No. 1 Northern Arizona (78 Points) Rolls to Big Win at 2016 Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational; Syracuse’s Justyn Knight (23:51) Unleashes Big Kick to Claim Individual Title

October 14, 2016

At the 2016 Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational on Friday in Madison, Wis., No. 1 Northern Arizona lived up to its top cross country ranking with a resounding victory in the men’s race, while the No. 4 Washington women upset No. 1 Providence and No. 3 NC State. NAU’s 78-point total was the meet’s lowest score on the men’s side since Wisconsin dropped 66 in 2011, while Washington rode the performances of Amy-Eloise Neale (4th, 20:05.7) and Charlotte Prouse (20:08.5) to beat NC State, 124-166.

Individually, Syracuse’s Justyn Knight moved up one spot from his 2015 finish to win the men’s race in 23:53.1 thanks to a savage kick (MB: Justyn Knight will win NCAA D1 Cross Country Nationals). With her teammate and defending champion Allie Ostrander hurt (details here), Boise State sophomore Brenna Peloquin claimed top honors in the women’s race, pulling away in the homestretch to win in 20:00.8 on a windy day in the Heartland.

Below you’ll find a recap and analysis of the men’s race; we’ve got a separate women’s recap here: No. 4 Washington Women Win 2016 Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational as Boise State’s Brenna Peloquin (20:00) Pulls Away to Win Individual Crown.

Talk about the race on our fan forum / messageboard: MB: Official 2016 Wisco/Pre-Nats Discussion Thread
MB: Justyn Knight will win NCAA D1 Cross Country Nationals
MB: Syracuse officially not the favorite 

Men’s Race

Very little happened in the men’s race until just after six kilometers, when NC State’s George Parsons made the first big move of the day, opening up a 15-meter lead at 6k, though 14 men were within three seconds of the lead. At four miles, Parsons had widened that gap slightly, but with just over half a mile to go, the pack finally started to close the gap. It appeared inevitable that Parsons would be caught.

Parson's tried to steal this one Parsons tried to steal this one

Coming around the final turn, however, Parsons still led by several meters, though he was stalked by a five-man pack consisting of Justyn Knight (Syracuse), Futsum Zienasellassie (Northern Arizona), Morgan McDonald (Wisconsin), Sean McGorty (Stanford) and Grant Fisher (Stanford). Could Parsons, the runner-up at the Notre Dame Invite two weeks ago, pull the shocker?

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Knight crushed Parsons’ upset dreams as if he were swatting away a fly. Halfway down the finishing stretch, Knight switched gears, immediately dropping the chasers and blowing by Parsons. He put so much ground on the field so quickly that he had time to look around and jog across the line at the end, winning by two seconds in 23:53.1 over Zienasellassie, who just edged home favorite McDonald and Fisher. Parsons wound up a well-earned fifth in 23:56.5 while McGorty, by far the fastest miler with a 3:53 personal best, was a slightly disappointing sixth, the final man under 24:00 in 23:58.9.

Team Results and Top 10 Individuals

Place Team (National Rank) Points
1 Northern Arizona (#1) 78
2 Stanford (#11) 118
3 BYU (#3) 144
4 Syracuse (#2) 167
5 Iona (#8) 240
6 UCLA (#27) 246
7 Portland (#7) 257
8 Iowa State (#14) 260
9 Washington St. (RV) 283
10 Colorado St. (#21) 298
11 Wisconsin (#16) 313
12 Southern Utah (RV) 347
13 Tulsa (#26) 367
14 Georgetown (#17) 399
15 Boise State (#18) 413
16 Washington (#23) 416
17 Eastern Michigan (unranked) 421
18 Michigan State (#22) 436
19 Providence (#24) 486
19 Penn (#25) 486
21 Florida State (unranked) 524
22 Minnesota (RV) 540
23 South Dakota St. (unranked) 555
24 North Carolina St. (RV) 578
25 Columbia (RV) 582
26 Eastern Kentucky (#15) 599
27 Illinois (#29) 615
28 Princeton (RV) 634
29 Texas A&M (unranked) 641
30 North Carolina (unranked) 826

Top 10 Results *Full Results

    1    1   699 Justyn Knight         JR Syracuse              6:05   12:16   18:25   23:53.1  4:49 
    2    2   629 Futsum Zienasellassie SR Northern Arizona      6:05   12:16   18:25   23:55.1  4:49 
    3    3   773 Morgan McDonald       JR Wisconsin             6:06   12:16   18:25   23:55.4  4:49 
    4    4   685 Grant Fisher          SO Stanford              6:05   12:17   18:25   23:55.5  4:49 
    5    5   617 George Parsons        SR North Carolina St.    6:08   12:18   18:23   23:56.5  4:49 
    6    6   690 Sean McGorty          SR Stanford              6:05   12:16   18:25   23:58.9  4:50 
    7    7   553 Kieran Clements       SR Iona                  6:05   12:16   18:26   24:01.3  4:50 
    8    8   621 Matthew Baxter        JR Northern Arizona      6:05   12:17   18:26   24:02.5  4:51 
    9    9   479 Nicolas Montanez      SR BYU                   6:07   12:18   18:26   24:02.8  4:51 
   10   10   735 Ferdinand Edman       SR UCLA                  6:06   12:17   18:26   24:03.3  4:51

Quick Thought #1: Northern Arizona is for real; can the Lumberjacks send coach Eric Heins out with his first national title in his final season in Flagstaff?

NAU came into the weekend ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ poll, but their hold on that ranking was tenuous as the Lumberjacks did not debut their A team until today. A record five schools were receiving first-place votes in the coaches’ poll, while LetsRun Nation pegged NAU just 5th in the pre-meet Super Poll.

Well Futsum & Co. certainly proved they belong at the top, as NAU crushed the No. 2 Syracuse and No. 3 BYU to win by 40 points (No. 11 Stanford was actually 2nd). Barring a massive performance by Oregon, Colorado or Arkansas at Pre-Nats on Saturday, NAU will remain at No. 1 — this time, likely unanimously — when the new coaches’ poll comes out next week.

Futsum’s runner-up finish was no surprise as he’s been one of the best cross country runners in the nation for the past four years. But NAU got a huge run out of Kiwi Matthew Baxter (8th overall; 14:10/29:19 pbs) and great depth all the way down the line. The Lumberjacks’ first two runners both placed in the top 10 and they had the highest-ranked 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th runners today. That’s a recipe for a title team.

Coach Eric Heins’s teams have made it on the podium at NCAAs five times during his tenure and NAU was two kilometers away from winning it all in 2013. Heins is leaving the program at the end of the season to spend more time with his family in Houston, and this may be his best shot yet at a national title.

Quick Thought #2: Can the addition of Thomas Ratcliffe help Stanford close the gap by NCAAs?

Stanford ran very well today. As expected, Fisher and McGorty ran like the studs they are but it was the performance of fourth man Jack Keelan that was most encouraging as he was 35th today after finishing 30th at Panorama Farms. The past two years, Stanford has run its best race of the season at NCAAs, and if the Cardinal can make a similar leap in 2016, they’ll have a shot at their first national title since 2003.

A big key will be true freshman Thomas Ratcliffe. A 4:01 miler in high school despite playing soccer in the fall, Ratcliffe ran 23:17 unattached to win the Stanford Invite in his XC debut and Cardinal coach Chris Miltenberg told Flotrack that Ratcliffe will likely don the Stanford singlet for the first time at Pac-12s.

Miltenberg could have raced Ratcliffe today but elected not to, a strategy informed by how he’s handled stud freshmen in the past. In 2013, Miltenberg ran McGorty at Pre-Nats, where he finished 5th, but McGorty wound up finishing way back in 161st at NCAAs. Last year with Fisher, Miltenberg raced him at the Stanford Invite, held him out of Wisconsin, ran him at Pac-12s and held him out of regionals. Fisher wound up 17th at NCAAs. Expect Miltenberg to use the Grant Fisher blueprint in his treatment of Ratcliffe this year.

Of course, even if you put Ratcliffe right between Fisher and McGorty in fifth today, they still lose to NAU. Ratcliffe can definitely help Stanford but to win NCAAs they’ll need Keelan, Garrett Sweatt and Sam Wharton to keep improving as well.

Quick Thought #3: Where would Syracuse be if they still had a couple of key transfers?

Syracuse didn’t run an awful race today, but fourth will be disappointing for head coach Chris Fox after the Orange won this race each of the past two years. The biggest difference today was the final 2k, which was a strength for Syracuse all of last year and the key to its NCAA victory. The Orange went from 112 points at 6k to 167 at the finish, mostly due to Iliass Aouani, who dropped from 13th to 86th.

There are a few silver linings, however. Fourth and fifth men Philo Germano and Joel Hubbard actually combined to pick up 24 places over the final 2k, and though #2 man Colin Bennie slid back eight places from his 2015 finish of 6th, he ran much better today than he did at Panorama Farms three weeks ago.

Second, this was a tough field to crack at the top. In two of the past four years, Syracuse’s 167 points would have been good enough for second at this meet. It just so happened that NAU, Stanford and BYU all ran really well up front.

Second-place scores at Wisconsin, 2012-2016
2016: 118
2015: 186
2014: 154
2013: 174
2012: 145

This year’s team is not as good as the 2015 edition — it was always going to be hard to replace an NCAA top-10 guy like Martin Hehir. But it’s still very much a podium threat, and if Aouani can run a complete race at NCAAs, the Orange will be dangerous.

Syracuse also presents an interesting what-if as two former SU runners ran very well today. Kevyn Hoyos, who transferred to Iowa State this year, was 21st at Wisconsin, while MJ Erb, who transferred to Ole Miss last year, won the Penn State National meet. Obviously Syracuse could have used those performances today, but generally when an athlete transfers, there’s a reason. You can’t just plug in their results today and say that’s what they would have run if they were still at Syracuse.

Knight blows by Parsons Knight blows by Parsons

Quick Take #4: Justyn Knight ran like a stud today but he’ll likely have to wait a year for a national title

We had the chance to watch Knight run a workout in-person last week and came away extremely impressed. We already knew that Knight, who ran 13:26 and beat Galen Rupp on the track last year, was a monster, but the ease with which Knight dropped his teammates — a couple of whom are All-Americans in their own right — on a hilly tempo run was jaw-dropping.

Today’s race was similar, as Knight looked in complete control throughout before making one hard move late in the race that tore the pack asunder.

Knight may have run 15 seconds slower than last year, but that doesn’t matter as the windy conditions led to a tactical race. Make no mistake, he’s in even better shape than 2015 — that’s scary for a guy who was 4th at NCAAs last year.

Unfortunately for Knight, three-time NCAA XC champ Edward Cheserek is still around, and given that Cheserek’s coach Andy Powell said last month that Cheserek is in the best shape he’s ever been in at that point of the season, he remains the heavy favorite for the NCAA title. Knight is only a junior, however, so even if he can’t take down Ches this fall he’ll have another crack at the individual title next year.

Quick Take #5: A look at the surprises and flops in the men’s team race

A bunch of Pac-12 teams, led by UCLA and Washington State, ran much better than expected. 19 ranked teams and six other teams receiving votes in the national polls competed in the men’s race. Yet No. 27 UCLA managed to finish 6th overall and unranked Washington State was 11th overall. No. 11 Stanford finished 2nd overall although most pundits thought Stanford was way underrated as the No. 11 team in the country (they are No. 4 in the LRC fan poll).

Unranked Southern Utah deserves praise for finishing 12th as does unranked Eastern Michigan, who was 17th overall – beating five ranked teams.

No. 15 Eastern Kentucky was the biggest disappointment as they were just 26th. Despite finishing 26th, Eastern Kentucky actually beat a ranked team as No. 29 Illinois was 27th.

Talk about the race on our fan forum / messageboard: MB: Official 2016 Wisco/Pre-Nats Discussion Thread
MB: Justyn Knight will win NCAA D1 Cross Country Nationals
MB: Syracuse officially not the favorite 

Women: No. 4 Washington Women Win 2016 Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational as Boise State’s Brenna Peloquin (20:00) Pulls Away to Win Individual Crown.

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