NCAA Regionals, Women’s Preview: Who’s Going To NCAAs?

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*What do you think? Vote in the 2014 LetsRun.com Regional Polls.
*Discuss in our fan forum: 2014 NCAA Cross Country Regionals – Let the madness begin

By Jonathan Gault
November 12, 2014

Yesterday, I looked at the nine men’s races at Friday’s NCAA Regionals that will determine the 31 teams going to nationals. Now it’s time to do the same for the women.

Harvard PhD candidate (and former Duke runner) Bo Waggoner has written a computer program that does exactly what the NCAA commiittee will do after the races are over on Friday, determine the qualifiers to NCAAs based on seasonal and Regional results. He was kind enough to share the program with LetsRun.com last year and has done so again in 2014. Below, you will find the list of women’s teams who will qualify for NCAAs if the current USTFCCCA Regional Rankings hold. Check out this page for the logic behind each selection: LRC Who’s In? Who’s Out? 2014 NCAA Regional Projections Assuming Everything Goes According To Form.

Automatically selected (projected to finish top-two at Regionals)

1 Michigan State
2 Wisconsin
3 Georgetown
4 West Virginia
5 Iowa State
6 Minnesota
7 New Mexico
8 Colorado
9 Iona
10 Syracuse
11 Florida State
12 Vanderbilt
13 Arkansas
14 Baylor
15 UNC
16 Virginia
17 Oregon
18 Stanford

At-large selections

19 Michigan
20 Ohio State
21 NC State
22 Washington
23 Arizona State
24 Boise State
25 UCLA
26 Toledo
27 Dartmouth
28 Boston College
29 Virginia Tech
30 BYU
31 Notre Dame

Total bids by region

6: Great Lakes, West
4: Southeast, Northeast
3: Mountain
2: South, South Central, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic

Ranked Teams That Will Be Left Out

#28 Princeton
#30 Villanova
(Unranked Providence (#32 in votes), Villanova and Princeton would be the first teams out)

Unranked Teams That Would Be Dancing
Boston College (Unranked but #31 in the votes)
Virginia Tech (Unranked but #33 in the votes)
BYU (Uranked but #35 in the votes)

Below, you’ll find a brief analysis of all nine regions. There’s a quick cheat sheet of the teams/regions to watch for at the bottom of the article.

South Regional

Apalachee State Park, Tallahassee, Florida
Start times: 9 a.m. ET (women); 10 a.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #13 Florida State – projected to qualify
  2. #16 Vanderbilt – projected to qualify
  3. Alabama
  4. Lipscomb
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Middle Tennessee State
  7. Georgia Tech

As it is on the men’s side, the South is a two-bid region. For evidence as to why that will be the case, look no further than the SEC Championships. Despite running on its home course, Alabama (ranked third in the region) finished a distant third to Arkansas and Vanderbilt, tallying 140 points compared to 32 for Arkansas and 85 for Vandy. Vanderbilt had seven in before Alabama’s #3; the Crimson Tide would need a miracle to close that gap on Friday. Florida State replaces Arkansas for the South Regional, and while FSU isn’t quite as strong as the Razorbacks, it’s good enough to lock up a top-two finish and its ninth consecutive berth to NCAAs.

Southeast Regional

The #11 UNC women won ACCs handily two weeks ago. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

The #11 UNC women won ACCs handily two weeks ago. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, Louisville, Kentucky
Start times: 12 p.m. ET (women); 1 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #11 North Carolina – projected to qualify
  2. #14 Virginia – projected to qualify
  3. #18 NC State – projected to qualify
  4. Virginia Tech – projected to qualify
  5. William & Mary
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Duke

The top three teams — UNC (3rd at Roy Griak, 1st at ACCs), Virginia (9th at Wisconsin, 3rd at ACCs) and NC State (2nd at Notre Dame, 5th at Pre-Nats) — should all have enough points to go as long as they finish in the top four.

As of right now, Virginia Tech is the 29th team into the field, but that is subject to change. Both of the Hokies’ points came from ACCs, where they defeated two Northeast schools (Boston College, which was 7th, and Syracuse, which was 8th). Amazingly, Virginia Tech beat each school by just one point each (the Hokies scored 161 while BC and Syracuse each scored 162). For Virginia Tech’s points to hold up, it has to finish fourth at the Southeast Regional and hope that BC and Syracuse both get in from the Northeast.

That sounds like a few things have to go right for the Hokies, but it’s more accurate to say that a lot would have to go wrong for them not to get in. The current projections have Virginia Tech getting in. But what if Dartmouth beats Syracuse and BC, forcing those schools to wait longer to get in with at-large points? We’ll we’ve run the computer program using that scenario and the good news for Hokie fans is it doesn’t make a difference for Virginia Tech; the Hokies still get in.

What if BC finished fifth, losing to Providence? Virginia Tech still gets in — and Providence gets pushed in by BC. BC or Syracuse would have to really blow up and finish sixth to stay home from NCAAs. That’s good news for those schools and good news for VT, which is entirely dependent on them if they finish fourth at the Southeast Regional.

Remember, both of the Hokies’ points came because they beat BC and Syracuse by one measly point at ACCs. If Virginia Tech’s #5 runner, Hilary Krein, runs just 0.6 seconds slower at ACCs, she drops a place, bringing the Hokies into a tie with BC and Syracuse, one that they lose on the tiebreaker. They would go from having two at-large points to none, and their NCAA dreams evaporate. They say that every runner counts in cross country — here’s the proof.

Northeast Regional

Van Cortlandt Park, New York, New York
Start times: 12 p.m. ET (women); 1 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #17 Iona – projected to qualify
  2. T-#22 Syracuse – projected to qualify
  3. T-#22 Dartmouth – projected to qualify
  4. Boston College – projected to qualify
  5. Providence
  6. New Hampshire
  7. Columbia

Iona has yet to run great in a big race this year (the Gaels scored 20 points against weak competition at the MAAC Championships) but that’s because, until two weeks ago, it was missing last year’s NCAA XC third-placer, Kate Avery. Avery returned at the MAAC meet and dominated, winning in a blazing 19:15 for six kilometers. That time was 1:42 ahead of runner-up Tara Jameson, who was 43rd at Wisconsin. If Avery finished 1:42 ahead of Jameson at Wisconsin, she would have run 18:58 and won by 37 seconds. Obviously that’s not going to happen at NCAAs, but Avery is among the very best runners in the NCAA and her return jumps Iona from a bubble team to a top-20 squad and the favorite in the Northeast. At Wisconsin, the Gaels finished three spots behind Dartmouth and one behind BC without Avery. Add her in and they drop about 200 points, enough to take them from 22nd to 9th.

The one team that needs to run well in this region is Providence. As discussed above, Iona, Syracuse, Dartmouth and BC have likely done enough to qualify if they place in the top four. Providence has not; the Friars, who were national champions a year ago (doesn’t it seem like longer than that?), needs to beat one of those four schools to get into NCAAs. Providence has improved as the season has progressed (the Friars were second at Big Easts after taking 24th at Wisconsin) but beating Iona, Syracuse, Dartmouth or BC will be a tough task. One way for the Friars to accomplish it would be to bring back Sarah Collins (39th at NCAAs last year, 15:31 5k pb), who is redshirting this year, according to coach Ray Treacy. But with no seniors in his top six, it makes sense that Treacy wants to preserve Collins’ eligibility (she has two years left) for 2015 and 2016, when she could help Providence vie for the top 10 (or higher) at NCAAs. If the Friars can somehow spring the upset on Friday, their young squad (three freshmen in the top six) will gain some valuable experience at NCAAs that they can put to use over the next few years.

Mid-Atlantic Regional

Blue and White Golf Course, University Park, Pennsylvania
Start times: 12 p.m. ET (women); 1 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #2 Georgetown – projected to qualify
  2. #7 West Virginia – projected to qualify
  3. #30 Villanova – NOT projected to qualify
  4. #28 Princeton – NOT projected to qualify
  5. Penn State
  6. Penn
  7. Duquesne

Georgetown is going. West Virginia is going. And right now, that’s it. Just like the men’s race at the Mid-Atlantic Regional, Princeton is on the outside looking in, with Villanova joining them this time instead of Georgetown. The problem for the Lady Tigers is that knocking off #2 Georgetown or #7 West Virginia is a much taller order than the task awaiting the Princeton men (defeating #14 Georgetown). West Virginia was fifth at Wisconsin in a field with 22 ranked teams; Princeton was sixth at Pre-Nats in a field with six ranked teams. Both teams were second in their conference meets, but West Virginia scored 58 to Princeton’s 67 and did so against a much tougher field. Unless the so-called geniuses at Princeton can figure out a way to clone Megan Curham, it’s unlikely that the Tigers can topple one of the two heavyweights in the region.

Villanova is in a similar, though slightly worse situation. Nova didn’t run as well as Princeton during the regular season (according to our projections, Princeton will finish with two points; Villanova won’t have any) and would have to auto-qualify (or get pushed in) to make it to Terre Haute. As it stands, the Wildcats are looking at the very real possibility of missing NCAAs for the first time since 2007; if Providence misses out as well, it will be the first year since 1988 that neither of those storied programs made it to NCAAs on the women’s side.

So it looks ikely that two teams that have combined to win three of the last five NCAA champions (Villanova won in 2009 and 2010) will be left home. That’s pretty remarkable as one might thing winning an NCAA title would result in a boost in recruiting.

History has shown that it’s harder to maintain dominance for long periods on the women’s side — check out the table below for further proof.

Longest active streaks of NCAA appearances

Men Women
Wisconsin, 42 Stanford, 21
Colorado, 22 Michigan State, 13
Stanford, 20 Michigan, 12
BYU, 15 Minnesota, 9
Iona, 12 Florida State, 8

Note: Women’s race began in 1981.

South Central Regional

Agri Park, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Start times: 1 p.m. ET (women); 2 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #4 Arkansas – projected to qualify
  2. #21 Baylor – projected to qualify
  3. Lamar
  4. Rice
  5. SMU
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Texas

There’s Arkansas, there’s Baylor, and there isn’t much else in the South Central. Of course, this time last year, Arkansas and Texas A&M (the only ranked teams in the region) seemed destined to snag the two auto spots before SMU pulled the shocker and advanced to NCAAs after winning a tiebreaker over Texas A&M. Up until that point in the season, the Mustangs hadn’t received as much as a single vote in the coaches’ poll all season. SMU returns its top four from last year but was just third at the American Athletic Conference Championships, behind unranked Tulsa and Connecticut. It would take a Herculean effort for them to overhaul Rice, Lamar and Baylor, but they showed last year that it can be done. Lamar and Rice will be hoping for some magic of their own to move past Baylor, which is led by Pre-Nats champion Rachel Johnson. Even if they’re third, Baylor should make it through thanks to its fifth-place finish at Roy Griak, where the Bears beat Arizona State, Minnesota, Vanderbilt and BYU.

One thing that surprised me looking at this region is how far down Texas is ranked. It’s crazy to think that one of the biggest athletic departments in the country fields a team that only ranks seventh in a weak region, behind the likes of Lamar, Rice and SMU. Perhaps the success of NCAA 5k champ Marielle Hall last year will help draw more women to the program. Coach Brad Herbster should hope so because right now the Longhorns are set to miss NCAAs for the second year in a row.

Midwest Regional

nrelon

Iowa State’s Crystal Nelson was all alone at the end of the Big 12 Championships two weeks ago. (Courtesy Cyclone TFCC)

Newman Golf Course, Peoria, Illinois
Start times: 1 p.m. ET (women); 2 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #5 Iowa State – projected to qualify
  2. #20 Minnesota – projected to qualify
  3. Bradley
  4. Oklahoma State
  5. Tulsa
  6. Missouri
  7. Oklahoma

This is the last of the likely two-bid regions. Iowa State and Minnesota are both deserving of an NCAA bid and should have no problem locking one up in a relatively weak region. Iowa State, as I noted after its domination of the Big 12 meet, is among the very best teams in the entire NCAA and is a strong #5 away from challenging Michigan State (of course, a strong #5 runner is one of the rarest commodities in the NCAA).

Great Lakes Regional

Zimmer Championship Course, Madison, Wisconsin
Start times: 1 p.m. ET (women); 2 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #1 Michigan State – projected to qualify
  2. #6 Wisconsin – projected to qualify
  3. #8 Michigan – projected to qualify
  4. #19 Ohio State – projected to qualify
  5. #26 Toledo – projected to qualify
  6. #29 Notre Dame – projected to qualify
  7. Indiana

Perhaps the toughest region in America, with six ranked teams including three of the top eight, the Great Lakes Regional is Michigan State’s to lose. The four highest-ranked teams in the region all reside in the Big 10 and Michigan State won that conference with a miniscule 26 points. Of course it doesn’t really matter where the Spartans finish — as they’re essentially guaranteed an at-large berth after winning Wisconsin. Remember, the Colorado men didn’t win the Mountain Regional last year but ended up as NCAA champs. Regionals is all about making it through healthy and rested, so expect Leah O’ConnorRachele Schulist and co. to hold something back on Friday.

Wisconsin (4th at Wisconsin) and Michigan (3rd at Pre-Nats, 1st at Battle in Beantown) both have plenty of points as well and should join the Spartans in Terre Haute. Wisconsin, 16th in the preseason coaches’ poll, has run like a top-10 team in 2014 and took second at Big 10s. Prior to the season, suggesting that any school located outside the state of Michigan could do that qualified as blasphemy; congrats to Mick ByrneSarah Disanza and the rest of the Badgers on the accomplishment. Of course, finishing second was made easier by the fact that Michigan — the preseason national #1 — was missing defending Big 10 champion Erin Finn, whom coach Mike McGuire confirmed will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. Though Michigan State had begun to separate itself from its in-state rivals — and the rest of the country — even before Finn’s injury, it’s still a killer blow for the Wolverines, which was looking to improve its fourth-place showing last year, the program’s first podium finish since 2006. With Michigan State, Georgetown, Oregon, Arkansas and Iowa State all running exceedingly well right now, making the podium again will be difficult.

Michigan is still on track to grab an at-large spot at NCAAs along with three other teams from the Great Lakes Region. Ohio State, Toledo and Notre Dame would all make it in if the Regional Rankings hold, but Notre Dame is on thin ice. The Fighting Irish are currently projected to be the 31st and final team into the NCAA field, which means that a few slight variations in results nationwide could see Notre Dame stay at home rather than make the trip three and a half hours south to Terre Haute.

Notre Dame is like the bubble team in college basketball during conference tournament season — it’s hoping all the other regions go chalk and that no team gets pushed in, taking away an extra at-large spot. So that means Notre Dame will be rooting for Providence to stay fifth in the Northeast, Baylor to stay second in the South Central and so on. If everything breaks the Irish’s way, there won’t be a lot of upsets or crazy results. That’s not what we want as fans, but it would be just fine with the folks from South Bend.

Mountain Regional

UNM North Golf Course, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Start times: 2 p.m. ET (women); 3 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #9 New Mexico – projected to qualify
  2. #12 Colorado – projected to qualify
  3. BYU – projected to qualify
  4. Northern Arizona
  5. Wyoming
  6. Weber State
  7. Colorado State

The Mountain Region could send as many as seven men’s teams, but that number is likely to be just three in the women’s race. New Mexico and Colorado are locks and BYU should get in late (they’re #30 in the current projection, but they could slip with upsets in other regions). Northern Arizona is the next-highest ranked team in the region, but the Lumberjacks didn’t make the most of their opportunities to collect points, finishing 9th at the Washington Invitational and 11th at Pre-Nats (edging out Lipscomb by 14 points).

The only way NAU is getting in is by finishing third, and even that may not be enough as BYU is currently the penultimate at-large team to be selected. If there’s an upset or two in the other eight races, BYU — and therefore NAU — could both end up missing out.

(Editor’s note: Lumberjack fans, we’ve run the computer program and if you get third, BYU would push you into the dance assuming everything else goes according to form. You’d be #30 and they’d be #31. But if there is an upset in say the West Region, say Portland is sixth, then both BYU and NAU would be left home.)

West Regional

Stanford Golf Course, Stanford, California
Start times: 2 p.m. ET (women); 3 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. #3 Oregon – projected to qualify
  2. #10 Stanford – projected to qualify
  3. #15 Washington – projected to qualify
  4. #24 Arizona State – projected to qualify
  5. #25 Boise State – projected to qualify
  6. #27 UCLA – projected to qualify
  7. UC Davis

The women’s race at the West Regional is similar to the men’s race at the Mountain Regional. The top six teams all have enough points to go on their own, and there’s a possibility that a seventh team — UC Davis? Portland? — could get pushed in as well. Oregon and Stanford are the best teams in this region, and the individual race could offer some insight into NCAAs, with Shelby HoulihanElise Cranny and Emma Bates all toeing the line in Stanford.

If you’re looking for another storyline, how about the Portland women? The men’s team has developed into one of the nation’s elite, finishing in the top 14 at NCAAs in each of the past seven years. The women’s team has no such history of success and has never qualified for the Big Dance. They’ve been competitive this year, though, defeating Oregon at the Bill Dellinger Invitational on September 5 (though the race came too early to get points) and taking fifth at the Washington Invitational, just missing out on wins over Washington (third) and UCLA (fourth). UC Davis was rewarded in the Regional Rankings for winning an easy conference (the Big West) while Portland (ranked eighth) was punished for taking second in the WCC behind BYU. For each of the past years, the Pilot women have had to stay at home while the men flew away for nationals. If Portland can finish in the top six on Friday, the computer program says the Pilots should be sending a full crew to Terre Haute (If you move Portland to #6 and all else stays the same, they’d go as the 25th team to NCAAs. At #7, they’d fail to qualify).

Cheat Sheet/Pay Attention To …

If you read the whole preview, you’ll know which schools/regions to look out for, but I’ll recap them quickly here.

  • Southeast: Four ACC schools should go (UNC, Virginia, NC State, Virginia Tech). William & Mary could get pushed by finishing third or fourth.
  • Northeast: Defending NCAA champion Providence needs to finish in the top four to get pushed into NCAAs. Otherwise, four teams should qualify: Iona, Syracuse, Dartmouth and BC.
  • South Central: Can anyone upset Baylor for the second auto spot? SMU did it last year on a tiebreaker (though it upset Texas A&M, not Baylor).
  • Great Lakes: The strongest region on paper, the Great Lakes is projected to send six teams to NCAAs. Notre Dame is the last team in going by Regional Rankings; the Irish can breathe easier by finishing fourth or fifth
  • West: Like the Great Lakes, the West is on track to send six teams as it stands. It could be seven if a team like Portland or UC Davis upsets Arizona State, Boise State or UCLA and sneaks into the top six.

What do you think?Vote in the 2014 LetsRun.com Regional Polls.
Discuss in our fan forum: 2014 NCAA Cross Country Regionals – Let the madness begin


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