Weekend XC Preview: Notre Dame Invitational, Washington Invitational Headline Action

By LetsRun.com
October 2, 2014

The first big weekend of college cross country is in the books, and there are several more meets this weekend worth following (generally, every team runs a big meet either 7 (last) or 6 (this) weeks out from regionals). The men’s field at the Washington Invitational in Seattle is loaded, with half of the top 10 in action, while the men’s race at the Notre Dame Invitational is almost as good with 10 of the top 25 teams racing there. The women’s races don’t boast the depth of the men’s, but there should still be some big-time showdowns with #3 Oregon vs. #4 Stanford at Washington and #5 Georgetown vs #6 Florida State at the Paul Short Run. We preview all the action below.

Notre Dame Invitational (South Bend, Ind., Friday, 5:15 p.m. ET)

Ranked teams, men’s race:  #10 BYU; #15 New Mexico, #16 North Carolina State, #18 Tulsa, #19 Michigan, #20 Princeton, #22 Southern Utah, #23 Eastern Kentucky, #24 Florida State, #25 Colorado State

Ranked teams, women’s race: #12 New Mexico, #30 Penn State

Jonathan Nelson is one of the men who will need to step up for BYU Jonathan Nelson is one of the men who will need to step up for BYU

Men’s team race

The highlight at Notre Dame is clearly the stacked men’s race, which is short on top-end quality but extremely deep, with 10 top-25 teams, looking to earn at large points. Apart from Pre-Nats, Wisconsin and NCAAs, this is the deepest race of the year.

BYU won this meet the last time it traveled to South Bend in 2011, but this is a different Cougars squad. #10 BYU is the top-ranked team in the field, but the Cougars lost three of their top four from the team that took fourth at NCAAs last fall.  Though they retain their trademark depth, Ed Eyestone‘s men lack a proven front-runner. The cupboard isn’t bare, though — Jonathan Nelson (68th at NCAAs in ’13) and Spencer Gardner (118th) return, and they are joined by Conner Peloquin, who redshirted last fall after finishing 84th at NCAAs in 2012.

The Cougars were bestowed a top-10 ranking by the coaches based on the program’s three straight top-six finishes at NCAAs. If they are to make it four straight, someone will have to step up and assume the front-runner role recently filled by Tylor ThatcherJared Ward and Miles Batty.

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#22 Southern Utah and #25 Colorado State are both entered at Notre Dame. Both schools raced at the Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday and will be back in the Midwest to run in South Bend six days later. Did they even fly home after Roy Griak? Going straight from Minneapolis to South Bend would cause them to miss a few extra days of school but would be easier on the runners than flying home and flying back out again a few days later.

Southern Utah and Colorado State will race in the Midwest again on October 18 at Pre-Nationals, meaning that they’ll have run three hard races in four weeks. That strategy could help the Thunderbirds and Rams pick up more at-large points for NCAAs (SUU likely already secured a few by winning Roy Griak), but it will be interesting to note whether so many races will wear them down by November. Check back after NCAAs.

Men’s individuals

The top returner from last year’s race is Purdue’s Matt McClintock (37th at NCAAs). He’s certainly a threat to take the individual title this year, but he’ll have company in the lead group. One man who has already beaten McClintock is Indiana State’s John Mascari (32nd at NCAAs), who defeated McClintock by 13 seconds at Indiana Intercollegiate Championships on September 19. Sam Penzenstadler of Loyola (3rd in NCAA 1500) is another guy to watch for on Friday, but Mascari beat him as well when the two raced at the Illinois State Invitational on September 12. This will be Mascari’s biggest test so far.

SUU’s Nate Jewkes used a late kick to win Roy Griak last weekend and will be dangerous in a close race. 3:58/13:48 man Thomas Awad of Penn is the top returner from Heps last year and has a great chance to finish in the top five. Many Ivy League insiders view upstart Penn as a potential darkhorse in a down Ivy League year as the top 4 teams last year in the league were totally decimated by graduation (Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, Harvard). Here fans get to see if there is any potential they can stack up with Ivy favorite Princeton. Another runner to watch with Ivy League ties is Florida State grad student Tyler Udland, who was ninth in this race in 2013 and now gets a chance to square off against his former Princeton teammates.

Women’s race

With just two ranked teams, the women’s race at Notre Dame isn’t as compelling as the men’s. Perennial power Florida State, which has won the last three editions, is not running this year as coach Karen Harvey is changing things up this year as she didn’t want to run a 5K this weekend; the Seminoles will compete at Paul Short instead, which is a 6K.

#12 New Mexico is the top-ranked team in the field and this will be the squad’s first real test as the Lobos’ only other result was a commanding victory at their home meet on September 6, where they scored just 18 points. Sophomore Calli Thackery, who is the top returner from last year’s 10th-place team at NCAAs (she was 67th), will lead the Lobos.

If you’re looking for someone to bet on for the individual title (and if you are, we’d love to know which bookmaker is taking action on women’s cross country), Ohio State’s Katie Borchers (won Bluegrass Invitational on September 13), Eastern Michigan’s Victoria Voronko (eighth at Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown) and Princeton’s Megan Curham (34th at NCAAs last fall) are all strong candidates for the win.

Washington Invitational (Seattle, Saturday, 2:00 p.m. ET)

Ranked teams, men’s race: #2 Northern Arizona, #5 Portland, #6 Stanford, #7 Indiana, #9 Villanova, #13 Virginia, #20 UCLA, #26 Oklahoma, #28 Washington

Ranked teams, women’s race: #3 Oregon, #4 Stanford, #13 Villanova, #15 Washington

Men’s race

The men’s race at Washington is the race of the year so far, with half of the top 10 teams in the nation toeing the line in Seattle. Stanford will rest most of its top runners, though there are major-invite debuts for redshirt freshmen Jack Keelan (13:55/USA jr xc runner-up) and Sam Wharton (2012 NXN champ). Expect #2 NAU, #5 Portland, and #7 Indiana to run full squads.

The Lumberjacks, coming off a second-place finish at NCAAs, will be favored to win here, and they’ve got one of the favorites in the individual race in Futsum Zienasellassie (4th at NCAAs this year). They’ll also give a debut to grad student Tyler Byrne, who was 29th at NCAAs for Louisville last year. Portland, with six guys under 29:30 for 10,000 and a capable #1 in Scott Fauble (13th at NCAAs) will be dangerous and Indiana has some very good depth as well. Villanova may be a little overmatched in the team race, but sophomore Patrick Tiernan (13:31, 9th at NCAA XC) is a strong contender for the individual win. One other name to watch: Abbabiya Simbassa of Oklahoma (nice profile of him here). The Ethiopian native improved a ton last year (from 32:00 to 28:42 in the 10,000) and still has a lot of potential.

Cuffe should be in action on Saturday; Neer will not Neither Cuffe nor Neer will be in action on Saturday.

Women’s race

It’s always a good race whenever Oregon and Stanford get together (and we ranked them right next to each other in our pre-season poll). Exactly how good this encounter at the Washington Invitational will depend on who’s suiting up in gold and red on Saturday. Oregon will be running a close to full-strength squad, but there are two notable absences: Columbia transfer Waverly Neer and two-time NXN champ Sarah Baxter. Baxter was hurt at the end of the track season and the guess here is that coach Maurica Powell doesn’t want to rush Baxter in if she’s not fully healthy, preserving her eligibility as long as possible. It’s anyone’s guess as to why Neer isn’t running.

Stanford will likely be without its two biggest acquisitions as well as coach Chris Miltenberg told LetsRun prior to the season that World Junior finalists Anna Laman and Elise Cranny won’t open their seasons until Wisconsin or Pac-12s. One Cardinal runner who should be in action is Aisling Cuffe, the third-fastest collegiate of all time over 5,000 (15:11). One of the individual favorites at NCAAs, Cuffe will have her first chance to answer Shelby Houlihan‘s statement victory at Roy Griak last week.

It has been reported by Stanford xc runner Cameron Miller that Cuffe and teammate Cami Chapus will miss most or all of the season with a stress fracture.

Additionally, World Junior finalists Anna Laman and Elise Cranny will both debut for the Cardinal on Saturday. Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg told LetsRun before the season that his plan was to wait until Wisconsin or Pac-12s to open them up but perhaps the injury to Cuffe forced him to reconsider now that those two will be shouldering the load for the team this season. Missing this fall is a tough break for Cuffe, but she hasn’t redshirted yet in her career, so she’ll still have a chance to end the Foot Locker curse in the fall of 2015.

Paul Short Run (Bethlehem, Pa., Saturday, 11:00 a.m. ET)

Ranked teams, men’s race: #9 Villanova, (likely B team) #13 Iona (likely B team), Adams State (#1 D-II)

Ranked teams, women’s race: #5 Georgetown, #6 Florida State, #13 Villanova (likely B team), Adams State (#2 D-II), Johns Hopkins (#1 D-III)

Women’s race

The women’s race has the potential to be a good one, assuming of course that #5 Georgetown runs its full squad. Even without its top two runners from NCAAs last fall in Samantha Nadel and Haley Pierce, the Hoyas were competitive in last week’s Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown, taking second behind #1 Michigan with 77 points. Sub out Georgetown’s #4 and #5 from that race (21st and 23rd) and replace them with a couple runners in the teens or lower and it’s suddenly a close battle with Michigan (who scored 55). The Hoyas will face stiff competition in #6 Florida State, which travels north for its first big race of the season.

There are several women capable of the win. If Georgetown runs all its horses, Nadel and Katrina Coogan (4th at Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown) should both post single-digit scores. The battle for first may come down to FSU’s Colleen Quigley (6th at NCAAs last fall) and Kate Avery (3rd), who will be running their first major races this season. Avery may not be totally race sharp as she placed 4th in the Commonwealth Games 10,000 final on July 29, which may have delayed her buildup. Quigley is coming off a win at the Virginia Tech Alumni Invitational on September 19.

Men’s race

#9 Villanova is entered but is splitting its squads between Paul Short and Washington (Sam McEntee, Rob Denault and Jordy Williamsz will run at Paul Short). #13 Iona is also entered but the Gaels raced last weekend at Virginia and ran a B team at Paul Short last weekend. Perhaps the most intriguing school running at Paul Short is Adams State, which will travel 1,800 miles east to run against D-I competition. The two-time defending D-II national champs, the Grizzlies are ranked #1 in the D-II coaches’ poll and with Villanova and Iona likely running weakened squads, Adams State should have an easy go of it in the team race. It’s great for a school like Adams State to compete against D-I competition, but it’s a little unfortunate that they’re not running at Notre Dame or Washington as the men’s field are much, much stronger at those two meets than at Paul Short. But hey, kudos to the organizers at Lehigh for letting Adams State run. In the past, some prominent D-I schools have either banned the Grizzlies from competing (Oregon in 2009) or let them compete but then scored the D-I and D-II meets separately (Colorado in 2006). According to Notre Dame’s website, “due to the large field sizes in recent years, it has been our long-standing policy to only invite the non-DI teams who have competed here for many, many years.” That’s a valid policy for smaller schools but it would be nice if they made an exception for a perennial power such as Adams State.

Adams State ran Roy Griak last year and finished fourth behind BYU (finished fourth at NCAAs), Colorado State (finished 26th) and Arizona State (didn’t qualify for NCAAs). The Grizzlies’ Kevin Batt and Tabor Stevens went 2-3 in that race and both return this year (Batt has run 7:54/13:44; Stevens has run 13:49 and was the D-II XC champ last year). Those two figure to be really low sticks at Paul Short, but the key will be how their #4 and #5 runners perform. Last year, their #4/#5 men were only 60th and 64th at Roy Griak, costing the Grizzlies any shot at the win.

Yale, the alma mater of LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson, has a less-than-illustrious cross country past (the Bulldogs have never won the men’s Heps title) but is receiving national votes this year (they’re unofficially #38) and is at Paul Short this year as well. With Columbia having bombed last week in Boston, could they or Penn really challenge perennial Ivy favorite Princeton? We may start to find out.

In the individual race, Batt and Stevens should be at the front of the pack. Iona has several runners capable of joining them but unlike Adams State, it didn’t have to fly anyone out to run here, so our guess is we’ll see a B team from the Gaels. American International’s Mike Biwott (fourth at D-II champs in ’13) is another small-school runner to watch. D-III Roger Williams will also compete in the men’s gold race, so look out for sub-9:00 freshman twins Jack and Tim McGowan — though don’t expect them to be close to the front of the pack.

Rocky Mountain Shootout (Boulder, Colo., Saturday, 11:00 a.m. ET)

The Rocky Mountain Shootout will obviously feature the #1 Colorado men and #8 Colorado women, so if nothing else we’ll get a read on where the Buffaloes are at right now.

Greater Louisville Classic (Louisville, Saturday, 8:00 a.m. ET)

Ranked men’s teams: #11 Wisconsin; #23 Eastern Kentucky (likely B team)

Ranked women’s teams: #16 Wisconsin, #23 West Virginia, #28 Virginia Tech

This meet attracted a strong field in 2012 when Louisville hosted NCAAs but it is not nearly as important now with NCAAs back in Terre Haute.

Note: The sections featuring Stanford and Villanova have been updated after both schools announced their squads for this weekend’s meets this afternoon.

There are a slew of other meets out there. As usual, the USTFCCCA (coaches’ association) has a list of all meets on their website.

Discuss this article in our forum: Weekend NCAA XC Preview – 10/3-4, 2014 – Paul Short, Notre Dame, UW.

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