September 20, 2018
Cross country is back, and the 2018 season promises to be a historic one.
In the team competition, a pair of teams are chasing dynasty status: the Northern Arizona men will be trying to become the first team to win three straight titles since Arkansas from 1998-2000, while the New Mexico women will be gunning for their third title in four years.
Individually, the big story on the men’s side is whether the American drought can end: no U.S. man has won the NCAA individual title since Oregon’s Galen Rupp did it 10 years ago. Northern Arizona’s Tyler Day and Stanford’s Grant Fisher — both top-five finishers a year ago — will look to end that streak. Wisconsin’s Morgan McDonald will be looking to end a drought of his own: no man has won the NCAA title on his home course since Indiana’s Bob Kennedy in 1992, but the Aussie will have a chance this fall as the NCAA championships will be staged at the Zimmer Course for the first time.
That course is another reason to be excited for the season. From 2004-2017, only two cities (Terre Haute and Louisville) hosted NCAAs. But over the next four years, four cities will host, beginning with Madison on November 17 (Terre Haute, Stillwater, Okla., and Tallahassee will follow in 2019, 2020, and 2021). Start planning those itineraries.
For the fifth year in a row, we’re counting down the top 10 men’s and women’s teams in America. These aren’t meant as definitive predictions — there are too many variables to accurately forecast the results of a race two months from now — but consider this a starting point for the national title conversation.
September 7: Meets begin to count for NCAA at-large qualifying purposes
September 28: Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, Madison, Wisconsin
October 13: Pre-National Invitational, Madison, Wisconsin
October 26-28: Conference weekend (various sites)
November 9: NCAA regional meets (various sites)
November 17: NCAA championships, Madison, Wisconsin
Note: We determined where a runner ranked among returners by taking his place in the team scoring at NCAAs in 2017 and subtracting the number of seniors/non-returners in front of him.
New additions in italics
4. Portland: Expect the Pilots to continue flying high
2017 results: 2nd NCAAs, 1st West Regional, 2nd WCC, 2nd Wisconsin Invitational
Key returners (lose #2, #4 from NCAAs last year)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Noah Schutte||SR||79||8:00/14:05/28:34/8:39 steeple|
|Evert Silva||RS FR||N/A||14:07/29:21|
|Simon Grannetia||SR||N/A||14:21/8:40 steeple|
|Gabe Arias-Sheridan||SR||N/A||St. Mary’s transfer; 14:27/29:33; 47th at ’16 NCAA XC|
|Justin Hazell||FR||N/A||8:54 3200; CA D1 XC champ|
Four years ago, when Portland finished 3rd at NCAAs to make the podium for the first time ever, coach Rob Conner viewed it as a once-in-a-career moment.
But in 2017, he saw another opportunity to land on the podium — and perhaps finish even higher this time around — and decided to controversially punt on the West Coast Conference meet, focusing all of his team’s energies on nationals.
“I had a conversation with [BYU coach] Ed Eyestone the night before the conference meet when we were at the coaches’ meeting and I scratched some people,” Conner says. “I saw him roll his eyes and he was disgusted, and that’s fine. And then I bumped into him at the hotel and I said, ‘Ed, here’s the deal, man. When we got our trophy in ’14, I thought that was a once-in-a-career thing for us. This year, I’ve analyzed it and there are two teams that are guaranteed podium spots, and that’s you and NAU, and there’s two open spaces.’ It’s very rare that Stanford’s relying on two freshmen in their top five. It’s very rare to catch a couple of these other teams down. So that’s why I had to go all-in on the nationals last year, because I knew there was two open spots.”
Conner’s strategy ultimately paid off as the Pilots ran a terrific race at NCAAs to finish second behind NAU. And though the Pilots lose two of their top four from that team, they should have no problem reloading — only BYU boasts a deeper roster. Still, topping last year’s achievement will take some doing.
“I look at NAU and BYU and say, on paper, they’re unbeatable,” Conner says. “I just see NAU running away with this, even with a larger margin of victory than last year, to be honest.”
Regarding his own troops, Conner was more cryptic — “we’re gonna get whatever we can get” is what he told us — but make no mistake, this is one of the best teams in America. For the first time in program history, the Pilots return two All-Americans in Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse and Nick Hauger. And Conner believes that his next two returners, Caleb Webb (54th) and Logan Orndorf (64th), have both done the work to become All-Americans this fall.
“I think I’ve got four guaranteed guys that ran well last year and in my mind I say, we’ve got these four and then the next-best three, but we’ve got about seven guys for the next-best three,” Conner says.
How high Portland climbs is dependent on Webb and Orndorf delivering on the improvement they’ve shown in practice and what Portland can get out of the rest of its roster. As Conner says, there are plenty of options. Dutchman Noah Schutte, who ran 28:34 for 10k and 8:39 in the steeple last spring, has the most impressive times on paper. But there is also Michael Teran-Solano, a junior college transfer who has run 13:59, 8:40 steepler Simon Grannetia, Gabriel Haughey (29:16 10k), and Evert Silva (29:21 10k).
Conner brought in Justin Hazell, a blue-chip recruit who became the first Los Angeles City Section athlete to win the California Division I state XC title. Hazell follows in the footsteps of Webb, another California XC champ, though like Webb, Conner says that Hazell will likely redshirt as a freshman unless he can crack into the top five.
The Pilots have one more potential ace up their sleeve in Gabe Arias-Sheridan, a 5th-year transfer from St. Mary’s, who was 47th at NCAAs two years ago. As a lower-mileage guy, it may take Arias-Sheridan some time to adjust to Portland’s system — “we’ve gotta get him in shape,” Conner says — but his potential is intriguing. Last year, Matt Welch, a 5th-year from Minnesota, sat on the sidelines all season until NCAAs, where he finished as the Pilots’ fourth man, 46th overall. Could Arias-Sheridan do the same in 2018?
Chances are, at least one of those guys steps up for Portland. If that happens, and the horses up front run like they should, the Pilots will be on the podium for the third time in five years.
3. Stanford: Can the Cardinal extend a four-year podium streak?
2017 results: 4th NCAAs, 3rd West Regional, 1st Pac-12, 4th Wisconsin Invitational
Key returners (lose #2, #4 from NCAAs last year)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Grant Fisher||SR||4||7:48/13:30; ’17 NCAA 5k champ|
|Steven Fahy||SR||10||7:54/13:34/8:34 steeple; 3rd NCAA steeple|
|Thomas Ratcliffe||RS SO||N/A||7:53 3k as true frosh; 8th at Pac-12s in ’16|
|DJ Principe||RS FR||N/A||4:00/14:10|
|Joshua Schumacher||FR||N/A||8:53 2-mile/14:29|
|Clayton Mendez||FR||N/A||9th at ’17 FL|
Since taking over as head coach in 2012, Chris Miltenberg has done what many expect a program with the history and resources of Stanford to do: consistently challenge for the team title. Even at Stanford, finishing on the podium four straight years — as the Cardinal have done from 2014 through 2017 — is a nice achievement, and Stanford is well-positioned to extend that streak to five in 2018.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that of course, the ultimate goal, particularly at a place like Stanford which has won 117 NCAA team titles across all sports, is a national title — something Miltenberg achieved with his women’s squad during his final year at Georgetown in 2011.
“At some point, us going from being on the podium to winning a national championship, it’s going to happen eventually,” Miltenberg says. “Is it going to be this year? Is it going to be next year? I don’t know, because so much of that is beyond our control.
“And that’s what we talk about with our guys. Heck yeah, no doubt about it, we want to win a national championship. We start every season with that being our outcome goal and we talk about it one time: the very first day. And then we don’t talk about it anymore after that.”
The Cardinal have finished second twice in the past four years, including 2014, when they scored 98 points but lost to a juggernaut in Colorado (in the last 13 years, only one team, Colorado in 2015, has scored fewer than 98 points at NCAAs and lost). Those experiences have taught Miltenberg what it takes to win a title.
“We’ve got a lot of depth,” says Miltenberg, “but if you look at what it’s been the last couple years at the NCAA meet, shoot, depth isn’t what’s winning anymore. Studs is what’s winning. You look at what NAU’s has done and BYU has got and Colorado did those couple years. And so it’s interesting to see, yeah, we’ve got 9-10 really good guys, but what it’s taking now at that level is great guys. I feel really good about where we’re at from a team cohesiveness, a team clarity perspective, but we’ve got to continue to get better.”
Grant Fisher, the 2017 NCAA 5,000m champion and 5th-place finisher at NCAA XC the last two years, is certainly a stud (Editor’s note: Miltenberg spoke very highly of Fisher and we’ll have more on that next week). Add him to Alex Ostberg and Steven Fahy, and the Cardinal have three returners from last year’s top 20, something only NAU can match.
The question for Stanford is the same as for most teams on this list: what can it get from its fourth and fifth scorers?
The guy with the most impressive resume is Thomas Ratcliffe — he was 8th at Pac-12s as a true freshman in 2016, ran 7:53 for 3000 on the track in January 2017.
“Is he as good as Grant [in the] long term?” Miltenberg says of Ratcliffe. “Yeah, he is.”
But “long term” is the key phrase there. A couple of days after that 7:53, Ratcliffe developed a knee injury which took a long, long time to solve, eventually resulting in knee surgery around Christmas 2017.
Fortunately for Stanford, Ratcliffe resumed running this spring, is healthy now and “raced” in Stanford’s XC opener at the University of San Francisco Invitational (Editor’s note: Stanford doesn’t take the meet seriously and their top six all finished within one second of each other) and will race again at next week’s Stanford Invitational. While Miltenberg says that he can be a “difference-maker,” he wants to temper expectations until Ratcliffe has some serious training under his belt.
“Missing 17 months of running is real for anybody, I don’t care if you’re the best guy in the world,” Miltenberg says. “And so with Thomas, we’re going to bring him along really slowly.”
Fortunately, the cupboard is far from bare behind Ratcliffe. Callum Bolger scored for Stanford at NCAAs as a true freshman last fall (he was 128th individually), and 2017 fourth man Tai Dinger (83rd at NCAAs) is also back. Plus there is Alek Parsons (13:58 5k), US junior XC champ Connor Lane, and 4:00 high school miler DJ Principe (who redshirted last year). And don’t forget Joshua Schumacher — son of Jerry — who ran 8:53 for two miles in high school (though given the talent on this roster, it’s possible he redshirts).
Some years, the combination of Fisher/Ostberg/Fahy and two other All-Americans would be enough to win the title. In 2018, with teams as loaded as NAU and BYU at the top, it may not even be enough for second. But crazy things happen at the NCAA meet every year. Can Stanford’s “good” guys be “great” on November 17 in Madison?