October 6, 2014
There was a ton of NCAA cross country action last weekend, and we’ve done our best to make sense of it all in this column as we’ve got seven thoughts on the action below.
In Seattle, Stanford freshman Elise Cranny debuted with a win while Villanova’s Patrick Tiernan decimated a loaded field to win by 20 seconds (the #2 Northern Arizona men and #3 Oregon women grabbed the team titles). At the Notre Dame Invitational, the #19 Michigan men led by individual champ Mason Ferlic got a big win, while individual champ Charlotte Arter helped #12 New Mexico to a victory on the women’s side. At the Rocky Mountain Shootout, the #1 Colorado men opened up with a historically-great performance and there were also wins for Arkansas’ Stanley Kebenei and Dominique Scott at Chile Pepper.
Without further ado, our seven thoughts.
1. Are the Stanford and Colorado men in a league of their own?
It’s still October 6, seven long weeks from nationals. Heck, Stanford hasn’t even run its A team yet. But right now it’s looking more and more like LetsRun’s top two preseason teams are a cut above the rest of the NCAA.
First, Stanford (our pre-season profile of Stanford is here). Only four of the Cardinal’s presumptive top six have raced this season, and only two done so in a race of consequence. Yet coach Chris Miltenberg has to be happy right now that Stanford’s projected #5 or #6 runner, junior Garrett Sweatt, was eighth overall at Saturday’s Washington Invitational, just four seconds behind the third runner of #2 Northern Arizona. Sweatt led Stanford to a third-place finish, defeating #13 Virginia, even though the Cardinal ran without its top four guys. Joe Rosa and Maksim Korolev looked comfortable going 1-2 at the Stanford Invitational last weekend and the Cardinal still presumably have Jim Rosa (5th at NCAAs last fall) and 13:37 man Sean McGorty waiting in the wings. The next meet on Stanford’s schedule is the Wisconsin Invitational in two weeks, and if the Cardinal runs a full squad as expected, we could be looking at a very, very low score in Madison.
Of course, Miltenberg will tell you that it doesn’t matter where the Cardinal finishes in two weeks’ time. Stanford won Wisconsin in 2012 only to finish 16th at NCAAs. Last year, Stanford entered NCAAs ranked fourth but left Terre Haute in 19th place. Yet neither of those teams was nearly as loaded as this year’s edition. If Garrett Sweatt can finish eighth at Washington, it’s scary to think what Stanford is capable of if everyone is on top of their game.
Of course, the fact that McGorty and Jim Rosa haven’t raced could be a sign that they aren’t in as good of form as one might expect, but when we talked to coach Chris Miltenberg at the end of the summer, he told us McGorty, who suffered a back injury just before USA juniors, was healthy and training and would open the season at Wisco or Pac-12s.
Regardless, the funny thing is, all that firepower might not be enough for Stanford to even win its own conference. The other Pac-12 superpower, Colorado, debuted its top group on Saturday and the results were impressive, to say the least. The Buffaloes swept the top seven places at the Rocky Mountain Shootout in Boulder (senior Morgan Pearson, who finished fourth, competed unattached), with their top seven all under 25:00.
With 55-degree temperatures and not much wind, conditions were ideal for fast times (though remember Boulder sits at an elevation of 5,430 feet). And even with the caveat that times aren’t nearly as important in XC as they are on the track (some courses can run minutes slower based on footing, for example the winning time at NCAAs in Terre Haute has ranged from 28:41 to 30:44), rival coaches have to be terrified of what the CU men accomplished on Saturday. Take a look at how Colorado’s performance stacks up against the school’s last three national championship teams.
|#1||Blake Theroux, 24:23||Blake Theroux, 25:34||Stephen Pifer, 25:31||Brent Vaughn, 24:48|
|#2||Pierce Murphy, 24:24||Ben Saarel, 25:35||Seth Demoor, 25:35||Bret Schoolmeester, 25:11|
|#3||Ammar Moussa, 24:28||Pierce Murphy, 25:42||Brent Vaughn, 25:39||Jared Scott, 25:32|
|#4||Morgan Pearson, 24:32||Zach Perrin, 25:53||James Strang, 25:53||Bradley Harkrader, 25:35|
|#5||Ben Saarel, 24:43||Connor Winter, 25:56||Erik Heinonen, 25:59||Jon Severy, 25:35|
|#6||Jake Hurysz, 24:51||Morgan Pearson, 25:57||Pete Janson, 26:02||Stephen Pifer, 25:40|
|#7||Connor Winter, 24:52||Dillon Shije, 26:12||Billy Nelson, 26:13||James Strang, 25:51|
|Top 5 average||24:30||25:44||25:43||25:20|
|Spread||29 seconds||23 seconds||28 seconds||47 seconds|
It’s jarring just how much better this CU team ran than past editions — all of which, it bears repeating, won NCAA titles. So let’s give them some stronger competition. How about a dual meet between the 2014 Buffaloes and every other CU runner in history (with the caveat that no runner can appear more than once on a team)?
All-time Rocky Mountain Shootout results
1. 2002 Jorge Torres, 24:07
2. 1998 Adam Goucher, 24:12
3. 2014 Blake Theroux, 24:23
4. 2014 Pierce Murphy, 24:24
5. 2014 Ammar Moussa, 24:28
6. 2014 Morgan Pearson, 24:32
7. 2012 Jake Hurysz, 24:34
8. 2011 Richard Medina, 24:39
9. 2014 Ben Saarel, 24:43
10. 2010 Joe Bosshard, 24:44
2014 CU: 27 points
All-time CU: 28 points
Yes, according to the times (which we normally tell you to ignore in cross country unless you are certain the footing is the same), the 2014 Buffaloes are pretty good. Prior to Saturday, only two men had ever broken 24:30 on CU’s home course, and both men went on to win the NCAA XC title that fall. Three Buffaloes broke 24:30 on Saturday, with a fourth at 24:32. All these numbers have generated discussion about where this Colorado team ranks in school and NCAA history.
While it’s impossible to say where Colorado stacks up historically until after NCAAs, the 2014 Buffaloes have high expectations.
“I think this year we have the opportunity to be the best CU cross country team in history,” Theroux told CUBuffs.com on Friday (before the race). “A lot of us want to do that, and cement ourselves as the best the school has ever seen.”
Even the ever-cautious Mark Wetmore knows that this could be a special group.
“The team looked great, the weather is great, and the conditions are great,” Wetmore told CUBuffs.com after the race. “I have to be really careful about getting too excited…I was watching to see how many men could break 25 minutes. I thought it would be maybe four and it was seven.”
The full story of this CU team is incomplete, but on Saturday the Buffaloes wrote a heck of an opening chapter.
2. Hello, Elise Cranny
Speaking of a heck of an opening chapter.
Elise Cranny was the subject of some debate in LetsRun’s preseason individual rankings. She ran faster over 1500 than any woman in the NCAA last year (4:10) and took fourth at World Juniors but one college coach told us he wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t finish in the top 10 this fall. We ultimately ranked Cranny sixth.
A month later, that’s looking like a pretty good spot for the Stanford freshman, who won her collegiate debut at the Washington Invitational (6K) by seven seconds in 20:11. Cranny didn’t face any truly top-tier individuals in Seattle; Wisconsin in two weeks will be a better gauge of her talents. But a win is a win, and it was an encouraging sign for a Stanford women’s program that could use some good news after it was revealed last week that Aisling Cuffe (fourth at NCAAs last year) and Cami Chapus (the Cardinal’s #3 runner at NCAAs in ’13) will both likely miss the season with stress fractures.
It was a totally brutal week for the Stanford women on the injury front last week but Cranny’s win was a burst of sunshine for the Cardinal.
3. A challenger for Cheserek?
The best individual performance of the 2014 XC season so far belongs to Villanova sophomore Patrick Tiernan, who demolished a top-notch field to get the win at Saturday’s Washington Invitational in 23:00. In a field that contained nine ranked teams, the 20-year-old Aussie looked as if he was running against high schoolers, breaking up the pack at 2k and coasting to a 20-second victory over Northern Arizona’s Futsum Zienasellassie, who was fourth at NCAAs last fall. Cheserek remains the heavy favorite at NCAAs — he beat Tiernan by 13 seconds the last time they raced, in the epic NCAA 5,000 final — but Tiernan, who was ninth at NCAAs last fall and has a 13:31 5000 pb, stamped himself as a legitimate candidate for second behind Ches.
Unfortunately, fans will have to wait a while for Tiernan to race anyone good again as Villanova is skipping Wisconsin and Pre-Nats in favor of the Princeton Invitational. After that, Nova races at Big East and the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional; Tiernan won both of those races last year and it would be a shock to see him lose them in 2014. More than likely, he’ll enter NCAAs unbeaten with one quality win (Washington) but it will be hard to tell just how good Tiernan is because of Villanova’s soft schedule.
Last week, the Wildcats actually ran a split squad at Washington as others ran at Paul Short. And people wonder why our sport isn’t more popular. This split squad business drives us nuts.
4. Big weekends for UCLA, Michigan and Navy men
Three of the biggest meets this weekend were the Washington Invitational, the Notre Dame Invitational and the Paul Short Run. In each case, there was a surprising performance in the men’s team race that should lead to a shakeup in the next coaches’ poll on Tuesday.
In Seattle, #20 UCLA ran a great race to take second with 72 points, just 10 behind #2 NAU. NAU is still a solid team, getting a big race from #3 man Caleb Hoover (sixth overall), but it is alarming that new addition Tyler Byrne, who was 29th at NCAAs in 2013, was just 35th at Washington, finishing as the Lumberjacks’ fifth man. The Bruins used a pack approach to take placed 9 through 12, with a top four spread of just two seconds (fifth man Myles Smith rounded out the scoring in 30th).
One of the beauties of cross country is that everyone runs the same distance at the same time. UCLA’s top four guys may have finished with near-identical times on Saturday, but away from the course they’re very different runners:
Lane Werley (9th, 23:40): Classic 5,000 guy. PRs of 3:44 and 13:53 fit nicely with the #1 guy on a solid team.
Jonah Diaz (10th, 23:41): 6th at NXN as a high school senior but failed to develop in first two years at UCLA — PRs of 8:40 and 14:42; 67th at Pac-12s last fall.
Nick Hartle (11th, 23:41): 800 stud (1:47.98 PR, 2nd at Pac-12s) ran on UCLA’s 4×400 at Pac-12s and finished as their third man in an XC race. How many guys can say that? That’s big time range.
Sergey Sushchikh (12th, 23:42): Born in Russia, went to high school in U.S. PRs of 14:23 and 30:03.
Led by an individual win from Mason Ferlic, the #19 Michigan men defeated nine other top-25 teams to claim the victory at Friday’s Notre Dame Invitational. The times were very quick at Notre Dame as rain caused the course to be altered; 38 men broke 24:00. Five of them were wearing the maize and blue of Michigan, which put four runners in the top 24 to win with 97 points (#10 BYU was second with 112).
The Wolverines have the look of a top-10 team, with a legitimate #1 in Ferlic, a strong #2 in Tony Smoragiewicz (15th at ND) and some nice depth at 3-4-5. They’re well-positioned for future success as well, as the top six will all return in 2015. New coach Kevin Sullivan deserves praise for getting Michigan to run well at ND, but he really should thank his predecessor Alex Gibby, who left him with a huge core of young talent in Ann Arbor.
Gibby was at Michigan for four years. During the final three years, the Wolverines were third, second and second at Big 10s and last year’s runner-up showing was the first time in 15 years that Wolverines beat Wisconsin at Big 10s. Despite all that, he was shown the door by track and field head Jerry Clayton. Life is officially unfair. Gibby is now coaching at Charlotte.
Paul Short was certainly weaker than usual on the men’s side, but it was still surprising to see unranked Navy take the team title with 95 points over the University of Guelph (Canada) and defending D-II national champs Adams State. To try to tell you how big of an upset this was, we pointed out on the messageboard that Navy came in ranked in the regional rankings behind host Lehigh and Lehigh ended up 9th in the meet. Lehigh’s third man was 96th in the race whereas Navy scored just 95 total points as a team. Very impressive.
Adams State was easily ahead through four runners (50 points versus 71 for Navy and 84 for Guelph), but D-II teams just don’t have the depth of their D-I counterparts, and that was evident as Adams State’s #5 man was 82nd overall, killing any chance they had at the team title. Navy won’t get as large a bump as UCLA or Michigan (the best D-I team it beat was unranked Yale) but it likely will get votes in the new coaches’ national poll on Tuesday. Or maybe not. The new regional rankings are out and they only moved up one spot in the Mid-Atlantic.
What’s the point of having rankings if you aren’t going to change things based on results?
One team that underperformed on Saturday was #7 Indiana. The Hoosiers were just eighth at Washington, losing to Stanford and Villanova, both of whom rested several key runners. Indiana doesn’t have a clear #1, which isn’t a problem if you have a tight pack, like UCLA did. But the Hoosiers also had a big spread (46 seconds); not a good thing when your top finisher is 16th. Indiana improved a lot at the end of last season to win Big 10s and finish eighth at NCAAs. The Hoosiers will have to do the same in 2014 because if they continue to run as they did on Saturday, they’ll be watching NCAAs from home.
5. Oregon women edge depleted Stanford; #12 UNM wins ND
Despite the absence of several top runners, the women’s race of the weekend was at Washington, where #3 Oregon edged #4 Stanford, 48 to 55. Oregon ran without freshman Sarah Baxter and Columbia transfer Waverly Neer. Neither of them have raced yet this season and with the Ducks running the rest of their top women on Saturday, it’s starting to look like Baxter and Neer may not feature at all in 2014. Stanford, as we mentioned earlier, was missing Cuffe and Chapus. Still, the two perennial powers were far and away the best teams in Seattle, as #15 Washington was a distant third with 119 points (#13 Villanova flopped and finished seventh, one spot behind Wyoming).
Oregon and Stanford were dead-even at 34 points apiece through four runners, but the Ducks’ depth won the day. Oregon’s #5, Alli Cash, was 14th overall and the Ducks had seven in before Stanford’s #5, freshman Abbie McNulty. That’s where the absence of Cuffe and Chapus hurts. Cranny should be fine as a #1, but losing two of your top three means that runners like McNulty, who would ideally provide depth as a #6/7 type this year, are forced into scoring roles. Stanford still has a chance to improve on its 11th-place finish at NCAAs last year but any chance of title contention evaporated with Cuffe’s injury. Likewise, Oregon is a solid team and did very well to put six in the top 15 at Washington. However, if the Ducks are to challenge Michigan or Michigan State for the national title, they’ll need Baxter and Neer to step in and perform at some point this season — if they can.
On paper, the #12 New Mexico women should have won Notre Dame handily (the only other ranked team was #30 Penn State), and that’s exactly what happened. The Lobos put five in the top 18 to score just 49 points, well ahead of second-place NC State. Charlotte Arter took the individual win in 16:09 (course was just under 5K), with fellow Brits Alice Wright and Calli Thackery taking eighth and ninth. In fact, New Mexico’s entire top five is British, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since head coach Joe Franklin has had a lot of success in his career with Brits, both at Butler and New Mexico. The Lobos will run next at Wisconsin, where they’ll face a much tougher field than the one at ND.
6. The Yankees of Canadian cross country
America, consider the 2014 Paul Short Run women’s gold race your introduction to the Yankees of Canadian women’s cross country: the Guelph Gryphons (though maybe that analogy is getting dated since the Yankees have now missed the playoffs two straight years). If you’re even vaguely familiar with Canadian running, you’ve probably heard of the University of Guelph, located 75 minutes west of Toronto. The #5 Georgetown and #6 Florida State women certainly know about them after the Gryphons went 2-3-5-7 to win Paul Short with 48 points, well ahead of the Hoyas (127) and FSU (145), though Georgetown did rest its top three from last week’s Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown. Even with those three, however, Georgetown would have struggled to win as Guelph was simply dominant on Saturday. Trouncing #6 Florida State by almost 100 points is extremely impressive, even if the Seminoles’ performance showed that they might be slightly over-ranked at this point in the season.
The Gryphon women are clearly the best in Canada, winning the CIS Championships (equivalent of NCAAs) nine years in a row (the Guelph men have won eight straight). In the last four seasons, the highest amount of points they scored at the CIS meet was 33. After trouncing the best Canadian schools again this year, it would be fun to see Guelph take on the best American schools at NCAAs. The schedule even works out as the CIS Championships are on Nov. 8 and NCAAs are on Nov. 22. Yes we know they’d never be allowed into the actual NCAA race but what about running an open race after the actual NCAAs? Terre Haute could open it up to fans and charge $20 per head. Tons of fans would love to run the NCAA course and Guelph could time trial it and see how their times stacked up against the NCAA champs.
7. Kebenei, #7 Arkansas women win at Chile Pepper
NCAA steeple runner-up Stanley Kebenei of Arkansas got revenge on the man who beat him out for the NCAA title in June, Anthony Rotich of UTEP, by winning the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival on Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark in 23:53.5. It was a close race between Kebenei, former teammate Kemoy Campbell (2nd, 23:53.8) and Rotich (3rd, 23:54.5). Beating Rotich, who was fourth at NCAA XC in 2012, was impressive enough but Kebenei’s win was especially noteworthy as he spent the summer doing basic training with the US Army, and his training was severely limited.
The #7 Arkansas women got a big win at Chile Pepper as well, led by a great performance by junior Dominique Scott. Scott blitzed a 16:01 5K to take the individual title, breaking the course record by 38 seconds (conditions were perfect, however, as the top nine finishers all finished under the previous mark). Both Scott and Kebenei project as top 5/10 types at NCAAs in November.