October 12, 2016
The Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational and Pre-National Invitational will be held this weekend, which means that we can finally start drawing some conclusions about the 2016 NCAA cross country season. So far, almost every performance has come with a qualifier. Several teams have yet to race full squads, others haven’t faced any real competition, and even the ones who have could use the excuse “it’s only September.” But with five weeks until nationals, this weekend’s results will be telling. We went back and looked through the last 15 years (that’s as far back as we could find results), and every single year the eventual men’s NCAA champion won on this weekend. The trend is not as strong on the women’s side, but over the past two years, Michigan State and New Mexico have used a win at Wisconsin as a springboard to an NCAA title.
That means you should probably be paying attention this weekend if you want an idea of what’s going to happen at NCAAs next month in Terre Haute. Because right now, there are plenty of unanswered questions. We give you the need-to-know details about each meet below before taking a look at the biggest concerns heading into this weekend’s action.
Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational
When: Friday, October 14 (women’s race at 1:30 p.m. ET, men’s race at 2:20 p.m. ET)
Where: Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course, Madison, Wisconsin
How to watch: Live on Flotrack Pro
Men’s teams: No. 1 Northern Arizona, No. 2 Syracuse, No. 3 BYU, No. 7 Portland, No. 8 Iona, No. 11 Stanford, No. 14 Iowa State, No. 15 Eastern Kentucky, No. 16 Wisconsin, No. 17 Georgetown, No. 18 Boise State, No. 21 Colorado State, No. 22 Michigan State, No. 23 Washington, No. 24 Providence, No. 25 Penn, No. 26 Tulsa, No. 27 UCLA, No. 29 Illinois, Columbia, Eastern Michigan, Florida State, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Princeton, South Dakota State, Southern Utah, Texas A&M, Washington State
Women’s teams: No. 1 Providence, No. 3 NC State, No. 4 Washington, No. 6 Michigan State, No. 10 Boise State, No. 11 New Mexico, No. 15 BYU, No. 17 Yale, No. 18 Georgetown, No. 19 San Francisco, No. 20 Syracuse, No. 21 Baylor, No. 23 Utah, No. 25 Iowa State, No. 26 Penn, No. 28 Notre Dame, No. 29 Harvard, Boston College, Columbia, Florida State, Minnesota, North Carolina, Northern Arizona, Princeton, SMU, Tulsa, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Villanova, Weber State, Wisconsin
When: Saturday, October 15 (women’s Blue race at 11:00 a.m. ET, men’s Blue race at 11:35 a.m. ET)
Where: LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, Terre Haute, Indiana
How to watch: Live on Flotrack Pro
Men’s teams: No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Arkansas, No. 6 Colorado, No. 12 UTEP, No. 13 Indiana, No. 20 Michigan, Air Force, Arizona, Arizona St., Bowling Green, Bradley, Butler, Cal Poly, Cal, Campbell, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Clemson, Cornell, Dartmouth, Dayton, Drake, Eastern Kentucky (B team), Eastern Washington, Florida, Furman, Gonzaga, Harvard, Indiana St., Iowa, IUPUI, Kansas, Lehigh, Liberty, Louisville, Marquette, Miami (OH), Missouri, Montana St., Morehead St., Murray St., Nebraska, Norfolk St., North Texas, Oakland, Ohio, Ohio St., Oklahoma, Portland (B team), Purdue, Quinnipiac, San Francisco, Toledo, Tulane, UMass Lowell, UMKC, Utah St., Utah Valley, Wake Forest, Wichita St., Wyoming, Youngstown St.
Women’s teams: No. 2 Colorado, No. 5 Portland, No. 7 Stanford, No. 9 Oregon, No. 12 Arkansas, No. 13 Michigan, No. 16 Eastern Michigan, No. 22 Virginia, Air Force, Arizona, Arizona St., Bowling Green, Brown, Butler, Cal Poly, Cal, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Clemson, Coastal Carolina, Colorado St., Dartmouth, Drake, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Washington, Elon, Florida, Furman, Gonzaga, Indiana, Indiana St., Iowa, IUPUI, James Madison, Kansas, Liberty, Louisville, Marquette, Miami (OH), Mississippi St., Missouri, Montana St., Morehead St., Murray St., Nebraska, Nevada, UNH, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Oakland, Ohio, Ohio St., Oklahoma, Oregon St., Purdue, Quinnipiac, Rice, TCU, Toledo, Tulane, UC Davis, UMass Lowell, UMKC, Utah St., Utah Valley, UTEP, Wake Forest, Western Michigan, Wichita St.
Note: Men’s and women’s fields are divided into three races each; all the ranked teams should be in the Blue races
Before we get to our questions about this weekend, here’s what we do know:
- Edward Cheserek is going to win at Pre-Nats. Actually, maybe he won’t, as he was upset last year by Virginia Tech’s Thomas Curtin. It doesn’t really matter. Cheserek has never shown the slightest indication that he cares about anything other than Pac-12s and NCAAs, and if he’s healthy, there’s no way he loses either of those meets.
- The Colorado women will roll at Pre-Nats. The Buffaloes’ Erin Clark won Pre-Nats last year after running 20:13 at the Rocky Mountain Shootout. The Buffs’ #2 in that race, Maddie Alm, was 41 seconds back in 20:54. Times vary from year to year, but at this year’s Rocky Mountain Shootout, Colorado had three women (Clark, Kaitlyn Benner and Montana transfer Makena Morley) ahead of Clark’s 2015 time with a fourth, Dani Jones, at 20:17. Head coach Mark Wetmore called them “definitely our best front four ever.” CU’s fifth, Melanie Nun, was way back in 21:23, but that’s still faster than what Colorado’s #5 ran in 2015. Clark ran an incredible race to take the win in 19:54 (joining Jenny Simpson and Kara Goucher as the only women to break 20:00 on CU’s home course), and though she can’t improve on last year’s finish at Pre-Nats, her teammates should be closer this time around.
That’s about it as far as locks go. Now let’s get to the good stuff.
1. Who’s No. 1 on the men’s side?
A record five teams received first-place votes in the most recent USTFCCCA coaches’ poll (NAU, Syracuse, BYU, Oregon and Colorado), which tells you that even the coaches have no clue who the best team in the country is right now. Syracuse, the defending champs and preseason No. 1 in both the coaches’ poll and LetsRun.com’s rankings, may have the best squad on paper but a full-strength Orange team lost to BYU at the Panorama Farms Invitational on September 23. Key for Syracuse will be the performance of junior Colin Bennie. Eighth at NCAAs last year, he finished sixth at Panorama farms — behind two Campbell runners and two BYU runners. If he gets back to his 2015 form at Wisconsin, the Orange will be fine. If not, Syracuse’s repeat bid will be much harder.
Stanford, our preseason No. 2, was also in that race but they didn’t run top guns Sean McGorty and Grant Fisher, and even with those two would have had a tough time beating BYU. Speaking of BYU, their run at Panorama Farms was the most impressive single performance of the season so far, but if the Cougars are to contend at NCAAs, they have to show they can do it in a big race like Wisconsin. NAU, the current No. 1, is a solid team but totally unproven at the moment. The Lumberjacks haven’t raced since September 10, and in that race one of their key guys, Nathan Weitz, really struggled. Colorado received one first-place vote in the most recent poll, but they also haven’t raced anyone and with stud freshmen Eduardo Herrera (4:04 mile/8:55 3200) and Phillip Rocha (4:11/8:59 for 16/3200) likely redshirting (neither is entered this weekend), they may not have the depth to contend for a national title this year.
The top three teams in the coaches’ poll (NAU, Syracuse and BYU) plus Stanford are all at Wisconsin, and if one of those schools can win that race convincingly, they will be No. 1 in next week’s poll and the new national title favorite. Don’t sleep on Iona either, as the Gaels scored 34 points to spank then-No. 8 Georgetown at Paul Short two weeks ago. In Terre Haute, Oregon will aim to prove there’s a new boss in the Pac-12; they haven’t beaten Colorado since the Buffaloes joined the conference in 2011.
All this uncertainty makes for some exciting races this weekend. Last year, everyone expected Syracuse (Wisconsin) and Colorado (Pre-Nats) to win handily and that’s exactly what happened. This year, Oregon is the favorite at Pre-Nats, but it’s by no means a slam-dunk, while several teams could win Wisconsin. While it would make our prognostication job easier if a team asserted itself as a dominant No. 1 this weekend, it’s more fun if we get a pair of close races as that ratchets up the drama heading into NCAAs.
If you want your say about who’s No. 1, be sure to vote in LetsRun’s Super Poll.
2. What does Stanford look like?
The Stanford men and women are two of the most intriguing teams in the country. The men have the roster to be a national-title contender, but even after Wisconsin we may not know exactly who they are. Assuming McGorty and Fisher run, they should have two guys in the top 10, but we don’t know how redshirt freshman Alex Ostberg (2014 Foot Locker Northeast champ) will fit in (he didn’t race at Panorama Farms either). Additionally, 2014 All-American Sam Wharton (17th, 24:24) and 13:40 guy Jack Keelan (30th, 25:00) didn’t run to their potential at Panorama Farms. Was that due to the hot temps or a sign of a bigger problem? Finally, there’s the question of what to do with true freshman Thomas Ratcliffe.
Head coach Chris Miltenberg‘s plan was to redshirt Ratcliffe, but after Ratcliffe, who ran 4:01 in the mile in HS, won the Stanford Invitational in a blazing 23:17 (not bad for a guy who didn’t run cross country in high school), he may have to reconsider that decision. Assuming Ratcliffe remains fit and healthy, how the Stanford men run this weekend could determine whether Milt yanks the redshirt. In our mind, the decision is easy – run Ratcliffe. We’d even run him this weekend to get experience in a big field (entries aren’t posted so we don’t know if he’s racing).
The Cardinal women will run at Pre-Nats and there are just as many questions about them. We know junior Elise Cranny (who won the Stanford Invite women’s race) is a stud, but this will be our first look at their two freshman phenoms – World Junior 1500 bronze medallist Christina Aragon (4:09 pb) and Ella Donaghu (4:14 pb), the fourth- and seventh-fastest HS 1500 runners ever. It’s not a guarantee that both will run, but both are entered on Stanford’s 10-woman roster for Pre-Nats. Colorado remains the team to beat, but Stanford could be a podium team if its youngsters run to their potential.
3. Will the Providence and NC State women get a boost?
Providence and NC State currently sit at No. 1 and No. 3 in the polls but both teams have potential additions to make, even though they went 1-2 at the Notre Dame Invite two weeks ago. For the Friars, it’s 2015 All-Americans Catarina Rocha and Sam Jones. When we talked to head coach Ray Treacy last month, he said that Jones (knee/IT band injury) would likely be held out until Wisconsin; we don’t have word on what’s up with Rocha. If neither of them runs on Friday, however, they may not run at all this season. NC State is in a similar boat, as the Wolfpack have yet to run the Frazier sisters, Ryen (won Notre Dame Invite last year) and Wesley (9:01 3k). Both sisters were injured during the track season, and NC State coach Laurie Henes told us last month that they likely wouldn’t feature until Wisconsin or ACCs, which NC State hosts on October 28.
Both Providence and NC State could be podium squads even without their potential additions, but considering how good Colorado looks (we expect them to be No. 1 when the new poll comes out next week), they’re going to need all they help they can get if they want to challenge for the national title.
4. Who wins Wisco: Knight, McGorty or Futsum?
Based on past accomplishments, Syracuse’s Justyn Knight, Stanford’s Sean McGorty and Northern Arizona’s Futsum Zienasellassie look to be a cut above the rest of the field at Wisconsin (though we wouldn’t be shocked to see Wisconsin’s 13:29 man Morgan McDonald in the mix on his home course). Knight was fourth at NCAAs last year and looks even better in 2016. He ran 13:26 on the track in June and broke the course record at Panorama Farms, running 23:13 in his season opener despite baking conditions on the course. At 5k in that race, Knight was 7.6 seconds back of eventual runner-up Lawrence Kipkoech of Campbell but wound up erasing that gap and winning by 15.8 seconds — a 23.4-second swing (Knight’s final 3k split was 8:19.5).
McGorty finished behind Knight at NCAA XC last year (he was seventh) but beat him at NCAA indoors (3k) and outdoors (5k) last year and ran faster on the track (13:24). He’s yet to race this fall but has proven to be just as good, if not better, than Knight. Futsum was the NCAA runner-up in the 10,000 in June and though he hasn’t run a cross country race in almost two years, he has finished third and fourth at the last two NCAA championships. It’s impossible to give one man the advantage over the other, so we’re excited to see how this race plays out.
5. Will Allie O open up? Can Sarah Disanza return to her 2014 form?
The preseason favorite for the NCAA individual title was Boise State sophomore Allie Ostrander, who was the NCAA runner-up last year and went on to place eighth in the 5,000 at the Olympic Trials as a true freshman. Ostrander hasn’t raced yet this season. Perhaps that’s because her track season stretched into July; perhaps it’s because of something more serious. If she runs on Friday at Wisconsin, expect her to win. If not, Ostrander’s fellow Boise State sophomore Brenna Peloquin (9th at NCAAs last year) is coming off a win over Michigan’s Erin Finn at Roy Griak and may be the woman to beat. Yet another true sophomore, Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer, won at Notre Dame and figures to be Peloquin’s toughest competition.
UPDATE: Boise State announced its roster for Wisconsin on Wednesday and Ostrander was not on it.
Finally, we’ll be looking out for Wisconsin junior Sarah Disanza. Two years ago, Disanza was second at NCAAs, but the knock on Disanza is that she’s injury-prone, and she’s raced just once since March 2015, most recently dealing with a stress fracture. Wisconsin director of cross country and track and field Mick Byrne assured us last month that Disanza was healthy at that time and planned on racing this season, but when that will happen — and how good Disanza will be after the long layoff — is still up in the air. Disanza has excelled off limited training in the past but if she doesn’t race on Friday, that’s not a good sign for her 2016 season.
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