October 15, 2015
In four weeks, NCAA cross-country teams can actually qualify for the NCAA championships at the Regional Championships. There, a school needs to come up with a solid performance to either qualify automatically or make use of their at-large points and make it to the Big Dance eight days later. But this upcoming weekend runs a close second in terms of NCAA qualifying ramifications, for it is where the majority of schools will acquire the majority of their at-large points this season. Just as a good race at Wisconsin/Pre-Nats can be negated by a bad one at Regionals, a good race at Regionals can also be negated by a bad day at Wisconsin/Pre-Nats. Only a handful of schools have the ability to sleepwalk to a top-two spot in their region, and most of those squads will still compete this weekend to see where they stack up among the nation’s elite.
This weekend’s Wisconsin adidas Invitational (Friday) and Pre-Nationals (Saturday) will feature 56 of the 60 ranked teams from the most recent USTFCCCA coaches’ poll. The only teams missing? No. 6 Oklahoma State and No. 12 Villanova on the men’s side and No. 28 Oklahoma State and No. 30 Alabama on the women’s side.
More than at-large points, this weekend will serve as a key checkpoint for the nation’s top teams and individuals. How important? Check out the track record of recent NCAA champs on this weekend:
|Year||Men’s Team Champ||Men’s Individual Champ||Women’s Team Champ||Women’s Individual Champ|
|2014||Colorado (won Pre-Nats)||E. Cheserek (won Pre-Nats)||Michigan St. (won Wisco)||K. Avery (did not race)|
|2013||Colorado (won Pre-Nats)||E. Cheserek (4th Pre-Nats)||Providence (3rd Wisco)||A. D’Agostino (won Wisco)|
|2012||Oklahoma St. (won Chile Pepper)||K. Kithuka (won Chile Pepper)||Oregon (2nd Pre-Nats)||B. Saina (2nd Wisco)|
|2011||Wisconsin (won Wisco)||L. Lalang (won Wisco)||Georgetown (2nd Pre-Nats)||S. Reid (won Wisco)|
|2010||Oklahoma St. (won Chile Pepper)||S. Chelanga (won Pre-Nats)||Villanova (won Penn St. National)||S. Reid (won Penn St. National)|
So of the past 20 champs, team and individual, 15 of them (75%) won this weekend. And of those wins, nine (60%) came at Wisconsin or Pre-Nats. Obviously, winning this weekend doesn’t guarantee anything (between the men’s and women’s races, four teams will win this weekend but only two can become champions) but it’s a sign that things are on the right track.
We preview Wisconsin below; our Pre-Nats preview is here: Pre-Nats Preview: No. 1 Colorado and King Ches Should Roll in the Men’s Race; No. 2 Colorado, No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Michigan Duke It Out in Women’s Race.
Ranked teams (men’s race): No. 2 Syracuse, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Iona, No. 7 Virginia, No. 8 Michigan, No. 9 BYU, No. 11 Wisconsin, No. 15 Michigan State, No. 16 Indiana, No. 17 NC State, No. 19 Mississippi, No. 20 UCLA, No. 21 Oklahoma, No. 24 Furman, No. 26 Iowa State, No. 27 Princeton, No. 28 Columbia
Men’s team race: No. 2 Syracuse Looks to Repeat; Questions Surround No. 4 Stanford and No. 11 Wisconsin
With 17 of the 30 ranked men’s teams (including six of the top 10) in action in Madison, this race will be far deeper than Pre-Nats, despite the fact that the team (Colorado) and individual (Edward Cheserek) favorites at NCAAs will both be racing in Louisville.
No. 4 Stanford is the most intriguing team in the field, but they’re not necessarily the favorite. As coach Chris Miltenberg told us last month, his aim is to bring the Cardinal along slowly. It’s an approach Miltenberg has learned from experience. In his first year on the Farm, 2012, Miltenberg guided Stanford to a win at Wisconsin only for the Cardinal to collapse to 16th at NCAAs. Last year, the Cardinal finished fifth in this race yet a month later wound up second at NCAAs despite making just one change from their Wisconsin lineup – subbing in Sean McGorty for Cameron Miller. One might think that made a huge difference for Stanford as McGorty was 20th at NCAAs but even without McGorty Stanford would have been 2nd as they beat #3 Portland by 76 points. So even if Stanford lines up a full-strength squad – Grant Fisher and Jim Rosa, neither of whom have raced in a Stanford jersey this fall, are question marks0 it may be better to wait until Pac-12s — when they take on Colorado for the first time — to render any judgment on the Cardinal. The biggest question mark about the Cardinal is, “Is Jim Rosa healthy?” He was 5th at NCAAs in 2013 and Stanford is a lot more formidable with him at full strength.
Stanford wasn’t the only squad last year to wind up on the podium at NCAAs after a disappointing run at Wisconsin. In fact, three of the four NCAA podium teams ran Wisconsin in 2014 — and none finished in the top three:
|Wisconsin finish||NCAA finish|
While we explained in the intro how eventual NCAA champs usually win on this weekend, the table above shows that even if you don’t run well at Wisconsin/Pre-Nats, it’s still possible to finish on the podium at NCAAs. It makes sense. Usually there are only one or two teams that can win NCAAs, but there are often up to ten teams that have a shot at the podium if everything breaks right on the day.
Assuming Stanford isn’t at full strength, the top of the standings should look very similar to 2014. Portland and Northern Arizona both lost a lot from last year and shouldn’t be factors on Friday, but No. 2 Syracuse, No. 5 Iona and No. 11 Wisconsin, the top three from a year ago, should all finish in the top three again this year (again Stanford could break them up depending on who runs for the Cardinal).
UPDATE: Stanford has announced that Joe Rosa, Jim Rosa, Grant Fisher and 13:54 man Collin Leibold will not be running in Wisconsin. MB: No Rosa, Rosa, Fisher for Stanford- Are they healthy?
Both Syracuse (who rolled to the title last year) and Iona have run and won large invitationals this season, with the Orange dominating at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown on September 25 and Iona taking top honors at the Greater Louisville Classic on October 3. And while we didn’t support what Wisconsin did at Greater Louisville (their top group tempoed the race and the Badgers only finished seventh) as their lack of effort gave at-large points to a number of teams (and violated the NCAA honest effort rule), the Badgers’ talent, coupled with their home-course advantage, will make them a formidable opponent on Friday.
There are more questions surrounding Wisconsin than Syracuse and Iona, however. Because Wisconsin has yet to go all-out in a race, we don’t know where anyone’s fitness is truly at. For example, it was obvious from watching the Battle in Beantown that Syracuse’s Justyn Knight and Colin Bennie have taken a leap from cross country last year. We don’t know nearly as much about Wisconsin because their top guys (Malachy Schrobilgen, Joe Hardy, Morgan McDonald, Russell Sandvold) have packed it up in their both their races so far.
So there will be plenty of attention on the home team in Madison. First and foremost, we will get an answer on how the Badgers stack up nationally (coach Mick Byrne said that the team will be racing hard). It will also be interesting to see who lines up for Wisconsin. Sophomores Ryan Kromer and Carl Hirsch, the Badgers’ #3/#4 men at NCAAs last fall, have combined to race just once this year (Hirsch was 13th — seventh on the team — at the Iona Meet of Champions on September 13). Redshirt freshman Kai Wilmot, the 2013 NXN champ, hasn’t raced at all, nor has freshman Olin Hacker (2nd at NXN and FL last year). Schrobilgen, the two-time defending Big 10 champ and 10th placer at NCAA XC last fall, should be the team’s #1. But beyond that, there’s a lot to be sorted out. Given Wisconsin’s history at home, though (they’ve finished in the top four every year here except for 2012, when they held out studs Mo Ahmed and Reed Connor), expect another strong showing from the Badgers.
Three other top 10 teams will be in the race – No. 7 Virginia (which won the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational on September 26), No. 8 Michigan (runners-up behind Iona at Greater Louisville), and No. 9 BYU (finished one point behind a depleted Stanford squad at the Washington Invitational on October 2). While it would be a huge shock to see any of those teams win in Wisconsin, one of them could wind up in the top three with a great race.
Men’s individual race
Just two of last year’s top 10 return in 2015: seventh placer Martin Hehir of Syracuse and eighth placer Joe Rosa (13:31/29:16) of Stanford. Both will be threats to win in Wisconsin, but they could just as easily end up second — on their own team. Hehir was third in Boston three weeks ago but was only the second Orange runner to cross the line as sophomore Justyn Knight pulled away late to win the race in 23:51. Hehir’s PBs are impressive (13:35/28:27) but Knight looked as if he had a couple of gears left in Boston (and admitted as much after the race) and has the higher ceiling of the two thanks to his 13:34 5000 pb. Knight should put more ground on Hehir than the three seconds he did in Boston, but expect both to finish in the top 10.
Like Hehir, Rosa ran a terrific race his last time out, running 23:20 to take second behind Edward Cheserek at the Washington Invitational two weeks ago. Still, that might not be enough for him to be Stanford’s #1 man in this race as teammate Sean McGorty (13:37) blitzed a course-record 23:07 at the Stanford Invitational on September 26. Obviously we can’t compare McGorty and Rosa head-to-head as we did with Hehir and Knight, but both performances were exceptional. The Cardinal could have two in the top five, assuming both men race on Friday.
There are several other men who could take the individual title. Michigan’s Mason Ferlic, who was 13th at NCAAs last year and has pbs of 8:35 for the steeple and 13:46 for 5000, won the Greater Louisville Classic and is the #3 returner from last year. Malachy Schrobilgen (13:51/29:17) boasts the highest 2014 NCAA finish of anyone in the field (10th) and will be running on his home course. Brit Marc Scott or Tulsa (13:36) ran 23:30 to win at Chile Pepper on October 3 and was 14th at NCAA XC last fall.
If we had to pick one guy to win, we’d go with Knight based on how good he looked in Boston, followed by McGorty but that’s a little risky of a pick as Knight was only 143rd at NCAAs last year.
Actually we guess we should make our predictions.
Official LRC Prediction: Knight wins, as does Syracuse.
Ranked teams (women’s race): No. 1 New Mexico, No. 3 Providence, No. 6 Boise State, No. 8 Iowa State, No. 10 Washington, No. 11 Arkansas, No. 12 NC State, No. 13 Michigan State, No. 14 Wisconsin, No. 15 Syracuse, No. 16 Penn State, No. 17 Virginia, No. 18 Notre Dame, No. 19 North Carolina, No. 20 West Virginia, No. 21 Vanderbilt, No. 22 BYU, No. 23 Minnesota, No. 23 William & Mary, No. 25 Princeton
Women’s team race: Is No. 1 New Mexico Unbeatable?
In terms of total quality, no race this weekend is better than the women’s race in Madison, as a staggering 20 of the top 25 women’s teams will be on the start line. Among those teams, one towers above the rest: No. 1 New Mexico. The Lobos opened their season two weeks ago at Notre Dame and ripped through the field, going 2-4-5-6 en route to a 29-point total. While New Mexico didn’t beat any top-10 teams (No. 12 NC State was the highest-ranked team in the field), the result should still terrify the rest of the country.
Consider this: Notre Dame’s Molly Seidel, the reigning NCAA 10,000 champ and one of the nation’s top runners, finished third at the ND Invite in 16:28.3. She was 1.2 seconds away from being New Mexico’s fourth runner. The Lobos essentially have three #1s in Courtney Frerichs (2nd at ND, 9:31 st pb/15:47 pb), Rhona Auckland (4th, 15:27 pb) and Alice Wright (5th, 15:45 pb) plus a #4, Calli Thackery who has run 15:42 and was sixth at NCAAs in the 5,000 last year. When you have that much of an advantage one through four, your fifth runner merely needs to be competent, and Harvard-grad Molly Renfer (16:25 pb) was more than competent at ND, finishing 12th overall. That being said, Renfer’s highest finish ever in the Ivy League cross country championships was just 17h.
Barring an injury or a collapse from Renfer (she was 128th last year in this race but appears to have taken a big step forward), the question isn’t whether New Mexico will win; it’s how much will they win by? The meet record for low score is 78, set by Duke in the inaugural 2009 edition. If Renfer can finish in the top 45, the Lobos will have a chance to better that on Friday.
No. 3 Providence is the next best team in the field according to the USTFCCCA rankings, and though the Friars ran a terrific race in Boston three weeks ago, even Providence coach Ray Treacy has said that it’s hard to imagine anyone beating UNM this year. That doesn’t mean the Friars won’t take their best shot in Madison, and with Catarina Rocha (33rd at NCAAs in 2014, 16:25 pb) and Sarah Collins (39th at NCAAs in 2014, 15:31 pb), they shouldn’t lose that much ground to the Lobos through two runners. Realistically though, the only hope Providence — or anyone else — has to win is to hope Renfer runs poorly and that no one else steps up, leaving New Mexico with a hole at #5.
Providence does have good depth — Treacy said this squad is better one through five than his 2013 title team — and they’ll have to rely on that to hold off No. 6 Boise State, which put on a clinic at the Roy Griak Invitational on September 26. The Broncos scored 37 to defending national champ No. 13 Michigan State’s 116, putting four in the top 10 and six in the top 22. Particularly impressive were the performances of a pair of freshmen, 2014 NXN champ Allie Ostrander (4:47/9:58 as a prep) was 2nd and barefoot South African Annie Bothma (49h at World XC earlier this year at just 19) was third. Both athletes will be threats to finish in the top 10 in Madison, and in Finnish sophomore Minttu Hukka, (6th at Roy Griak, 9:56 steeplepb), the Broncos have a strong #3. That means it will be up to #4 Brenna Peloquin (a true frosh who ran 4:51 in HS (50th at NXN)) who was 10th at Roy Griak and #5 Anna Holdima, a junior who was 16th at Roy Griak, to avoid ceding ground in the much deeper Wisconsin field.
The gap from Hukka in 6th to Peloquin in 10th at Griak was 12 seconds; from Peloquin to Holdiman in 16th it was another 13. Let’s say Hukka’s 6th at Griak is worth about 15th at Wisconsin (that may be a little generous). Twelve seconds behind 15th at Wisconsin last year was 27th place; 13 seconds behind 27th was 46th. Boise State is still very dangerous (it could easily finish second) but even with Ostrander and Bothma, it’s hard to see their top four matching up with New Mexico. The race between the Broncos and Providence, however, should be very exciting.
Other schools who could finish in the top three on a good day include No. 8 Iowa State (second at the Greater Louisville Classic), No. 10 Washington (second at the Washington Invite ahead of a shorthanded Stanford) and No. 11 Arkansas. If No. 13 Michigan State can get back a healthy Lindsay Clark and Katie Landwehr, it could make some noise. No. 14 Wisconsin was fourth last year and has a shot to repeat that feat, but only if top runner Sarah Disanza is fit (she has not raced since March).
Women’s individual race
We could see as many as six of our preseason top 10 women in this race, including the top three in Dominique Scott (NCAA 3000 champ last year, runner-up in 5 and 10 outdoors) of Arkansas, Sarah Disanza of Wisconsin (2nd at NCAA cross last year) and Rhona Auckland of New Mexico. Scott opened up her season two weeks ago with a commanding 16:07 win at Chile Pepper; there’s no reason to doubt that she will be among the top two or three women here (she was 8th in 2014). Auckland was fourth at Notre Dame, but only second on her own team; Courtney Frerichs was the top Lobo there but considering how close Frerichs, Auckland and Wright were at ND (all finished within 2.5 seconds of each other), any one of them could conceivably be UNM’s #1 on Friday.
Disanza’s health is a massive question mark and will have a huge impact on the individual title race not only at Wisconsin, but at NCAAs. She missed most of indoors with an Achilles injury and then sat out the entire outdoor season. Though she told the USTFCCCA that her fitness was “better than it ever had been before” at the start of the season, she’s hasn’t raced since March and still isn’t 100% — Mick Byrne called Disanza a “game-day decision” when he addressed the media on Monday. Though she’s proven in the past she can get up to speed quickly (she was third at NCAA indoors in the 5k, despite only two weeks of serious training), it will be a tough ask for her to beat women like Scott or Aisling Cuffe at NCAAs.
Notre Dame’s NCAA 10,000 champ Molly Seidel (third at ND, 19th at NCAAs last year) and Michigan State’s Rachele Schulist (15:36 pb, 4th at NCAA xc last year) are also serious threats to win in Madison. Though Schulist was only fifth at Roy Griak, she was also fifth there last year before taking second at Wisconsin and ultimately finishing fourth at NCAAs. Schulist is experienced and one of the most consistent cross country runners in the nation, so expect to see her well up the field on Friday.
We mentioned Boise State’s freshman sensation Allie Ostrander earlier, but the top freshman — and indeed, perhaps the top runner, period — should be NC State’s Ryen Frazier (16:12 5000 pb), whose win at Notre Dame was the most impressive posted by anyone so far this season. A true freshman, Frazier took down seniors Frerichs and Seidel to win Notre Dame by four seconds, a performance that shows she can run with anyone in the country. If she can beat Scott at Wisconsin, she will have to be viewed as the favorite to win NCAAs next month. That’s going to be incredibly difficult to do, however. It’s also quite possible that as a freshman, she’s been burning it a little too hot in September to truly have it all left in the tank in November.
Official LRC Prediction: Scott FTW, New Mexico FTW.