2017 Wisconsin Invite/Pre-Nats Preview: Who Will Emerge as the NCAA Favorites as the XC Season Heats Up?

By Jonathan Gault
October 12, 2017

This is the week when cross country gets real. Officially, we’re just past the midpoint of the 2017 NCAA cross country season. In actuality, this is the first week of the real season, a five-week stretch that encompasses the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, Pre-Nats, conference meets, regionals, and nationals. While some schools have posted some impressive performances (No. 1 Northern Arizona and No. 2 BYU men, No. 1 Colorado and No. 3 New Mexico women), everything to this point has been a glorified exhibition. This weekend is where the true tests begin.

After this weekend, we can also start drawing some real conclusions when it comes to the national championship picture. Do you realize that the past sixteen men’s team national champions have all notched a victory on this weekend of the season?

Individually, we could see one of the best matchups in the history of the Wisconsin Invite if Wisconsin’s Morgan McDonald joins Syracuse’s Justyn Knight and Stanford’s Grant Fisher in the Wisconsin men’s field. Knight and McDonald both competed at the World Championships in London last summer while Fisher won the NCAA 5,000 title in June.

The best team matchups of the weekend figure to come in the Wisconsin men’s race and the Pre-Nats women’s race. In Madison, we get a battle of the last two national champions, No. 1 Northern Arizona and No. 3 Syracuse. In Louisville, it’s a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown on the women’s side as No. 1 Colorado takes on defending NCAA champ No. 2 Oregon.

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We run through the need-to-know details for each meet below before previewing each meet below.

Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational

When: Friday, October 13 (women’s race at 1:20 p.m. ET, men’s race at 2:00 p.m. ET)

Where: Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course, Madison, Wisconsin

Results: Free live Wisco results

How to watch: Live on Flotrack Pro

Men’s teams: No. 1 Northern Arizona, No. 3 Syracuse, No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 Southern Utah, No. 10 Furman, No. 11 Colorado State, No. 13 Iona, No. 14 Iowa State, No. 15 Boise State, No. 16 Illinois, No. 17 Michigan State, No. 18 Virginia, No. 20 UCLA, No. 21 Indiana, No. 23 Air Force, No. 25 Michigan, No. 25 Portland, No. 28 Wisconsin, No. 29 Washington State, No. 30 Columbia, Cal, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Florida State, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina State, Penn, Providence, Purdue, San Francisco, Tulsa, UConn, Washington

Women’s teams: No. 3 New Mexico, No. 5 Stanford, No. 6 San Francisco, No. 7 North Carolina State, No. 8 Providence, No. 11 Washington, No. 13 Boise State, No. 14 Indiana, No. 17 Wisconsin, No. 18 Iowa State, No. 20 Minnesota, No. 21 Furman, No. 22 Utah, No. 22 Georgetown, No. 27 Yale, No. 28 Virginia, Air Force, Baylor, Cal, Colorado State, Columbia, Eastern Michigan, Florida State, Harvard, Kentucky, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Penn, Purdue, Syracuse, Tulsa, UCLA, Vanderbilt

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When: Saturday, October 14 (women’s race at 10:00 a.m. ET, women’s race at 10:45 a.m. ET)

Where: E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, Louisville, Kentucky

Results: Free live Pre-Nats results 

How to watch: Live on Flotrack Pro

Men’s teams: No. 2 BYU, No. 5 Arkansas, No. 7 Colorado, No. 8 Oregon, No. 12 Virginia Tech, No. 19 Georgetown, No. 24 Ole Miss, No. 27 Utah State, Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Boston University, Brown, Butler, Campbell, Central Michigan, Charlotte, Clemson, Dartmouth, Dayton, Eastern Washington, Elon, Georgia, Gonzaga, Houston, Indiana State, Kansas, Liberty, Miami (OH), Missouri, Morehead State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rice, Saint Louis, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Tennessee Tech, Texas, UMass Lowell, UMKC, UTEP, Weber State, Wyoming, Yale

Women’s teams: No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Oregon, No. 4 Michigan, No. 9 Arkansas, No. 12 Ole Miss, No. 16 BYU, No. 19 Utah State, No. 24 Missouri, No. 25 Georgia, Abilene Christian, Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College, Bowling Green, Brown, Central Michigan, Duke, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Washington, Gonzaga, Iona, Louisville, Miami (OH), New Hampshire, Northern Arizona, Northwestern, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Portland, Rice, Richmond, SMU, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas, TCU, Toledo, Tulane, UMass Lowell, UTEP, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Weber State, Wyoming

Wisconsin men’s race: No. 1 NAU faces No. 3 Syracuse; could we see Knight vs. Fisher vs. McDonald?

Knight only suffered one loss last fall -- to Patrick Tiernan at NCAAs Knight only suffered one loss last fall — to Patrick Tiernan at NCAAs

The men’s team battle here should be more interesting than in Louisville. A ridiculous 20 of the 30 ranked teams including three of last year’s four podium teams are entered (NAU, Syracuse, Stanford) and all have strong squads again as they’re all ranked in the top four in the country. This is also a far deeper meet than Pre-Nats as there are just eight ranked men’s teams in Louisville. NAU won here last year and will be favored to do so again after a dominant 1-2-3-4 finish at the Louisville Sports Commission Cross Country Classic two weeks ago. Syracuse also won its most recent meet at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown on September 22, and though that victory was less convincing than NAU’s, Syracuse, more than most programs, really focuses on strength training early in the year. The Orange has improved as the year has gone on in each of the last two seasons, and with the core of those squads (Justyn KnightColin Bennie, Philo Germano) all back in 2017, expect that to happen again this year. Plus Syracuse won in Boston without Knight, and they’ll have him back on Friday. Stanford could challenge as well, but the Cardinal have yet to debut its full strength squad this year so there’s a bit of uncertainty there. We’ll take the NAU men FTW.

Individually, the men’s race at Wisconsin should be terrific. Defending champ/NCAA favorite Justyn Knight will make his season debut in Madison after taking 9th in the 5,000 at Worlds in August. Likewise, the man who beat him in last year’s NCAA 5,000 final, Grant Fisher of Stanford, will also be opening up his 2017 campaign on Friday. The wildcard is Wisconsin’s Morgan McDonald, whose 5,000 pb (13:15) is better than both Knight’s and Fisher’s. Wisconsin coach Mick Byrne didn’t return our call, but early this year he said that redshirting McDonald, who also ran at Worlds this year, was on the table. And considering how poorly Wisconsin ran two weeks ago (8th in Louisville), we wouldn’t be surprised if McDonald sits out this fall so that he can try to win the NCAA title on his home course next year (with the added benefit that Knight will have graduated).

If all three studs run on Friday, we should see an incredible race. Our guess, however, is that it’s Knight vs. Fisher, and we’re taking Knight. And don’t be surprised if Knight, whom Fisher outkicked on the track last spring, tries to push the pace from a long way out. If he does, we could see a very fast time (the course record is Lawi Lalang‘s 23:03, FYI). It wouldn’t shock us if Fisher didn’t go all-out in this one as coaches are getting more and more conservative as the years progress.

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Wisconsin women’s race: No. 3 New Mexico is favored; Allie Ostrander leads women’s field

Ostrander is the tentative favorite to win her second Wisconsin Invite title on Friday Ostrander is the tentative favorite to win her second Wisconsin Invite title on Friday

16 of the 30 ranked women’s teams will race (9 are at Pre-Nats). No. 3 New Mexico is the favorite after an impressive 51-point showing at Notre Dame. Normally 51 is enough to win any invitational, but No. 1 Colorado also happened to be in that race and scored even lower (47). Still, UNM went 1-2 individually (Ednah Kurgat and Alice Wright) and put two more women in the top eight. The key will be the No. 5 spot, particularly in the larger, deeper Wisconsin field. Kieran Casey was the Lobos’ #5 at Notre Dame (34th overall) and if she can finish somewhere in the 60-80 range, that should be good enough for New Mexico to win. If not, that opens the door for a strong San Francisco squad, which went 1-2-3-4 en route to victory at Roy Griak on September 23. No. 5 Stanford could also be dangerous if they add in Courtney Smith (32:08 10k), Christina Aragon (4:08 1500), and Elise Cranny (4:09 1500), none of whom raced at Bill Dellinger two weeks ago. But if they aren’t available (we don’t know whether they’re healthy or not), Stanford doesn’t have the firepower to challenge New Mexico.

UPDATE: Stanford has released its roster and none of those three women are on it.

Individually, Boise State’s Allie Ostrander is the woman to beat. Two weeks ago, the NCAA steeple champ ran her first cross country race in almost two years and won the Louisville Sports Commission Cross Country Classic in 16:28 for 5k — despite running the last mile or so with only one shoe. And she’s run well here in the past; the last time Ostrander ran at Wisconsin in 2015, she set the course record (19:19). Her No. 1 challenger figures to be New Mexico’s Ednah Kurgat, who looked good in running 16:01 to blast a quality field at Notre Dame on September 29. Like Ostrander, the race was Kurgat’s first in XC for almost two years as Kurgat was forced to sit out the 2016 season after transferring from Liberty (Ostrander redshirted due to injury).

One more note on the women’s race: defending champ Brenna Peloquin of Boise State will not be running as Boise State has posted its roster and she is not on it. Considering Peloquin hasn’t raced since February, it looks like there’s a good chance she may redshirt this fall.

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Pre-Nats men’s race: Is BYU for real? 

Can BYU pack it up again in Louisville? (photo courtesy Ed Eyestone) Can BYU pack it up again in Louisville? (photo courtesy Ed Eyestone)

A year ago, BYU turned heads by upsetting defending national champion Syracuse at the Panorama Farms Invite in September, a win that pushed them as high as No. 3 in the coaches’ poll. BYU didn’t exactly bomb at NCAAs — the Cougars finished a respectable 7th — but it wasn’t the finish the program was hoping for. This year, BYU once again made a statement in its first real meet, almost perfect-scoring the Dellinger Invite against No. 8 Oregon and a weakened Stanford squad. But these Cougars, who roll four deep up front with Rory LinkletterClayton YoungConnor McMillan, and superfrosh Casey Clinger, are better equipped to sustain — or even improve upon — their No. 2 ranking. With three of the top four ranked teams competing in Madison, BYU faces an easier field at Pre-Nats, but both meets feature 4 teams from the top 8 in the polls and No. 5 Arkansas should still provide a challenge. Still, we expect the Cougars to roll, and if Wisconsin is a close battle, that may be enough to move BYU atop the polls for the first time in the history of the USTFCCCA archive (which dates back to 1995).

Individually, BYU’s top two finishers from Dellinger, Young and Linkletter, will be dangerous. Arkansas’ Alex George won Chile Pepper, and Colorado’s Joe Klecker was 4th at Notre Dame behind Alabama’s Kenyan trio. They should both factor here as well. The favorite may be Utah State’s Dillon Maggard. He ran a quick 23:26 to win Paul Short and among entrants at Pre-Nats, no one had a better NCAA finish last year than Maggard (12th). And keep an eye on Campbell’s Amon Kemboi and Lawrence Kipkoech, who went 1-2 at the Panorama Farms Invite on September 23.

Pre-Nats women’s race: No. 1 Colorado vs. No. 2 Oregon & Karissa Schweizer vs. Katie Rainsberger

Schweizer's 2016 NCAA win was an upset but she won't be catching anyone by surprise this fall Schweizer’s 2016 NCAA win was an upset but she won’t be catching anyone by surprise this fall

Colorado entered last year’s NCAA meet as the heavy favorite and put six runners in the top 43, but Oregon was able to spring the upset largely because the Ducks put three in front of Colorado’s #1. That’s the strategy that Oregon will try to apply again this year. The Ducks have a big advantage at the #1 spot in Katie Rainsberger, who was fourth at NCAAs last year and destroyed the course record by running 18:47 at Dellinger. The course wasn’t a full 6k, but Rainsberger still won by 18 seconds. Oregon also went 2-3 in that meet with Aussies Lilli Burdon and Jessica Hull, and those two will need to match up well with Colorado’s top three as Oregon’s depth is not as strong as Colorado’s.

This meet feature three of the top 4 women’s teams in the country, but we expect the Buffaloes to take this one as they put four in the top 10 to beat a tough field (including No. 3 New Mexico) at Notre Dame, scoring just 47 points. Their depth is just too much, and in NCAA 3k champ Dani Jones (3rd at ND), the Buffs have an NCAA top-10 individual threat as well. Add in No. 4 Michigan and you’ve got the top three teams from last year’s NCAA meet. This should be a good one.

Individually, we expect this to be a two-woman race between Rainsberger and defending NCAA champ Karissa Schweizer of Missouri. Both women have laid waste to the fields they’ve faced so far this year (Schweizer won the Commodore Classic by 64 seconds and the Cowboy Jamboree by 29) and it would surprise no one if they wound up going 1-2 on this course a month from now at NCAAs. This will be a real test for each of them, but considering the way that Schweizer has dominated the NCAA since winning in XC last year (she added NCAA 5,000 titles indoors and out and was 4th at USAs), we can’t pick against her. The 6k also distance suits her more than Rainsberger.

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Talk about the action on our fan forum: MB: Official 2017 Wisco / Pre-Nats Discussion Thread- Who you got? 

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