September 19, 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
6. NC State: Wolfpack look set for fourth straight top-10 finish
2017 results: 8th NCAAs, 1st Southeast Regional, 1st ACC, 3rd Wisconsin Invitational
Key returners (lose #7 from NCAAs)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Elly Henes||JR||16||9:07/15:43; 16th NCAA 5k|
|Nell Crosby||SR||77||9:19/16:22/9:54 steeple|
|Ryen Frazier||SR||81||4:38 mile/16:02|
|Nevada Mareno||RS FR||N/A||4:43 mile/10:00 2-mile; 3rd at ’15 FL; 2nd at ’16 FL|
Under coach Laurie Henes, the Wolfpack have quietly become one of the most consistent women’s programs in the country, finishing 5th, 4th, and 8th at the last three NCAA championships. They are are one of six teams in the nation that have been top 10 each of the last 3 years – (New Mexico, Stanford, Colorado, Oregon, and Michigan are the others)
Another high finish in Madison seems realistic as NC State returns its top six runners from a year ago and adds Columbia 5th-year Nell Crosby, who finished 141st last year.
In Elly Henes, Bethlehem Taye, Dominique Clairmonte, and Rachel Koon, the Wolfpack have four women who finished in the top 82 in 2017. But to get back on the podium, they’ll need at least one more runner to step up. The good news is that there are several options. Ryen Frazier has never been able to recapture the magic from her freshman fall, when she won the Notre Dame Invitational, but doesn’t need to; she ran 16:02 in the spring of 2017, and that sort of fitness will still be a big help to the team. Isabel Zimmermann ran in the team’s top seven as a true freshman a year ago and could be even better this fall.
But the real wild card is Nevada Mareno. A two-time top-three finisher at Foot Lockers in high school, Mareno was one of the country’s top recruits last year but transferred from Stanford back home to Raleigh after one semester. She is arguably the most talented woman on this roster, and is capable of making a big impact this fall.
Of course, plenty can change during the course of the season. Last year, NC State was in almost the exact same spot, with four strong runners and a variety of options at #5. Only two of their pre-season top four (Henes and Koon) wound up running in their top four at NCAAs, but Taye and Clairmonte stepped up to fill the void and the Wolfpack finished a respectable 8th. Who will step up for NC State this fall?
NC State coach Laurie Henes did not respond to LetsRun.com’s interview request.
5. Stanford: This high-upside squad should challenge for the podium once again
2017 results: 4th NCAAs, 2nd West Regional, 3rd Pac-12, 8th Wisconsin Invitational
Key returners (lose #2, #6 from NCAAs)
|Name||Class||# returner from NCAAs||Credentials|
|Elise Cranny||SR||28||4:09/8:58/15:49; 3rd NCAA 1500; 5th NCAA mile|
|Christina Aragon||JR||35||4:08/9:01; 4th NCAA 1500|
|Courtney Smith||SR||N/A||15:46/32:08; 35th at ’16 NCAA XC|
|Rebecca Story||FR||N/A||4:43 mile/9:59 3200|
As always, there is plenty of talent on Stanford’s roster. Fiona O’Keeffe has emerged as a real star, finishing 13th at NCAAs last year and clocking 15:34 for 5,000 meters on the track in the spring. Elise Cranny is back for her fifth year, and following a 2018 track campaign that saw her finish 5th in the mile and 3rd in the 1500 at NCAAs and notch a PR of 4:09, she should finish much higher than last year (57th), assuming she stays healthy (always a big “if” with Cranny). Christina Aragon (4:08 1500 pb) was right behind Cranny in the NCAA 1500, taking 4th, and should challenge for All-American honors at NCAA XC. That’s a potent top three.
But to notch a second straight podium appearance, other women will have to deliver. Former Harvard star Courtney Smith (32:08 10k pb) is on paper a huge potential help, but she has not raced since November 2016; anything the Cardinal can get from her will be a bonus. Rebecca Story was a high school stud (4:43/9:59) but it’s unclear if she’ll race or not as a freshman. Hannah DeBalsi finished in the top 12 at Foot Lockers three times in high school but has yet to run at NCAAs for Stanford on any surface.
Because of the question marks about the back end of its roster, Stanford is a higher-variance team than most. But if everything comes together, the Cardinal could finish as high as second at NCAAs this year (New Mexico is a juggernaut and will be nearly impossible to beat).
Stanford coach Elizabeth DeBole did not respond to LetsRun.com’s interview request.