2017 NCAA Men’s XC Preview: #10 Oklahoma State & #9 Iona

By LetsRun.com
September 11, 2017

The track season is over, the days are getting shorter and temperatures are gradually dropping across the United States. Cross country season is here.

The NCAA Cross Country Championship is always one of the best events on the running calendar, and the 2016 edition in Terre Haute, Indiana, was one for the ages. In the men’s race, Villanova’s Patrick Tiernan upset the unbeatable Edward Cheserek of Oregon as Northern Arizona sent coach Eric Heins out as a champion by delivering the program’s first national title. In the women’s race, Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer was the surprising champion, sprinting by Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer and Michigan’s Erin Finn in the home straight. The wildest outcome of all came in the women’s team race as No. 12 Oregon sprung a massive upset, defeating Michigan by one point, in part because Oregon’s Maggie Schmaedick (64th, 20:38.1) beat out Michigan’s Jaimie Phelan (65th, 20:38.2) by one-tenth of a second.

The 2017 edition will have a tough job surpassing that excitement, but with its enthusiastic fans and meritocratic simplicity — everyone runs the same distance, over the same course, at the same time — NCAA XC always delivers.

Below, we’ve done our best to forecast who the top teams will be at the national championships two months from now in Louisville. A lot can change between now and November 18, and while it’s usually easy to predict the top teams that have a shot at the title, places six through 15 can often be interchangeable depending on who runs well on the day. That’s what happens when you’ve got roughly two runners crossing the finish line every second in the main pack. So consider these rankings a starting point for the national title conversation; we’ll check in periodically throughout the fall and offer analysis as the season unfolds.

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Key dates
September 8: 
Meets begin to count for NCAA at-large qualifying purposes
October 13: Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, Madison, Wisconsin
October 14: Pre-National Invitational, Louisville, Kentucky
October 27-29: Conference weekend (various sites)
November 10: NCAA regional meets (various sites)
November 18: NCAA championships, Louisville, Kentucky

Women’s previews: #10 Providence & #9 Arkansas

Note: We determined where a runner ranked among returners by taking his place in the team scoring at NCAAs in 2016 and subtracting the number of seniors/non-returners in front of him.

New additions in italics

10. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys look to return to the top 10 after two years away

2016 results: 12th NCAAs, 1st Midwest Regional, 1st Big 12, 1st Penn State National

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Key returners (lose #2, #5 from NCAAs)

Name Class # returner from NCAAs Credentials
Hassan Abdi SR 6 13:43/28:54
Christian Liddell JR 60 8:29/9:05 steeple
Sylvester Barus SR 68 14:05/29:04
Matthew Fayers SR 78 3:58 mile
Luis Martinez SR 98 8:12/14:27
Cerake Geberkidane SR N/A 8:05/13:51; 11th ’16 NCAA 5k
Alec Haines RS FR N/A 8:17/14:27
Ryan Smeeton RS FR N/A 8:12/8:54 SC
Kevin Mulcaire FR N/A 3:46/14:02
Abdi, right, will be counted on to lead an inexperienced Cowboys squad Abdi, right, will be counted on to lead an inexperienced Cowboys squad

This year, Dave Smith is playing the lottery. In years past, Smith, who is entering his 12th year at the helm of the OSU cross country program, has usually had the luxury of one or two returning studs: the Cowboys finished in the top 10 at NCAAs every year from 2005-2014, including five straight top-3 finishes from 2009-2013. But OSU dropped to 18th in 2015, and though they improved to 12th last year, this year’s squad is short on athletes who have gotten it done on the big stage.

“We’ve got one guy on the team who’s ever finished in the top 100 at nationals, and that’s Hassan [Abdi, who was 16th last year],” Smith said.

What Smith does have: a bunch of lottery tickets, or more accurately, a bunch of high-upside guys who could turn into something.

“We need one or two of them to hit and we’re doing really well,” Smith said.

Abdi, who ran PRs of 13:43 and 28:54 on the track last year, is a proven #1, but the order behind him is anyone’s guess. Christian Liddell is the team’s #2 returner (121st last year) but his results on the track last year were middling (14:57 5000, 9:05 steeple). Irish import Kevin Mulcaire has battled injuries in the past and is not quite back to full speed, but he ran 3:46 and 14:02 as a 17-year-old and could be a major factor if he can make it to November healthy. Alec Haines (8:12/14:27) and Ryan Smeeton (8:12/8:54 steeple) were impressive as true freshman last year and will suit up for their first year of XC. Cerake Geberkidane has run 13:51 for 5,000 but a bulging disc has limited his effectiveness in recent years. Anthoney Armstrong, OSU’s 5th man last year who had additional eligibility, graduated and will not compete this fall.

Smith generally redshirts freshmen, but he’s been impressed by this group, which includes a bunch of guys from states that aren’t traditionally a hotbed of distance talent: Kyler True (Kansas, 1:49/4:07/9:12), Ryan Wheeling (North Dakota, 4:17/9:20), and Isai Rodriguez (8:26 3000). True, in particular, has adjusted well to the additional volume of collegiate training and could make an impact as soon as this year.

The biggest lottery ticket of all is Kenyan Sylvester Barus, who ran 14:05 and 29:04 on the track last year.

“Sylvester at times, is the best guy we’ve had, ever, maybe,” Smith said — high praise from a man who’s coached German FernandezRyan Vail and Shadrack Kipchirchir. “At other times, he’s very average. And we’ve gotta figure out what the key is.”

Barus has had a tendency to wear down late in seasons. Last year, he won the Cowboy Jamboree on September 24, crushing a quality field — he beat Tulsa’s Luke Traynor, who would go on to finish 13th at NCAAs — by a monstrous 52 seconds and beat future NCAA 10k champ Marc Scott by 71. But Barus could only manage 139th at NCAAs. Outdoors, the same thing happened as he finished dead last in the NCAA 10,000 final, 48 seconds behind the next-closest finisher.

Should Barus and a few of those other lottery tickets pay off, Oklahoma State will return to the top 10. If Barus becomes a stud, Oklahoma State is almost guaranteed a top 10 finish as if you put two guys in the top 20 it’s almost impossible to not finish in the top 10 as 300 points will easily crack the top 10.

9. Iona: Can the Gaels finish in the top 10 for the 15th time in 16 years?

2016 results: 10th NCAAs, 2nd Northeast Regional, 1st MAAC, 5th Wisconsin Invitational, 1st Paul Short Run

Key returners (lose #1 from NCAAs)

Name Class # returner from NCAAs Credentials
Chartt Miller SR 27 7:57/13:49
Gilbert Kirui SR 41 13:50/28:54; 20th in ’15; 6th NCAA 10k
Johannes Motschmann SR 43 8:07/14:14/8:46 SC
Liam Dee JR 58 3:40/7:57/14:04
Jac Hopkins SR 90 8:08/14:24
Brandon Allen SR 107 8:09/14:22/8:42 SC
Ehab El-Sandali SO N/A 14:18
Andrew Tario SR N/A 14:17/29:49
Jack O’Leary SO N/A 8:14/14:28
Miller, right, has scored for Iona at the last three NCAA XC meets Miller, right, has scored for Iona at the last three NCAA XC meets

Iona is a machine. Year after year, the Gaels crank out top-10 finishes; since 2002, they’ve finished in the top 10 every year save 2012, when a bout of food poisoning in Louisville felled several members of the team. Iona does lose its #1 man from 2016 in Kieran Clements, but everyone else returns, including Gilbert Kirui (13:50/28:54), who finished 20th in 2015 and took 6th in the NCAA 10,000 in Eugene in June. Australian Chartt Miller (3:43/13:49) has scored for Iona at NCAAs in each of the past three years (76th, 43rd, 64th) and is a reliable #2. Johannes Motschmann (8:46 steeple/14:14) and Liam Dee (3:58 mile/14:04) have both finished in the top 110 at NCAAs in the past. Jac Hopkins (8:08) and Brandon Allen (8:09) both broke 8:10 in the 3,000 for the first time last year and look to have improved since 2016.

While the group of Kirui, Miller, Motschmann, Dee and Hopkins/Allen should be enough to ensure another top-10 finish, the Gaels do have some margin for error with Ehab El-Sandali (14:18), Andrew Tario (14:17) and Jack O’Leary (8:14) waiting in the wings.

Fun fact: Iona’s seven runners at NCAAs last year came from seven different countries (if you’re willing to count England and Wales as separate countries) — and none of those countries was the United States of America. This year’s team figures to be similarly diverse as of the men listed above, senior Andrew Tario is the only American.

Talk about 2017 NCAA xc on our messageboard / fan forum: Official 2017 NCAA XC Preview Discussion Thread.

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