2014 Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown Preview
September 25, 2014
BOSTON — Though the cross country season has officially been going on for almost a month, this weekend is the one runners and fans have been waiting for. From this point on, the results actually matter and teams can start accumulating at-large points for NCAA-qualifying purposes. There are several big meets this weekend where the top teams will test themselves against strong competition, one of which is the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown, where LetsRun.com will provide onsite coverage from Franklin Park. There are top-10 battles on both the men’s and women’s side in Boston as the No. 3 Oregon men take on No. 8 Syracuse while the No. 1 Michigan women will face No. 5 Georgetown. We briefly preview the action and tell you what other meets to look out for below.
Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown (Boston, Friday, 3:00 p.m. ET)
Ranked teams (men’s race): No. 3 Oregon, No. 8 Syracuse, No. 16 Providence
Ranked teams (women’s race): No. 1 Michigan, No. 5 Georgetown, No. 14 Syracuse, No. 17 Boston College, No. 18 Providence, No. 25 Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins (No. 1 in Division III)
Can Oregon repeat?
The big story in the men’s race is the presence of the Oregon Ducks, who will return to defend their title from a year ago. In 2013, the Ducks dominated, putting six runners in the top nine to score 22 points and trounce second-place Syracuse (69). Edward Cheserek announced himself by claiming the individual win and would go on to win the NCAA championship two months later. Unfortunately for Oregon, the man who finished right behind Cheserek in second last year, Jake Leingang, would only take 149th at NCAAs.
One of the questions facing the Ducks this year is whether runners like Leingang (who didn’t race in UO’s 2014 opener at the Bill Dellinger Invitational), Matthew Melancon and Jeramy Elkaim, all of whom showed promise in Boston last year, will be able to carry that performance through the end of the season. Melancon looked good at Bill Dellinger, finishing just two second behind Cheserek (and in front of Michigan State All-American Caleb Rhynard) and should be right with him again in Boston. A strong run by the Ducks’ supporting cast would be a positive sign but after last year, they’ll know not to get carried away with a big win.
Cheserek is a known quantity and it would be a shock to see him lose, but it will be interesting to see who UO’s no. 2 runner is. On paper, it seems clear that 13:18 man Eric Jenkins is the choice, but he was just their no. 5 (eighth overall) at Bill Dellinger. If Oregon is to challenge for the win at NCAAs, it will need Jenkins in the top 10. How he runs at Franklin Park will answer whether Bill Dellinger was a fluke or a more serious problem. Franklin Park is a fast xc course and it’s in Boston – his former home (Jenkins spent his first two years at Northeastern). If Jenkins, who has had a lot of success on the track but not in xc, doesn’t do well on this course, it’s not a good sign.
Beware the Orange
The only team standing between Oregon and the team title is Syracuse, which finished as runner-up to Oregon last year and enters ranked eighth in the country. The Orange is incredibly deep, placing nine guys in the top 28 last year (seven return) and that depth could benefit the team in Boston. Unlike the Wisconsin Invitational or Pre-Nats, there are only 18 teams in the men’s field in Boston, several of which (Johns Hopkins, Hartford, Rhode Island) can be ignored entirely. That places a premium on depth rather than a low stick up front, negating some of the advantage Cheserek provides the Ducks. Oregon is still more than capable of putting five in the top 10 like it did last year, but so is Syracuse, which almost won the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational at Penn State two weeks ago with its B team. Martin Hehir, who was third last year, leads an experienced Orange squad that could pull the upset if Oregon’s no. 4 or 5 man has a bad day.
Possible Heps preview?
It’s hard to remember the last time the Ivy League was as wide open as it is in 2014. As many as five teams could argue they have a shot to win it this fall, two of which, Columbia and Dartmouth, will race in Boston (Cornell and Harvard are also running but neither will challenge for the Heps title this year). Both the Lions (losing three of its top four from its Heps title team, plus coach Willy Wood) and the Big Green (four of its top five) were hit hard by graduation, but so was everyone else in the top half of Ivy League, and someone will be crowned the conference champ on November 1st.
If Columbia or Dartmouth is able to decisively beat the other on Friday, it will stamp itself as the early favorite for the Heps title. Look for individuals Daniel Everett (Columbia) and Curtis King (Dartmouth) to be fighting for a top-10 spot with the Oregon and Syracuse packs.
Every year, there are a few guys who seemingly come out of nowhere and record big finishes in the first big invitationals of the season. If you’re looking for a guy who fits the mold in Boston, check out Stephen Sollowin of Northeastern. He’s run 4:02 (mile) and 14:02 (5,000) and is very familiar Franklin Park layout as he is a Weymouth, Mass., native and runs workouts there with Northeastern. UPDATE: An earlier version of this article mentioned Sollowin’s former Huskies teammate Wesley Gallagher as an athlete to watch, but we have since learned that Gallagher transferred to Mississippi this year. Thanks to messageboard poster nexctrackfan for the update.
Providence took the title last year en route to the national championship, but the Friars lose their top two from 2013 in Emily Sisson and Laura Nagel, which will make it very difficult to defend their title. 15:31 woman Sarah Collins remains and will be in contention for the win here, but the race for the team title in Boston should come down to Michigan and Georgetown.
The Wolverines are coming off a near-perfect score at last weekend’s Big 10 Preview in Iowa City, taking five of the top six spots, led by super soph Erin Finn, who won the individual title by 40 seconds. Finn, who has track pbs of 15:26/32:41 is the favorite in the women’s race, but she’ll face stiff competition in Georgetown’s Katrina Coogan (4:13/15:34), who won her opener at the James Madison Invitational on Sep. 13 by 33 seconds. Boston College’s Liv Westphal, who was third last year and 17th at NCAAs, should also be in the mix up front.
It’s tough to say whether Michigan or Georgetown should be favored after their most recent meets (Georgetown scored 17 to win at James Madison; Michigan scored 16 to win the Big 10 Preview against a slightly stronger field). Michigan probably remains the best bet for the win as they have a little more talent and a little more depth than the Hoyas, but it figures to be a close race (that was our rationale for making them our preseason No. 1 while Georgetown came in at No. 3). If the Wolverines can dominate this meet — which features six top-25 teams — it will be a great sign for their title chances.
Best of the rest
Outside of the presumptive top two, this meet will serve as a preview of the NCAA Northeast Regional as the top six teams in the region are all entered; four of them are ranked, led by No. 14 Syracuse. #18 Providence will still be difficult with Collins and Catarina Rocha (seventh last year) but the Friars are not the dominant force they were a year ago. Host team #17 Boston College should be competitive but they have work to do after finishing fifth in the region last year and missing out on nationals.
Cornell (receiving votes, #34) and Dartmouth (#25) are in similar situations in 2014. Both the Big Red and Big Green lost three of their top five from NCAAs last year and both lost their big guns up front from last year (Rachel Sorna for Cornell, Abbey D’Agostino from Dartmouth). Dartmouth has a legitimate no. 1 ready to step in with All-American Dana Giordano, but the Big Green also lost coach Mark Coogan (replaced by Courtney Jaworski) whereas coach Artie Smith, who attended Cornell and was once an assistant dean there, looks like a Cornell lifer.
The Ivy League schools will have to get contributions from new runners if they’re to challenge Syracuse, BC or Providence in the region.
Other Weekend Action
Roy Griak Invitational (Falcon Heights, Minn., Saturday, 1:20 p.m. ET)
Ranked teams (men’s race): No. 19 North Carolina, No. 24 Texas, No. 27 Iowa State, No. 29 Colorado State
Ranked teams (women’s race): No. 3 Michigan State, No. 9 Iowa State, No. 11 Butler, No. 20 Boise State, No. 22 Vanderbilt, No. 28 Minnesota, No. 30 North Carolina, Grand Valley State (No. 1 in Division II)
A deep women’s race is highlighted by an individual battle between NCAA 10,000 champ Emma Bates of Boise State and NCAA 1500 champ Shelby Houlihan of Arizona State (who won this race last year). No. 3 Michigan State has an NCAA champ of its own in Leah O’Connor, but she wasn’t even the Spartans’ first woman their last time out. That honor fell to Rachele Schulist, who beat O’Connor and everyone else to win the Bill Dellinger Invitational. The Spartans will be favored for the team title here but they’ll have their hands full with six other ranked teams and defending D-II champ Grand Valley State.
The men’s race won’t be as good, with No. 24 Texas the highest-ranked team entered. The main storyline is who will take the individual title. The top candidate is Texas’ Craig Lutz, who was 15th at NCAAs last fall but struggled on the track last spring. Initially, we thought Lutz would battle Trent Lusignan of South Dakota State (12th at NCAA XC), but the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader has reported that Lusignan will redshirt this year and thus won’t be racing at Roy Griak.
Cowboy Jamboree (Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, 10:15 a.m. ET)
Oklahoma State hasn’t released a list of entries on its website, but at the very least we’ll see full squads from the No. 4 OK State men and No. 19 women.
Stanford Invitational (Stanford, Calif., Saturday, 12:50 p.m. ET)
Stanford is the only ranked team in either race, and based on the entries, neither the No. 5 men nor No. 4 women will be running full squads. Still, NCAA third-placer Maksim Korolev is slated to make his Cardinal debut and Joe Rosa is entered in his first XC race for almost two years.
Want more NCAA info for this weekend?
Here is the full schedule according to the coaches’ association.
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