October 27, 2016
NCAA cross country’s regular season has concluded, and now we’re on to the stuff that really matters: conferences, regionals and NCAAs. In just over three weeks, national champions will be crowned in Terre Haute, but right now it’s conference week, where bragging rights (and a trophy or two) are awarded. Below, we take a look at the major conference action this weekend and the major storylines in each meet.
This is the second installment of a two-part preview. Part I previewed the Friday meets, while Part II deals with the rest of the weekend’s action.
We’re going chronologically, which means we start with…
Big 12 Championships (The Rawls Course, Lubbock, Tex.)
When: Saturday, 11:00 a.m. ET (women) and 12:00 p.m. ET (men)
Ranked men’s teams: No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 13 Iowa State
Ranked women’s teams: No. 12 Baylor, No. 15 Iowa State, No. 18 Oklahoma State
How to watch: Live online on Flotrack Pro
Can the Iowa State men end Oklahoma State’s eight-year win streak? Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, only two schools have claimed the men’s title: Colorado, which won the first 12 editions from 1996-2007, and Oklahoma State, which won the next eight from 2008-2015 (Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011). The Cowboys will again be favored on Saturday after winning at the Penn State National two weeks ago, but the Cyclones, under coach Martin Smith, are ranked just four spots behind OSU and are coming off an eighth-place showing at the Wisconsin Invitational. Iowa State is a young team, with freshmen Thomas Pollard and Andrew Jordan both in their top four at Wisco, but both of those guys are studs: Pollard finished top-15 at Foot Lockers twice in high school and was the US junior XC champ last year, while Jordan ran 8:46 last year for 3200 and was 6th at Foot Lockers. Oklahoma State looks to be stronger up front (Hassan Abdi and Josh Thompson went 2-3 at Penn State and will likely battle it out for the individual title) and a bit deeper 1 through 7, but they’re still vulnerable, especially if Iowa State runs Dan Curts (8:09 3k pb) and Nathan Rodriguez (13:55). A win would be Iowa State’s first conference title since the national champion team of 1994, back when the school was in the Big 8.
- A three-way battle in the women’s race. Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State are all ranked in the top 20 and each has a shot at the women’s title on Saturday. Baylor hasn’t won a conference title since claiming the Southwestern Conference in 1993 but the Bears will be favored in Lubbock after finishing fifth at Wisconsin. Baylor has two worries. First, they’re leaning heavily on freshmen (their #4-#5-#6 runners at Wisco were all freshmen). Second, there was a HUGE gap at Wisco between their #4, Anna West (31st, 20:45) and their #5 Gabrielle Satterlee (142nd, 21:50). But considering Baylor put four women in the top 31 at Wisconsin — something no other school not even Washington, could manage — it may not matter.
Iowa State was eighth at Wisconsin, a solid showing, and has won Big 12s four out of the past five years. But the school with the best chance to upset Baylor could be defending champion Oklahoma State. The Cowgirls were third at Penn State behind No. 9 Penn State and No. 16 Ole Miss, but they’re adding in NCAA mile champ Kaela Edwards, who will race for the first time this fall after recovering from a stress reaction. Between Edwards, Savannah Camacho (2nd 2014 NCAA indoor 800) and Aurora Dybedokken (2nd NCAA outdoor 5k), OK State has three women who have finished in the top two on the track at NCAAs, which gives them some firepower to match up with Baylor.
“I think the women’s conference is better than it’s been in a long time in terms of depth,” said Oklahoma State coach Dave Smith. “There’s six potential national qualifying teams. Who knows? Obviously, we want to win, that’s our goal. It’s gonna be interesting. The way our style matches up against everyone else, we run a different kind of race plan. They’re much more aggressive than we are and in Lubbock that may pay off because it’s a flat course…I’d say Baylor is the favorite. Based on what we saw from the teams last, they ran the best. But if Savannah can run well and we can add Kaela in, we’ve got five that can run really well. You’re looking at a national champ and two runners-up. That’s pretty good.”
- Can Oklahoma State go 1-2-3 on the men’s side? Flotrack filmed a workout with Oklahoma State before the Cowboy Jamboree back in September and Thompson, a junior whom we interviewed earlier this year, really impressed, running a hard 800 in 2:11 before doing 8 x mile with 90 seconds’ rest at 5:03-5:01-4:54-4:54-4:48-4:48-4:44-4:37. He and teammates Abdi and Sylvester Barus (who beat Thompson by 45 seconds at the Cowboy Jamboree) look to be the three best guys in the conference on paper, and Smith believes all three can be All-Americans in November (Barus was only 17th at Penn State after battling fatigue, but Smith believes he will be ready to roll after resting up before Big 12s). No team has gone 1-2-3 in the men’s race at Big 12s since OK State’s national title squad of 2010 (Girma Mecheso, German Fernandez and Colby Lowe). The best bets to break it up will be Iowa State’s Kevyn Hoyos (21st at Wisconsin) or Oklahoma’s Dylan Blankenbaker (34th at Pre-Nats). Oklahoma’s Jacob Burcham is the top returner and was 16th at NCAAs last year, but he hasn’t raced all fall. If he’s fit and runs, he could certainly break up OSU’s front three. In the women’s race, Baylor’s Maggie Montoya (11th Wisconsin) will be favored, but several others could win including Sharon Lokedi of Kansas (10th Pre-Nats), Iowa State’s Erin Hooker (14th Wisconsin) or Montoya’s teammate Lindsey Bradley (15th Wisconsin).LRC Prediction: The rankings may be close but we don’t see how OK State loses the men’s race. They’ll have the individual champ as well (Abdi?). On the women’s side, a one-minute gap between #4 and #5 on Baylor makes us nervous but they deserve the nod. Lokedi was 10th at NCAAs last year but Montoya has the better track pbs and has been running better this year. Montoya FTW.
Big 10 Championships (Les Bolstad Golf Course, Falcon Heights, Minn.)
When: Sunday, 11:00 a.m. ET (women’s race) and 12:00 p.m. ET (men’s race)
Ranked men’s teams: No. 14 Michigan, No. 18 Wisconsin, No. 19 Indiana, No. 29 Michigan State
Ranked women’s teams: No. 6 Michigan, No. 9 Penn State, No. 27 Michigan State
How to watch: Live on Big Ten Network or online via BTN2Go
- Can the Wisconsin men get back on top? From 1999 to 2014, Wisconsin won the Big 10 meet every year but one, but last year the Badgers finished a disastrous eighth, the program’s worst result in the 108-year history of the meet. Wisconsin has been running better in 2016, taking 11th at the Wisconsin Invite, but they’re not the powerhouse they used to be. Still, they’ve got a shot to win the Big 10 in a year when there’s no dominant team. No. 14 Michigan is the defending champ, but Wolverines coach Kevin Sullivan believes that five teams (Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State and Illinois) have a chance to win, while Wisconsin’s Mick Byrne said “I think the race is as wide open as it has been as long as I’ve been in the Big 10.”
Michigan was fourth at Pre-Nats, one place ahead of No. 19 Indiana, and the conference title figures to come down to those two teams or Wisconsin; no other school has won the Big 10 since Illinois back in 1984.
The Badgers have the conference’s best runner in Morgan McDonald (3rd at Wisconsin) but their fate rests on two-time Big 10 champ Malachy Schrobilgen. Schrobilgen didn’t race indoors or outdoors last year, and he ran only one race — the low-key Oz Memorial — this fall before dropping out at the Wisconsin Invite two weeks ago. Byrne believes Schrobilgen would have benefitted from running a medium-sized race like the Notre Dame Invite prior to Wisconsin but he didn’t have the chance to do that.
“All it was was he blew it out into something that was bigger than it actually was and had a panic attack basically,” Byrne said. “That’s not him, it had never happened before. And I think it hurt him not having that medium intensity race under his belt. He wants it so badly and sometimes he just wants it too much. I think he just took the whole team on his shoulder which he didn’t need to do.”
Byrne maintains full confidence in Schrobilgen, however, and says that his star is fit and healthy. He expects him to contend for the individual title on Sunday. Even an average performance by Schrobilgen would help the Badgers greatly. At Wisconsin, the team had one stud (McDonald) and four solid runners (though freshman Olin Hacker, 60th at Wisconsin, has a bright future). Schrobilgen would give the Badgers a much stronger #2 and some breathing room at the back end (sixth man Zack Snider was 177th at Wisco, 1:18 behind their #5).
- Can the Michigan men defend? Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan has a decision to make. Though his squad finished fourth at Pre-Nats, it did so without the Wolverines’ best runner on paper, senior Ben Flanagan, who has yet to race this fall. Flanagan, the Big 10 10k champ and UM’s top returner, still has a redshirt year available and Sullivan won’t decide whether he’s going to use it until the day of the race.
“He’s healthy and training now,” Sullivan said. “We’re just trying to make some decisions about whether it’s in our best interest to have him here next year.”
Byrne, for his part, fully expects Flanagan to run. If that’s the case, then the Wolverines certainly deserved to be favored to defend their title, though that’s not how Sullivan has been framing things.
“I don’t think anyone on the team has been looking at this as trying to defend the championship,” Sullivan said. “It was fantastic what we did last year but that was last year. This is a new team, a new year. The nice thing is they got a taste of winning, they understand that it’s a pretty fun way to start the championship season off and I know that we have guys that are hungry to feel that way again.”
Michigan women go for first title since 2012. The Wolverine women have finished as the top Big 10 team at NCAAs twice in the past three years (6th in 2015, 4th in 2013), but they haven’t claimed a Big 10 title since 2012. That speaks to how strong the conference has been overall, and once again Michigan will have its hands full if it wants to end the mini-drought on Sunday as the No. 6 Wolverines face No. 9 Penn State. Michigan is coming off an impressive third-place showing at Pre-Nats and will benefit from only scoring four at conference as Pre-Nats champ Erin Finn should not be challenged for her third individual crown (Wisconsin’s Cathy Branta and Indiana’s Michelle Dekkers are the only women to win three). Penn State may have the advantage at the #2 and #3 spots, however, as sophomore Tessa Barrett and juniors Elizabeth Chikotas and Jillian Hunsberger went 1-2-3 at the Penn State National. That meet wasn’t close to Pre-Nats in terms of quality, but it still featured top-20 teams Mississippi and Oklahoma State plus William & Mary’s Regan Rome (who won the Panorama Farms Invite in September). And even with three fast runs up front, the Nittany Lions’ spread was still a respectable 47 seconds. If they can put three in front of Michigan’s #2 on Sunday, Penn State has a great chance to repeat. Barrett, Chikotas and Hunsberger all finished in the top 10 at Big 10s last year.
LRC Predictions: If Michigan runs Flanagan, they win for sure. If they don’t we’ll say they lose in an upset. McDonald is your individual champ. On the women’s side, we’ll go with a split ticket. PSU women win but Erin Finn is the individual champ.
Other Meets of Note on Saturday
Ivy League Heptagonal Championships (West Windsor Fields, Princeton, N.J.)
When: Saturday, 11:00 a.m. ET (women’s race) and 12:00 p.m. ET (men’s race)
Ranked men’s teams: none
Ranked women’s teams: No. 21 Yale, No. 24 Penn, No. 26 Harvard
2016 seems to shaping up as the year of long droughts ending. Matthew Centrowitz snapped a 108-year drought for American men in the 1500 and the Cubs or Indians are going to end a long drought in the World Series. At Heps, the Penn men have an excellent chance to win for the first time in a long time. How long has it been since Penn won this meet? The Quakers have been to the Final Four more recently (1979) than the last time they won the Heps (1973).
Casual observers may be shocked that Penn is in the hunt as they graduated two-time defending Heps champ Thomas Awad. But the reality is the league is down this year as the rest of the league lost just as much, if not more.
Eight of the top 10 spots last year were secured by seniors. All of the six Ivy League teams that were in the hunt for a title last year — and the only ones with a chance this year — (sorry Harvard and Brown) were led by seniors. Columbia lost its #1 #3, and #5, Penn lost Awad (plus its #5 and #6), Yale lost its #1, #4 and #6, Cornell lost its #1, #2 and #6, Princeton lost its #1, #2 and #4 and Dartmouth its #1 and #6.
Individually, Yale’s 1500-meter All-American James Randon is the favorite. He won the Princeton Invite on the Heps course two weeks ago and is the top returner from last year. He also won the HYP meet on the very same course. However, if we are talking about long streaks, a freshman hasn’t won Heps since Dave Merrick did it 1971. Princeton freshman Conor Lundy could end that streak. He was the top finisher at Wisconsin (19th) and very much a stud. We’re not sure if any freshman besides Merrick has ever won Heps XC. If you know email us.
In the women’s race, Paul Short champ Yale is the slight favorite, but all three ranked teams were very close at Wisconsin — Yale was 11th with 335 points, while Penn was 14th with 354 and Harvard was 15th with 357. All three teams will be looking to end lengthy droughts. The Yale women haven’t won since 2001, Penn hasn’t won since 1990 and Harvard hasn’t won since 1985. Individually, Harvard’s Courtney Smith (15:46/32:08, 6th at Wisconsin) is the woman to beat, though Penn’s Ashley Montgomery was only seven spots behind her at Wisco.
Since the entire LetsRun staff used to either run or coach in the Ivy League, this meet is dear to our hearts and we may have a full preview coming.