and Jim Rosa — will all be in action.
So how important will the results of the conference meet be in determining what happens at NCAAs? Cheserek and Colorado rode wins last year to NCAA titles three weeks later in Terre Haute, and the Pac-12/10 champion has been the highest-finishing Pac-10/12 team at NCAAs for four straight years. If CU/Cheserek win comfortably again this year, it’s a good bet they’ll be on the top of the podium again in Terre Haute. But if it’s a close race — which it could well be, team-wise — Pac-12s won’t tell us much about NCAAs except to expect another close race at nationals. So much can change from race to race (and remember, NCAAs is a 10k, while Pac-12s is an 8k), that if the top teams are within a few points, the order at Pac-12s may not have a huge impact on the results at NCAAs.
One certainty is that whoever wins in Oakland will have earned it. When asked if he believes competing in such a tough conference will benefit his team at NCAAs, Colorado coach Mark Wetmore said only this:
“I suppose it ensures we will have run hard at least once.”
Re-scoring 2013 NCAAs
Just as we did with the men, we’ve re-scored 2013 NCAAs minus seniors, with the top five teams appearing below.
|2013 NCAA XC Without The Seniors|
|Team (2013 place)||#1||#2||#3||#4||#5||Total|
|Michigan St. (6)||15||20||21||35||83||174|
|Florida St. (8)||2||18||47||54||61||182|
Michigan, with a low stick in Erin Finn and three other runners in the top 30 in team scoring, looks to be in the best position, but behind the Wolverines, it’s very close with the next three teams separated by just nine points. Michigan State and Oregon should score much lower than that in reality, however, as the Spartans return Sara Kroll and Julia Otwell (their top two runners from 2012) while Oregon adds 15:37 woman Waverly Neer and two-time NXN champ Sarah Baxter. When you factor in a stronger performance from Arkansas, who entered NCAAs ranked third but bombed and finished 15th, it should be a very tight battle to be #1.
The top two teams from 2013 are suffering heavy losses
Defending champion Providence only finished six runners at NCAAs a year ago and half of them (#1 Emily Sisson, #2 Laura Nagel, #5 Grace Thek) are gone this season.
“We’ve been to nationals 24 of the last 25 years, so we expect to make it, but the three that we lost are huge,” says Providence coach Ray Treacy. “We hope to make the top half [at NCAAs] and we’d be happy with that.”
If you look at the results of NCAAs, 2013 runner-up Arizona looks as if it should be strong again in 2014. #1 woman Elvin Kibet graduated but apart from that, the only loss would appear to be #6 woman Erin Menefee. But last year’s #3 Maria Larsson has returned to Sweden, likely to pursue a professional career, while #4 Kayla Beattie is unlikely to run this season due to health problems, according to coach James Li. That means that the Wildcats will be running without three of their top four from a year ago, and with the quality at the top on the women’s side, we slid them out of our preseason top 10.
The Great Lakes Region is stacked
Last year, Great Lakes squads went 3-4-6 at NCAAs (Butler, Michigan, Michigan State) and we have all three teams in our top five heading into 2014. Could three teams from the same region possibly sweep the first three places at nationals?
That has never happened before, but the West Region came close in 2007 with Stanford (1st), Oregon (2nd) and Arizona State (4th). Of course, a lot can change between now and November, but right now the Great Lakes is a good bet to match (or exceed) its performance from last year.
Additionally, only one Big 10 school — Wisconsin in 1985 and 1986 — has ever won a women’s title. Michigan and Michigan State both have a chance to end that skid in 2014.
Could this be the year for Florida State?
What coach Karen Harvey has done since arriving in Tallahassee in 2007 is phenomenal. Before she arrived, the Seminoles had made just three NCAA appearances, never placing higher than 18th. Since then, FSU has made it to NCAAs every single year, finishing in the top four on six occasions (placing second in 2009 and 2010). Yet for all that success, the NCAA crown has eluded Florida State. Harvey says that her team’s lack of championship experience did them in last year, but with an older, wiser group returning in 2014, the Seminoles have a chance to make program history.
The NCAA has never been deeper on the women’s side
If there was one common sentiment among women’s coaches, it was that the NCAA is the best it’s ever been on the women’s side. Michigan coach Mike McGuire says that “the depth of talent is better than it’s been in the 25 years I’ve been coaching women.”
“I would say the depth and quality of teams and individuals in the NCAA is higher than it’s ever been,” says Butler coach Matt Roe. “From a talent and competition standpoint, the NCAA is at its zenith right now. And the depth is just staggering. In terms of athletes at this age, 18 to 22, there’s not a better system in the world than the NCAA for distance runners.”
Michigan State coach Walt Drenth has noticed the depth too and said added that it’s trickled over to the post-collegiate ranks. Seven of the top eight on the all-time 5,000 list for American women are still competing, and two of the top four (Molly Huddle and Shannon Rowbury) set their PRs in Monaco this summer.
The biggest impact in cross country is that you now have to be really strong, one through five, to contend for the national title.
“In my early career here, if you had two or three good kids and a couple fillers, you’d still be a top-10 team,” says Arkansas coach Lance Harter, who was recently elected to the USTFCCCA Hall of Fame. “Those days are long gone.”
So how good is the NCAA right now? Let’s turn to the stats. Here’s a look at the #50 performer in the NCAA in each of the distance events has improves from 2010 to 2014.
Times have dropped tremendously across the board and that in turn has made NCAAs — both in XC and on the track — much more competitive.
“It’s getting much harder to be an All-American in cross country than it used to,” says Florida State coach Karen Harvey. “Women are getting stronger and able to handle more training capacity because coaching is getting better. Women’s running is getting a lot more competitive, which is obviously a great thing.”