Eight Takes From The Men’s Race – 2014 NCAA Cross-Country Championships
November 22, 2014
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The 2014 NCAA cross-country season is in the books and the champions on the men’s side are the same as last year: Edward Cheserek and the Colorado men. We’ve got eight quick takes on the men’s race, with much more coverage, including tons of photos and video interviews, to come in the following hours and days.
1. This was the least dramatic NCAAs in recent history.
We could use this space to brag about our pre-meet predictions (we correctly called the men’s and women’s team/individual champions) but we’re sure that several other experts could do the same. Kate Avery, Edward Cheserek, the Michigan State women and the Colorado men all entered as favorites and all four came through when it counted. The only drama centered around the winning margins – how fast would Avery run and how low could MSU and CU go?
Avery, who pushed the pace as usual, tried to use the strength that earned her fourth place at the Commonwealth Games 10k to break the field early, and by 4k she had a lead of 8 seconds. The 23-year-old Brit didn’t let up over the final 2k, crossing in 19:31.6 to miss the course record by three seconds.
Michigan State got out well and moved up gradually throughout the race. By 4k, the Spartans led Iowa State, 102-142, and the margin would only increase as MSU picked up 17 places over the last 2k to win, 85-147.
Last year, the CU men made up an 19-point deficit over the last 2k to win the championship. This year, the Buffaloes once again ran an outstanding final two kilometers to separate themselves from the herd (though it was easier to pick up places this year as the race really strung out over the last 2k). Colorado went from 92 to 65 points over the final 2k while Stanford stayed at 98.
2. The Colorado men and Edward Cheserek have turned men’s cross-country into track races on grass.
Normally when you think of track on grass, you think of blazing fast times. But today’s race resembled a track race because the first eight kilometers – 80 percent of the race – essentially served as throat-clearing for the real race over the final 2k. PAC-12s wasn’t tactical, but the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown, Pre-Nats and NCAAs were all extremely tactical (winning times of 24:20, 24:04 and 30:19) even though every race had good conditions for racing.
When other individuals see Colorado and Cheserek at the front of the pack, they know that it will take a humongous effort to drop them and most of them are content to wait until one of them makes a move. Is it good for the sport? Places, not times, are most important in cross country, but for the individual men’s champion to run 30:19 on a day when the women’s course record almost went down is ridiculous.
Will we see faster times in 2015? With Cheserek and four of Colorado’s top six returning (plus Morgan Pearson, who was 17th in ’13), don’t count on it.
3. This is the best Colorado squad of all time, but it’s not close to the best NCAA team of this century.
After the race, we caught up with both coach Mark Wetmore and former 2002 NCAA XC champ Jorge Torres and both men said they thought this year’s CU team was the best ever.
Wetmore compares this year’s CU team to the 2001 squad around the 1:30 mark. He said, “This is probably our best team ever.” The 2001 team had Dathan Ritzenhein and Jorge Torres (both future individual XC champs) and Steve Slattery, but today’s team did very well up front with its first two guys in 5th and 7th.
As for Torres, he said this year’s team is just way deeper than the 2001 squad which features himself, brother Ed, Dathan Ritzenhein and Steve Slattery. What is interesting is when we asked Torres who would win in a hypothetical top four matchup between this year’s team and the 2001 team, he said he thought this year’s team. We’re not so sure about that.
The Buffaloes’ 65 points was the lowest score since the 2005 Wisconsin Badgers, but they’re not in the same league as that squad or the 2003 Stanford team that scored 24 points at Nationals. Here’s a comparison of this year’s Buffs and those two teams, plus the 2001 Colorado squad.
Overall place at NCAAs in parentheses; PRs are at time of meet; track finishes are from previous academic year.
2014 Colorado, 65 points
(5) Ammar Moussa, jr., 3:43/13:56
(7) Ben Saarel, so., 3:41/13:48; 3rd indoor 3k
(9) Blake Theroux, sr., 3:45/13:57/8:49 steeple
(24) Connor Winter, jr., 3:44/13:55
(35) Pierce Murphy, jr., 13:48/29:36
(41) Jake Hurysz, sr., 3:40/13:38; 12th indoor 3k
2005 Wisconsin, 37 points
(1) Simon Bairu, sr., 13:43/28:04; 14th outdoor 10k
(3) Chris Solinsky, jr., 3:42/7:53/13:37; 1st indoor 3k, 3rd indoor 5k, 8th outdoor 5k
(9) Matt Withrow, fr., 8:06/13:35; redshirted track but made Team USA XC in Feb. ‘05
(14) Antony Ford, sr., 8:21/14:01/28:55, 16th outdoor 10k
(17) Stuart Eagon, fr., 3:47/8:08/13:53
(18) Tim Nelson, jr., 14:03/28:45, 13th indoor 5k, 8th outdoor 10k
2003 Stanford, 24 points
(2) Ryan Hall, jr., 3:42 in HS still trying to be a 1500 guy; got a lot better the next year
(4) Grant Robison, sr., 3:35/7:57/13:40; 1st outdoor 1500 (3rd USAs), 9th indoor 3k
(5) Ian Dobson, sr., 3:50/13:57/28:20; future Olympian.
(6) Louis Luchini, sr.,13:31/28:41,
(12) Adam Tenforde, sr., 13:55/28:23; 12th indoor 5000, 7th outdoor 10k (10th USAs)
(13) Don Sage, sr., 3:39/14:04/28:40; ’02 outdoor 1500 champ
(33) Seth Hejny, sr., 7:56/13:51/29:16
2001 Colorado, 90 points
(2) Jorge Torres, jr.,13:42 in 2001, would run 13:26 in spring.
(4) Dathan Ritzenhein, fr., 13:44 in HS, would run 13:27 in spring.
(15) Ed Torres, jr., 14:10, would run 13:59 that spring.
(28) Steve Slattery jr. 3:42/8:26 steeple, would run 8:23 st/13:49 in spring.
(56) Sean Smith sr??, 14:11/29:47
Those Wisconsin/Stanford teams both had a sixth man who had run in the 28:40s for 10k; Stanford had three guys who had won or would win an NCAA individual championship, a future Olympian in Ian Dobson and a 13:31 guy in Louis Luchini. This year’s CU team is much better at XC than track, but they’re not touching those two teams.
With that said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that wanted it more than the Buffaloes. Here’s what their captain, Blake Theroux, had to say minutes after the race.
“We’ve been talking about winning. Every. Single. Day. Since June 1st! Every single day since outdoor, we’ve talked about this day, we’re going to come out here and kill it. And that’s what we did.”
Watch Theroux below (his comments start at the 35-second mark) and it’s impossible not to get fired up.
4. Cheserek and Jenkins post first 1-2 finish by teammates since 1989.
Iowa State’s John Nuttall and Jonah Koech were the last pair of teammates to go 1-2 at NCAAs, doing so at the 1989 NCAA Championships in Annapolis, Maryland. The races actually played out pretty similarly, as Cheserek and Nuttall both won comfortably (12 and 14 seconds) while Koech and Jenkins both had to kick for third (Koech had a 0.82-second gap; Jenkins was 2.1 seconds ahead of NAU’s Futsum Zienasellassie).
While it was a good day for the Ducks’ top two finishers, Oregon was a disappointing sixth overall as fifth man Cole Watson was way back in 155th. Depth didn’t seem to be an issue for the Ducks when they destroyed Syracuse at the Battle in Beantown in September, 24 to 52, but it has been a problem recently and really hurt the Ducks today. Of the other teams in the top 10, the second lowest #5 man was Oklahoma State’s Cerake Geberkidane in 126th. Through four runners, UO had a respectable 90 points, but Watson scored 131 points on his own (more than Colorado and Stanford’s entire teams).
Most of those points came over the second half of the race as Oregon was actually leading the team competition at 5k with 100 points (obviously the field was still tightly bunched). Cheserek and Jenkins were only 9th and 40th at that point (separated by 0.6 seconds, though), but Tanguy Pepiot (10th at 5k, 47th at finish), Daniel Winn (19th at 5k, 60th at finish) and Matthew Melancon (56th at 5k, 181st at finish) could not capitalize after getting out well.
5. The Stanford men had their best finish since their Dream Team won in 2003.
Much of the talk about Stanford this season has centered around the Cardinal’s recent failures at NCAAs (entered NCAAs ranked fourth last year, finished 19th; entered NCAAs ranked second in 2012, finished 16th) but in Chris Miltenberg’s third year, the Cardinal finally put it together and finished second with 98 points.
In the finish area, the Stanford men were overjoyed with their result. Maksim Korolev reacted with equal parts shock and joy when we told him that Stanford got second and the rest of the squad was in high spirits, even Joe Rosa (33rd), who admitted that he ran a “s*****” race. Yells of “this is Stanford cross-country!” and “I can’t believe it!” could be heard emanating from the Stanford huddle post-race.
Miltenberg has preached all year – both to us and his athletes – about running team cross-country, and that’s exactly what the Cardinal did today. Korolev placed well (fourth) as expected, but even though Rosa had an off day and was just their fourth man, they made up for it with strong runs from Sean McGorty (20th in just his second race of the year), Michael Atchoo (29th) and 2012 NXN champ Sam Wharton (39th). All five Stanford scorers were All-Americans; only Colorado matched that feat.
The Cardinal’s strong run prompts the following question: could Stanford have won with a healthy Jim Rosa? Rosa missed the season with a knee injury, but he was fifth at NCAAs last year. If you sub him in for Wharton and put him fifth (and move everyone behind him down one), Stanford scores 78, Colorado scores 70 and it’s suddenly very close.
Of course if Rosa’s healthy, Colorado likely doesn’t redshirt Morgan Pearson (17th last year; hat tip Twitter user RUNx365). It’s a shame that Rosa wasn’t healthy this year, because Korolev and Atchoo will both be gone in 2015. Still, with both Rosa brothers, McGorty and Wharton, the Cardinal will be formidable once again – particularly when you add in one of the greatest high schoolers in history – Grant Fisher.
6. This was the greatest day in University of Portland cross-country history.
Veteran Portland coach Rob Conner, who has been at the helm since 1989, said he’s been waiting 25 years for this day, as the Pilots were third, the best finish in program history (previous best was seventh, which they achieved last year). The Pilots only finished five guys, but they were all in the top 70. Conner knew at the start of the season that this was a make-or-break year as four of the top five were seniors, and the class of 2015 came through in their final XC race in a Portland uniform.
Scott Fauble (12th) finished well as expected, but it was the performances of usual seventh man Timo Goehler (third man in 44th) and sophomore Danny Martinez (59th) that carried the team today. Conner knows that reaching the podium again in 2015 will be a tough task, but he’s confident the team can rebound well next year as they have a deep stable of quality runners that haven’t raced on the varsity yet.
It’s pretty impressive that a small school in the shadows of the University of Oregon could beat an Oregon team that went 1-2 individually.
7. If this was an 8k race, the Syracuse men would be on the podium.
We caught up with coach Chris Fox in the Indianapolis airport and he wasn’t very pleased with his team’s performance, though he admitted that he’ll probably look back on it more fondly as time passes.
The Orange was third at 8k with 172 points (podium teams Portland and NAU had 224 and 204, respectively) but when the racing really got going, none of SU’s top five at 8k moved up over the final two kilometers.
Syracuse places from 8k to 10k
Martin Hehir 31st to 38th
MJ Erb 34th to 37th
Max Straneva 41st to 42nd
Dan Lennon 45th to 45th
Justyn Knight 62nd to 143rd
Colin Bennie 121st to 95th
Joel Hubbard 123rd to 165th
Colin Bennie gained 26 places over the final 2k to help out a bit (Syracuse would have been 8th, not 5th, if Knight scored as their fifth man) but the losses at the other spots were too much to overcome. Freshman Justyn Knight in particular had a tough time in his first 10k race (we believe it was the first 10k of his life as he didn’t race Regionals), losing 81 places in two kilometers. Fox said that he didn’t think the 10k distance had anything to do with it, but rather that Knight hadn’t looked as good recently as he did earlier in the season when he was 14th at Wisconsin. Knight got sick after conference and missed a week of workouts (he still ran easy that week) and sat out Regionals to get some extra rest (he was healthy for that race).
It’s easy to say that the extra 2k did Knight in and that he should have run Regionals to get acquainted with the distance, but that’s probably not the case. It’s tough for any true freshman to run well at NCAAs and there were a lot of place changes over the last 2k; Knight just struggled more than most.
SU has a very bright future with just one senior in its top seven and Knight gained some valuable experience for next year. The Orange look like a certain podium team next year. Coach Fox shouldn’t be too upset with fifth today – at the press conference yesterday, Fox said the Orange were a year ahead of where they thought they’d be (in terms of contending for a podium spot).
8. The top American true frosh was just 83rd.
Above we talked about how it’s hard for a frosh to do well at NCAAs. Well here’s a stat for you that tells you how hard. There were no true freshman All-Americans. Redshirt frosh Sam Wharton — who was the NXN champ in high school — was the top frosh today in 39th. Gilbert Kirui (61st) was the top true freshman but he’s from Kenya. The top American true frosh (Knight is from Canada) was Andrew Rafla of Boise State. Rafla, who ran 8:50 and 4:10 in HS, was 83rd.
Discuss this topic on our messageboard: 1st Freshman was 39th (Sam Wharton). Worst place ever for 1st Frosh??