Edwin Kurgat & Alicia Monson Stamp Themselves as NCAA Title Contenders as NAU Men & Arkansas Women Roll at 2019 Nuttycombe Invite

By Jonathan Gault
October 18, 2019

Few meets on the NCAA cross country calendar are as important as the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational. Because so many of the country’s top teams and individuals congregate in Madison each fall — and because many of them race sparingly or selectively outside of this meet — the outcome has significant predictive power for the NCAA championships.

Last year, all but one of the winners at Nuttycombe (men’s and women’s team/individual) went on to win NCAA titles. In 2017, all four Nuttycombe winners went on to win NCAAs. So if you’re looking for the favorites at the 2019 NCAA XC meet, to be held in Terre Haute, Ind., five weeks from tomorrow, remember the Northern Arizona men and Arkansas women and the names Edwin Kurgat and Alicia Monson, the four champions at this year’s Nuttycombe meet, held today.

Kurgat won handily in the end

Both Kurgat and Monson followed similar gameplans, tucking in to avoid the brunt of the 15 mph wind on an otherwise perfect fall day in Madison before striking, suddenly and fiercely, with two kilometers to go and cruising home to dominant victories. Kurgat, a senior at Iowa State, backed up his status as the top returner from last year’s NCAA meet on this course by winning handily in 23:29.4, almost 10 seconds up on runner-up Ollie Hoare (23:39.1), the 2018 NCAA 1500 champion for Wisconsin. Monson, a Wisconsin senior and the NCAA indoor 5,000 champion, claimed her second straight Nuttycombe title in 19:39.3, well ahead of NCAA 10,000 champ Weini Kelati of New Mexico (19:48.6).

For the fourth straight year, the #1 NAU men were dominant winners in the team competition, putting three men in the top nine to score 59 points and easily outdistance runner-up #5 Stanford (133). The #1 Arkansas women were almost as impressive, using a 3-5-7-9 finish up front to score 62 points to defeat #4 Stanford (98).

Quick takes and analysis below.

*Full results

Men’s quick takes

Quick Take: The NAU machine rolls on

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While the #2 (BYU), #3 (Colorado), and #4 (Washington) teams in the country were absent today, the NAU men remain heavy favorites to claim a fourth straight team title in Terre Haute next month.

This may not be the best NAU team ever, but it could be the deepest, #1 through #7. NAU had five guys in before anyone else in the field had three, and they also had the best #6 (Ryan Raff, 56th) and #7 (Blaise Ferro, 70th) runners in the field. Plus, they have room for improvement. Ferro was 26th at NCAAs last year and just 70th today, and NAU didn’t even run Brodey Hasty (an NCAA finalist in the 5k last spring). Making the NAU varsity seven is a feat in and of itself.

Which is why the run by true freshman Drew Bosley was so impressive. NAU coach Mike Smith wouldn’t have run Bosley, who was 7th at NXN and Foot Locker last year, today unless he thought he was capable of making a big impact, and Bosley rewarded Smith’s decision by finishing as NAU’s #5, 21st overall.

NAU hasn’t lost an XC race since 2015, and the Lumberjacks could be on their way to another perfect season this fall.

Quick Take: The American  drought at NCAAs looks like it will continue

An American hasn’t won the NCAA men’s individual title since Galen Rupp in 2008, and right now it looks like that drought will continue. Kurgat was clearly the top runner in the field today and his fellow Kenyans Vincent Kiprop and Gilbert Kigen looked terrific in going 1-2 at Notre Dame two weeks ago.

We should at least wait until after tomorrow’s race at Pre-Nats — where Americans Conner Mantz of BYU and Joe Klecker of Colorado will run — to proclaim Kurgat the NCAA favorite, but he ran a strong, confident race today and looks even better than last year, when he finished 3rd at NCAAs.

Quick Take: Hello, Tulsa!

Tulsa finished 30th (second-to-last) at NCAAs last year and came into this meet ranked just 28th, but the boys from Oklahoma turned in the performance of the day to finish 3rd overall.

Tulsa put just one man in the top 34 (Peter Lynch, 14th), but its next four guys were separated by less than 10 seconds and all finished in the top 50. That’s some impressive pack running. Tulsa achieved some minor fame earlier this season for their hilarious team photos, but now we know: these guys can run as well.

Quick Take: What’s up with Steven Fahy?

With Thomas Ratcliffe, Alex Ostberg, and Steven Fahy, Stanford was viewed by us as the biggest threat to #1 NAU this season, and while the Cardinal finished a clear second today, they haven’t been close to NAU in either of their two head-to-head showdowns. Both Ratcliffe — who was plagued by injuries during his first three years in Palo Alto — and Ostberg ran like studs today. But Fahy has been struggling this fall.

The NCAA steeple champ, Fahy was 17th at NCAA XC in 2017 and has run 13:34 for 5k on the track. But he was Stanford’s #7 man when they faced NAU in Terre Haute on September 21 and could only manage 78th today (Stanford’s #6). Even if Fahy had won the race today, the Cardinal wouldn’t have been close to NAU, but he has to run better if Stanford is to have any chance of an upset in November.

Quick Take: The ACC – NC State, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and UVA – struggled mightily, as did Oregon

#7 Oregon, #10 NC State, #12 Syracuse, and #13 Notre Dame all entered this meet ranked highly and failed to back it up.

Oregon looked like a podium contender after taking down BYU at the Bill Dellinger Invite three weeks ago, but the Ducks could only manage 10th today. Notre Dame went out hard — the Irish led at 2k — but faded badly, particularly Danny Kilrea, who led at the mile but wound up 174th. Syracuse, who won at the Battle in Beantown on September 20, were never in it and finished 24th.

Worst of all, however, was NC State. The 10th-ranked Wolfpack didn’t even record a team score as only three of their six men finished the race. So all told it was a pretty awful day for the ACC. The conference came into the meet today with four ranked teams in the top 16 in the country. No one finished higher than 15th, and all of the teams finished at least six spots worse than their ranking.

The table below shows how the 26 men’s teams who received at least one vote in the most recent USTFCCCA poll did compared to their pre-race ranking. Syracuse (ranked 12th nationally, finished 24th) was the biggest underachiever, while Tulsa (ranked 28th, finished 3rd) was the biggest overachiever. Gonzaga was the only team not receiving a vote in the polls that finished in the top 20 today (16th).

We’ve bolded the teams that finished more than 5 spots better or worse than their rank coming in.

Seed Rank Result Difference
1 No. 1 Northern Arizona 1 Same
2 No. 5 Stanford 2 Same
3 No. 6 Iowa State 4 1 spot worse
4 No. 7 Oregon 10 6 spots worse
5 No. 8 Portland 9 4 sports worse
6 No. 10 NC State DNF Infinitely worse
7 No. 11 Purdue 6 same
8 No. 12 Syracuse 24 16 spots worse
9 No. 13 Notre Dame 15 6 spots worse
10 No. 15 Indiana 7 3 spots better
11 No. 16 Virginia 18 7 spots worse
12 No. 18 Michigan 11 1 spot better
13 No. 19 Wisconsin 8 5 spots better
14 No. 20 UCLA 5 9 spots better
15 No. 22 Utah State 14 1 spot better
16 No. 23 Princeton 17 1 spots worse
17 No. 25 E. Kentucky 22 5 spots worse
18 No. 26 Boise State 12 6 spots better
19 No. 28 Tulsa 3 16 spots better
20 No. 30 Wyoming 23 3 spots worse
21 No 31 (RV) Georgetown 20 1 spot better
22 No. 32 (RV) Furman 19 3 spots better
23 No. 33 (RV) Air Force 21 2 spot better
24 No. 36 (RV) Harvard 28 4 spots worse
25 No. 37 (RV) Colorado St. 26 1 spot worse
26 No. 40 (RV) Southern Utah 13 13 spots better

Women’s quick takes

Quick Take: Arkansas keeps checking the boxes, but can they get it done when it counts?

After winning NCAA titles in indoor and outdoor track, the Arkansas women are chasing a calendar-year triple crown. After today’s performance, their odds are looking good, but the Razorbacks have struggled when it has mattered most in recent years, bombing at NCAAs in both 2017 and 2018. So they’re by no means a lock for the title in Terre Haute.

That said, they were very impressive today. Everyone knew Taylor Werner (3rd) was a stud, but with Katie Izzo (5th), Devin Clark (7th), and Carina Viljoen (9th), Arkansas can roll four deep. And even without Katrina Robinson — the team’s top returner from NCAAs last year who has been battling injury and may redshirt — Arkansas still had the top #5 in the field in Lauren Gregory (38th). The dropoff from Gregory to Arkansas’ #6 (Maddy Reed in 142nd) was severe, so if Robinson is indeed done for the year, the Hogs won’t have much margin for error. But with their stacked front four, Arkansas has a great shot to earn its first NCAA women’s XC title this fall.

Quick Take: Alicia Monson is your individual favorite

Monson won in Madison for the second year in a row

Prior to this race, Weini Kelati was viewed as the NCAA favorite, but that title has firmly shifted in Monson’s favor. Of course, Monson beat Kelati and eventual NCAA champ Dani Jones at this same race in 2018 before losing to both of them at NCAAs, but there are a few reasons to believe that Monson will keep it going in 2019.

For one, this race came later in the season than in 2018 (September 28 vs. October 18). And then there’s how Monson won the race. Not only was her margin of victory bigger (9.3 seconds vs. 2.6 last year), but Monson took Kelati’s best punch (her move to break up the pack just after halfway) and responded with one of her own. It wouldn’t have been a surprise for Monson to outkick Kelati, as she did for the NCAA indoor 5k title in March, but for her to drop her with a mile to go shows that Monson is very strong at the moment.

After the race, Monson told FloTrack that she has built a larger base than in 2018, in part because the injury that sidelined her this spring allowed her to start her base phase earlier than usual (since she wasn’t racing into June). And Monson thinks that the best is yet to come — she noted that she ran 13 miles just two days ago.

“We’re still on a buildup,” Monson told FloTrack. “I’m not expecting this to be my best race.”

Quick Take: New Mexico is in trouble

The Lobos, ranked 4th in the coaches’ poll and #1 by LRC in the preseason, were only 7th at Notre Dame back on October 3, but there was reason not to panic as they likely would have won that meet had star Adva Cohen (who was running at the World Champs for Israel) suited up. Today they were 9th and it’s time to start worrying.

When Cohen returns — Lobos coach Joe Franklin told LetsRun she ran a “fantastic” workout today in Albuquerque — UNM should improve drastically, but even if she won the race today, UNM would have finished a distant third.

There are a few issues. First is Ednah Kurgat. If UNM is to win it all, they need Kurgat to be a top-five finisher at NCAAs as she was in 2017 (when she won) and 2018 (when she was 5th). Today, she ran aggressively at the front early but faded to 18th by the finish.

Second, Alondra Negron did not race today due to soreness after finishing as the Lobos’ #3 at Notre Dame, forcing everyone else to move up another spot. So Hannah Nuttall — who is, on paper, UNM’s #5 — wound up as their #3 today in 77th. And even if Nuttall were UNM’s #5, she’d still have finished way behind the #5’s from Arkansas (38th) and Stanford (46th).

Cohen should slide in nicely, but to challenge for the title, UNM needs Negron to return to full health and Nuttall (or someone else) to step it up at #5. And that isn’t even factoring in the teams they’ll have to beat — even if UNM gets everything together, Arkansas is so good up front that it may not matter. The Lobos’ podium chances aren’t extinguished, but a lot will have to break their way over the next five weeks if they are to win a third NCAA title in five years.

Quick Take: The New Mexico and Syracuse women led the way in terms of disappointments, while the NAU women were the biggest surprise

23 women’s teams that received votes in the most recent USTFCCCA poll started the race. Of those teams, the Syracuse women, who came in as the 10th-highest-ranked team in the field at #15, were the biggest disappointment as they finished just 25th in the race. It’s not going to be a happy flight home to upstate New York for the Orange as their men also led the way in terms of the team finishing the farthest off their rank entering the meet.

In terms of title contenders however, New Mexico was clearly the biggest disappointment as they were the second-highest ranked team in the start line at #4 but finished were only 9th in the race.

Int terms of pleasant surprises, #27 NAU had a great day by finishing 6th. Two unranked teams finished in the top 20 in the field as Tulsa was 18th and Missouri was 20th.

Seed Rank Result Difference
1 No. 1 Arkansas 1 same
2 No. 4 New Mexico 9 7 spots worse
3 No. 4 Stanford 2 1 spot better
4 No. 6 Utah 11 7 spots worse
5 No. 9 NC State 3 2 spots better
6 No. 10 Michigan State 5 1 spot better
7 No. 11 Boise State 7 same
8 No. 13 Wisconsin 4 4 spots better
9 No. 14 Oregon 14 5 spots worse
10 No. 15 Syracuse 25 15 spots worse
11 No. 16 Notre Dame 12 1 spot worse
12 No. 18 Furman 10 2 spots better
13 No. 18 Minnesota 16 3 spots worse
14 No. 21 Air Force 8 6 spots better
15 No. 22 Ohio State 13 2 spots better
16 No. 24 Columbia 17 1 spot worse
17 No. 25 Oregon State 30 13 spots worse
18 No. 27 NAU 6 12 spots better
19 No. 28 Georgetown 19 same
20 No. 29 Iowa State 27 7 spots worse
21 No. 33 (RV) West Virginia 21 same
22 No. 38 (RV) UCLA 33 11 spots worse
23 No. 39 (RV) Harvard 32 9 spots worse

Discuss the races on our famous messageboard:

MB: 2019 Official Nuttycombe/Wisconsin Invite Thread
MB: Thomas Ratcliffe can run 26:40 if he makes the same choices as Galen Rupp 

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