2016 NCAA XC Conference Preview, Part I: What To Watch For On Friday at the ACC, Pac-12, Big East, Big Sky, Mountain West and West Coast Meets?

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By LetsRun.com
October 26, 2016

(Editor’s note: Before you read the preview below, please vote in our fan poll if you haven’t done so already: LRC LetsRun.com NCAA National And Conference Fan Polls Now Open – Who Is The National Top 10? Who Comes Out On Top This Weekend? National and conference voting now open.)

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 first of a two-part preview. Part I will preview the Friday meets, while Part II will deal with the rest of the weekend’s action.

We’re going chronologically, which means we start with…

ACC Championships (WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C.)

When: Friday, 10:03 a.m. ET (women’s race) and 10:45 a.m. ET (men’s race)
Ranked men’s teams: No. 6 Syracuse, No. 16 Virginia, No. 26 Virginia Tech
Ranked women’s teams: No. 3 NC State, No. 19 Notre Dame
Results will be posted: HERE
How to watch: Live online on ACC Network Extra (may be limited to ACC Network subscribers)

Storylines

  • Knight, shown here at NCAAs last year, was 2nd at ACCs in '15 but is the heavy favorite in '16

    Knight, shown here at NCAAs last year, was 2nd at ACCs in ’15 but is the heavy favorite in ’16

    The Syracuse men look to make a statement with their fourth straight ACC title. The Orange have never lost this meet since joining the conference in 2013 and that streak is likely to continue on Friday. Winning is obviously priority #1, but Syracuse will also be looking to run the type of race that shows it is capable of defending its NCAA title next month. In 2015, NCAA hero Philo Germano showed what he was capable of by finishing as the team’s fourth man in 15th place. The key man for the Orange this time around is Lamar transfer Iliass Aouani. The 21-year-old Italian beat Germano in his season opener at Penn State on September 10, but he really struggled at Wisconsin, going from 13th to 86th in the final 2k. If Aouani can recapture his early-season form, the Orange’s title hopes go way up. We’d also be remiss to not mention Justyn Knight when talking about Syracuse, but really there’s nothing to say. Knight is clearly the class of the conference, but short of running a ridiculous time (say, 22:20) there’s nothing he can do on Friday to wrest NCAA favorite status from Edward Cheserek. NC State’s George Parsons almost stole Wisconsin with a late-race surge (he finished 5th) and is the best of the rest after Knight.

  • Will Henry Wynne run for Virginia? Wynne, the NCAA mile champ who didn’t race the Olympic Trials but did run the NACAC champs last summer, is listed on UVA’s roster but has not raced this fall. UVA coach Pete Watson did not return our call seeking comment.
  • Can the NC State women win their first conference crown since 2006? Despite finishing fifth in the country in 2015, the program’s best result at nationals in 14 years, the Wolfpack were denied the ACC title by a strong Virginia team. A year later, NC State looks even better while the rest of the conference has taken a collective step back. There are only two ranked teams in this year’s field (No. 3 NC State and No. 19 Notre Dame), compared to five in 2015 (including four in the top 17). NC State spanked Notre Dame at Wisconsin (166-313) and have the advantage of racing on their home course. It would be a major upset if they lost. We’ll also be looking to see if 9:01 3k woman Wesley Frazier will make her season debut. When we talked to NC State coach Laurie Henes in September, she said Frazier likely wouldn’t race until Wisconsin or ACCs as she recovered from a foot injury suffered last spring. But if she doesn’t race on Friday, that doesn’t bode well for her chances of running at NCAAs. Henes did not return our call seeking comment this week.
  • Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer is the favorite to win her first ACC title. Sophomore Rohrer, who won Footlockers both as a sophomore and senior in high school, has run three ACC Championship races in her young career, and all three times (2015 XC, 2016 indoor 3k, 2016 indoor 5k) she finished second behind teammate Molly Seidel (herself a former FL champ). With Seidel out of the picture this fall, Rohrer now should win her first conference title on Friday. Her toughest competition figures to be NC State’s Erika Kemp, but Rohrer beat Kemp by 23 seconds at the Notre Dame Invite and 12 at Wisconsin. Clemson’s Grace Barnett beat Kemp at Notre Dame and was the top ACC finisher at Pre-Nats, but she was only 23rd in Terre Haute.

LRC Prediction: Knight and Syracuse FTW. NC State and Rohrer are your women’s champs.

Talk about the meet on our messageboard: MB: ACC PREDICTION THREAD

SEC Championships (Agri Park, Fayetteville, Ark.)

When: Friday, 11:00 a.m. ET (women’s race) and 12:00 p.m. ET (men’s race)
Ranked men’s teams: No. 5 Arkansas, No. 11 Mississippi
Ranked women’s teams: No. 10 Arkansas, No. 16 Mississippi, No. 29 Mississippi State
Results will be posted: HERE

Storylines

  • Can the Ole Miss men end Arkansas’ domination of the conference? The Razorbacks have won 23 of the last 25 SEC titles, including six straight, while the Rebels have never finished higher than second in 42 SEC Championship appearances. Arkansas, second at Pre-Nats and running on its home course, remains the strong favorite, but Ole Miss has impressed this fall, winning the Notre Dame Invite and finishing just two points behind No. 9 Oklahoma State at the Penn State National two weeks ago. The Rebels have a solid top four (MJ Erb, Wesley Gallagher, Sean Tobin and Robert Domanic) but could stand to improve at #5. It was a similar story for Arkansas at Pre-Nats (#5 man Kyle Hostinwas 53rd overall, 23 seconds back of their #4) but the Razorbacks have an ace in the hole in 28:36 10k man Andrew Ronoh, who will make his season debut on Friday. Ronoh has been rehabbing an Achilles injury this fall, but he’s a high-ceiling guy and could make a big difference at NCAAs. SECs will serve as more of a rust buster.
    “We just want him to run a smart race,” Arkansas head coach Chris Bucknam told LetsRun.com. “He’s got to test the waters a little bit. We really haven’t put any expectations down on him. Run to your fitness level and we’ll see where you’re at.”
  • The men’s individual race is wide open. Essentially anyone in the top four of Arkansas or Ole Miss has a chance. The Razorbacks’ Frankline Tonui was the top SEC finisher at Pre-Nats (2nd) but he struggled in his other race, the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown (he was 8th overall in a shallow field, 31 seconds behind teammate Alex George). For the Rebels, MJ Erb is coming off a win at the Penn State National. Sean Tobin was only 10th in that race (Ole Miss’ fourth finisher), but he could also be a threat as he won the Notre Dame Invite back on September 30. Among the men he defeated in that race was Alabama’s Antibahs Kosgei, the defending SEC champ and the man most likely to break up the Arkansas-Ole Miss duel at the top. Kosgei was second in his most recent race at the Alabama Crimson Classic, four seconds up on another SEC contender, Kentucky’s Jacob Thomson, who pulled off the 5k/10k double at the SEC track champs back in May. Then there’s Ronoh, who’s an unknown quantity but has massive potential. Any of these guys could win on Friday.
  • It’s between Ole Miss and Arkansas on the women’s side, too. Just like the men’s race, Ole Miss and Arkansas are the only women’s teams with a chance, and just like the men’s race, the three-time defending champion Razorbacks will be favored. The history of the Ole Miss women’s team is even worse than their male counterparts — in 31 seasons, they’ve never finished better than 4th at SECs — but the Rebels were second at Penn State, a performance that jumped them to No. 16 in the polls. Arkansas (5th at Pre-Nats) remains the class of the conference, but if they slip up Ole Miss could be primed for a historic victory.
  • Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer and Arkansas’ Devin Clark duel for individual title. Ole Miss’ Mary Alex England was 5th at Penn State, but this race will likely come down to Schweizer, who has built on her breakout 3rd-place showing in the NCAA outdoor 5,000 and was fourth at Pre-Nats and Clark, 5th in the NCAA steeple in June and six seconds behind Schweizer at Pre-Nats.

LRC Prediction: Betting against Arkansas in SEC xc is about as smart as betting against Alabama in SEC football. Tonui and Arkansas FTW. Schweizer and Arkansas FTW.

Talk about the meet on our messageboard: MB: SEC XC 2016

Pac-12 Championships (Randolph North Golf Course, Tucson, Ariz.)

When: Friday, 12:30 p.m. ET (women’s race) and 1:30 p.m. ET (men’s race)
Ranked men’s teams: No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 Oregon, No. 7 Colorado, No. 10 UCLA, No. 15 Washington State, No. 25 Washington
Ranked women’s teams: No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington, No. 5 Oregon, No. 11 Stanford, No. 17 Utah, No. 23 UCLA, No. 25 California

Pac-12s is annually the best conference meet in America, and that’s especially true in 2016. On the women’s side, there’s a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown as Pre-Nats champs Colorado take on Wisconsin champs Washington. No. 5 Oregon is also in the race, one of seven top-25 teams in total. In the men’s race, there are four top-10 teams (#2 Stanford, #3 Oregon, #7 Colorado and #10 UCLA) and two more in the top 25 (#15Washington State and #25 Washington). If you’re anywhere close to Tucson, you owe it to yourself to check out the races on Friday morning.

Storylines

  • Can Stanford or Oregon break the Colorado stranglehold on the men’s title? Colorado has won all five Pac-12 crowns since joining the conference in 2011, but this could be the Buffaloes’ toughest task yet. Colorado graduated four of its five scorers from last year’s conference meet, and Oregon beat Colorado at Pre-Nats (85-124), the Ducks’ first victory over the Buffaloes since 2010. And Oregon may not even be Colorado’s biggest competition: Stanford was second at Wisconsin and will likely add in freshmen Thomas Ratcliffe (won Stanford Invite in 23:17) and Alex Ostberg (9th at 2014 Foot Locker) to its lineup.
    Stanford hasn’t won this meet since 2010, back when it was still the Pac-10, while Oregon’s drought dates back to 2008; both of those storied programs will view those gaps as far too long between conference titles. But we’re never going to count out a Mark Wetmore-coached team. Wetmore admitted that the Buffaloes “weren’t brilliant” at Pre-Nats, but he believes this group is capable of more than it showed in Terre Haute. John Dressel and Ben Saarel were 26th and 31st at NCAAs last year but just 27th and 28th at Pre-Nats. The good news is Dressel made a big leap between Pre-Nats and Pac-12s last year (46th to 6th, though his Pre-Nats result was a bit inflated due to a fall). Colorado always runs well at this meet, and the Buffs’ 1-5 spread at Pre-Nats was just 12 seconds. They will be a very tough out.
    Still, Oregon and Stanford are very good, and both could put two men in front of Colorado’s #1 as the Ducks boast Edward Cheserek (1st Pre-Nats) and Matthew Maton (4th Pre-Nats) and the Cardinal have Grant Fisher (4th Wisconsin) and Sean McGorty (6th Wisconsin). Stanford deserves to be a slight favorite on paper as Ratcliffe gives an already stacked team one more bullet, but both squads are national title contenders. The advantage up front means that one of them is likely your champion, but it’s not as big an advantage in a smaller field like Pac-12s as it is in a big invitational. Colorado had five in before Oregon’s five at Pre-Nats, and if the Buffaloes are going to spring the upset in Tucson, they’ll need to keep a similarly tight pack and hope that Stanford and Oregon struggle at the #4/#5 spots.
  • Cheserek will be one of many stars in Tucson on Friday

    Cheserek will be one of many stars in Tucson on Friday

    Edward Cheserek should go 4-for-4. Next month, Cheserek will attempt to become the first athlete to win four NCAA individual cross country titles. First, though, he’ll try to become the first man to win four Pac-12 titles, breaking a tie with Henry Rono and Steve Prefontaine, who both own three.

  • No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the women’s race. Conference meets don’t get any better than this as No. 1 Colorado and No. 2 Washington will duke it out for the Pac-12 title. It’s the first time the nation’s top two women’s teams have faced each other at their conference meet since 2008, when No. 1 Washington perfect-scored the Pac-10 meet against No. 2 Oregon. Colorado was our preseason No. 1 and so far they’ve done nothing to lose that ranking, running fast at the Rocky Mountain Shootout and winning Pre-Nats with 93 points, the lowest women’s score at that meet since 2012. But Washington is an exceptional team in its own right, blending potent front-running (Amy-Eloise Neale and Charlotte Prouse both finished in the top five at Wisconsin) and outstanding depth (all seven runners in the top 50 at Wisconsin). The UW coaching staff scored a projection of the meet last week and had Colorado prevailing narrowly, 51-57. This should be a terrific race between two outstanding teams (actually make that three: No. 5 Oregon is also running) and the winner will immediately become the favorite for the national title.
  • A good individual battle. Unlike the men’s race, several women could win this one. The top returner is Colorado’s Kaitlyn Benner, but the Buffaloes’ top runner this fall has been Erin Clark, who was second at Pre-Nats and earlier this month joined Jenny Simpson and Kara Goucher as the only women to break 20:00 on Colorado’s home course. Clark is the slight favorite here, but UW’s Neale and Prouse could both contend, as could Oregon true freshman Katie Rainsberger (6th at Pre-Nats). Stanford’s Elise Cranny, who won the Stanford Invite earlier this season, will not race after picking up a knee injury before Pre-Nats (she didn’t race there either). Cardinal coach Elizabeth DeBole said the plan is to have Cranny ready to race at NCAAs next month.

LRC Prediction: It’s mind-boggling to think that Oregon hasn’t won its conference meet in XC since 2008 or that Stanford hasn’t won it since 2010. One of those streaks should end this weekend. If it doesn’t, Chris Miltenberg (Stanford’s coach) and Andy Powell (Oregon’s coach) should just forever raise the white flag when facing a Mark Wetmore coached team.

Our pick: Stanford FTW (and Cheserek of course). On the women’s side, we’ll go with with Clark and Colorado.

Other Meets of Note on Friday

Big East Championships (Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx, N.Y.)

When: Friday, 11:00 a.m. ET (women’s race) and 11:50 a.m. ET (men’s race)
Ranked men’s teams: No. 23 Georgetown
Ranked women’s teams: No. 4 Providence, No. 22 Villanova

The main storyline here is the return of 2015 NCAA runner-up Patrick Tiernan of Villanova. The Australian hasn’t raced since running the 5,000 at the Olympics in August but Flotrack reports that he is expected to make his debut on Friday. What kind of shape will he be in?

The second big story is will Georgetown’s Jonathan Green run? He was 5th at NCAAs as a sophomore last year, but after supposedly being in a boot late in the summer, he was only 42nd at Paul Short and didn’t show up in the Pre-Nats results.

LRC Prediction: Tiernan and Gtown FTW on the men’s side. Providence led by Sarah Collins FTW on the women’s side.

Mountain West Championships (Falcon Crest Golf Club, Kuna, Idaho)

When: Friday, 12:00 p.m. ET (women’s race) and 12:45 p.m. ET (men’s race)
Ranked men’s teams: No. 17 Colorado State, No. 24 Boise State, No. 28 Air Force
Ranked women’s teams: No. 7 New Mexico, No. 28 Boise State
How to watch: Live on Mountain West Network

Boise State hosts this meet and the best matchup is in the women’s individual race, where the Broncos’ Brenna Peloquin, the NCAA favorite after wins at Roy Griak and Wisconsin, faces New Mexico’s Alice Wright (5th at NCAAs last year), who finished as the runner-up at Wisconsin, just one second behind Peloquin. Even if she can’t win the individual crown, Wright’s Lobos should roll to their ninth straight team title. In the men’s race, Colorado State is the favorite, followed by Boise State, though neither school has ever won a Mountain West title.

LRC Prediction: Peloguin & New Mexico FTW in the women’s race. Colorado State and Jerrell Mock FTW on the men’s side.

West Coast Conference Championships (Tecolote Shores Park, San Diego, Calif.)

When: Friday, 1:00 p.m. ET (women’s race) and 2:00 p.m. ET (men’s race)
Ranked men’s teams: No. 4 BYU, No. 12 Portland
Ranked women’s teams: No. 8 Portland, No. 13 San Francisco, No. 20 BYU

The Portland and BYU men have traded wins at this meet in each of the past six years, and if the pattern holds, it’s Portland’s turn to lift the trophy in 2016. But BYU has been the better team this season, winning at Panorama Farms and defeating the Pilots soundly at Wisconsin, 144-257. In the women’s race, Portland will be going for its first title since 2008 but ranked foes San Francisco and BYU will be standing in the way.

LRC Prediction: BYU men, Portland women FTW.

Big Sky Championships (University of Idaho Golf Course, Moscow, Idaho)

When: Friday, 2:00 p.m. ET (men’s race) and 3:15 p.m. ET (women’s race)
Ranked men’s teams: No. 1 Northern Arizona, No. 20 Southern Utah
Ranked women’s teams: none

Nothing notable here except for the presence of the top men’s team in the country. No. 1 Northern Arizona has won 18 of the last 22 Big Sky titles but the Lumberjacks’ eight-year winning streak was halted last year by Southern Utah. Expect a dominant victory by NAU. Only one team in conference history has perfect-scored the meet (NAU in 1988), but this year’s group has a chance to be the second.

MB: Big Sky XC 2016

LRC Prediction: No Perfect score for NAU.


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