WTW: Was BYU’s Win Really an Upset? How Would an All-Star High School Team Do at NCAAs?

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The Week That Was in Running, November 18 – 24, 2019

By Robert Johnson
November 26, 2019

Below I take a final look back at this year’s NCAA cross country meet (and a few other things that happened last week). If you haven’t read Jonathan Gault‘s article where he looks at all of NCAA XC from 2010-2019, I highly recommend you do so now as I loved the following article: LRC The LetsRun.com Decade Awards: Which NCAA Cross Country Programs & Athletes Were the Best of the 2010s? 

Past editions of the Week That Was can be found here. Got a tip, question or comment? Please call us at 844-LETSRUN (538-7786), email us or post in our forum.

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How Would A High School All-Star Team Do At NCAAs?

One of my favorite messageboard threads last week asked how would a team comprised of the top seven high school runners in the United States do at NCAAs: MB How would the top 7 HS runners fare at big boy nattys?

Since a team of high schoolers will never be allowed to run at NCAAs, it’s a hypothetical question. I like dealing with hard, cold facts so I did the next best thing and looked at the top five American true freshmen at NCAAs and added them together to see how they’d score as a team. Here are the results.

5 Highest True Freshman American Women at NCAAs

These two would have been on a high school dream team – Sara Bei (Hall) and Dathan Ritzenhein
2000 Foot Locker HS Cross Country Championships

Athlete – College – Place – HS Accomplishments
Kelsey Chmiel – NC State – 22nd (17th team) – Four-time top-5 finisher at NXN
Ericka VanderLende – Michigan – 25th (18th team) – 4:35 1500, 9:53 2 mile
Abi Archer – Stanford – 53rd (38th team) – 4:53 1600, 10:21 3200
Rebecca Clark – Florida St. – 76th (56th team) – 4:58 1600/10:18 3200
Grace Forbes – Rice – 87th (65th team) – 2:08 800, 4:44 mile
Total Team Points: 194 (6th Place)

5 Highest True Freshman American Men at NCAAs

Athlete – College – Place – HS Accomplishments
Drew Bosley
– NAU – 22nd (18th team) 8:50 2 mile, 7th NXN and Foot Locker
Colin Baker – Harvard – 48th (42nd team) 8:54 3200/14:35, 8th Foot Locker
Cole Hocker – Oregon – 69th (60th team) 8:56 3200, Foot Locker champ, 2018 NXN runner-up
Kashon Harrison – Colorado – 90th (75th team) – 8:55 3200, 11th at Foot Locker
David Ahlmeyer – Furman – 116th (97th team) 9:01 3200, 14:35 5000, 36th at Foot Locker
Total Team Points: 292 (9th Place)

The boys’ high school all-star team would fare much worse than the freshmen if they had to run NCAAs as boys generally get significantly better with each passing year in their late teens. Plus there’s a big difference between the 5k distance in high school and the 10k distance in college. As for the girls, it’s more up for debate. The race distances are almost the same (5k vs. 6k), and some would argue that a team of the top five HS girls in the country might even do better than 6th as a decent number of women regress in their late teens. That being said, both genders would really struggle if they were thrown into the NCAA champs without first having run in college. None of them are used to being surrounded by a ton of runners when they race, but that’s exactly what they’d face at NCAAs.

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An Inexperienced NAU Team Gets Beat By An Experienced BYU Team – Is It Really That Simple?

BYU The Champs

It was appropriate to start the WTW this week with age as that was a major storyline at NCAAs. #1 Northern Arizona was heavily favored to win its fourth straight title, but this year’s NAU team was very young. And despite the name, the team that ended up winning — Brigham Young — isn’t young at all. Under NCAA rules, almost every athlete has to complete their four seasons of eligibility within five years of enrollment (in some circumstances, an athlete can gain a sixth year through a medical redshirt). But the eligibility clock is paused for Mormon missions, which last two years, and as a result, BYU’s top five featured a 26-year-old who graduated HS in 2012 at #2, a 25-year-old who graduated HS in 2013 at #3, and a 24-year-old who graduated HS in 2014 at #5 (the 26-year-old, Daniel Carney, was in his eighth year post-HS — two for a mission, one for a redshirt, one for a medical redshirt, and four years of eligibility).

Not even knowing the age of the BYU guys, I started to get nervous about NAU’s chances before the race when I realized that only three of NAU’s starting seven had ever run NCAAs before. NCAAs are another animal compared to any other XC race.

That being said, NAU didn’t lose because their young runners couldn’t handle the moment; their young runners actually led the way by taking three of the top four spots for NAU. They lost because their top five collectively wasn’t good enough.

NAU’s Drew Bosley, a 2019 HS grad, was the top freshman in the race in 22nd (18th in team). Their #2 runner, Abdihamid Nur (graduated HS in 2017, finished 33rd/28th team) was also competing at his first NCAAs, as was their #4, redshirt freshman Brodey Hasty (46th/40th). Even if upperclassmen Luis Grijalva (23rd last year, 52nd this year) and Blaise Ferro (26th last year, 62nd last year) had been able to match last year’s finishes, NAU would have still lost to BYU, 113 to 122.

The problem for NAU is it’s almost impossible to win an XC race when your opponent scores just 109 if your first runner is scoring 18 points; in fact, no team has won NCAAs without putting someone in the top 10 since Colorado back in 2006. NAU didn’t have any real low sticks and had to settle for second. Hats off to BYU. When you score 109, you are normally going to win as only twice in the last 15 years in the men’s race has the runner-up team scored fewer than 100 points (Stanford with 98 in 2014 and Colorado with 91 in 2015).

Regardless of their age (and I’m a firm believer that being older heps big-time — see next section), the reality is that BYU won because all five of their scorers ran well and achieved a career-best showing at NCAAs. And while I know that NCAA cross country isn’t the same thing as a track race, the more I analyze each runner’s credentials, the more I begin to doubt that this should be viewed as some stunning upset.

If we list each team’s top five at NCAA’s in order of the previous accomplishments (not in the order that they finished), I think it can be argued that NAU didn’t have an advantage at any position in terms of paper resumes.

Runner BYU NAU Edge
#1 13:39/28:18 – 10th last year 3:39/7:56/13:31 – 39th, 40th, 97th in 3 previous NCAAs Slight BYU?
#2 7:57/13:39 – 42nd in 2017 7:55/14:10 – 23rd and 60th in 2 previous NCAAs Even – BYU has better track credentials, NAU better XC
#3 8:39 st/13:55 – 50th last year 8:09/13:55 – First NCAA XC appearance Slight BYU – based on XC accomplishments
#4 8:04/8:32 steeple – First NCAA XC appearance, 2-time NCAA steeple scorer 8:50 2 mile – First NCAA XC appearance BYU – 8:04 is equivalent to about an 8:40 2-mile.
#5 8:15/14:05 – First NCAA XC appearance 14:06 – First NCAA XC appearance Even

For NAU above, #1 -5 is: Geordie Beamish, Luis Grijalva, Brodey Hasty, Drew Bosley, & Abdihamid Nur.
For BYU above, #1-5 is: Conner Mantz, Daniel Carney, Jacob Heslington, Matt Owens, & Brandon Garnica.

Below, I’ve added in the NCAA results for BYU. You can see how all of their top five ran great.

Runner – Track Credentials – Previous NCAA Finish
Conner Mantz – 13:39/28:18 – 10th last year, 3rd this year
Daniel Carney- 7:57/13:39 – 42nd in 2017, 17th this year
Jacob Heslington – 8:39/13:55 – 50th last year, 21st this year
Brandon Garnica.  – 8:15/14:05 – 42nd in first NCAA XC appearance
Matt Owens, – 8:04/8:32 steeple – 2-time scorer in steeple, 45th in first NCAA XC appearance
Michael Ottesen –  14:08/28:58 – 87th in first NCAA XC appearance
Conner Weaver – 14:00/29:02 – 154th in first NCAA XC appearance

MB: LOL: BYU wins its first NCAA XC men’s title thanks to clutch run by 26-yr old, 8th year senior
MB: Please ban BYU from NCAA competition

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Age Matters – Here’s Proof

As noted in the previous section, BYU deserves a lot of credit for running great, but I don’t want to hear people argue that the extra two years to complete their eligibility doesn’t help BYU. Of course it does. Yes, after not running for two years, it may take them at least a year to get back into shape. That’s not a big loss as you can redshirt a year. And the reality is, there are two wasted years for most NCAA teams as most underclassmen aren’t capable of helping an NCAA title contender. To help win NCAAs this year, you basically needed to finish in the top 50 individually. Well here are the class years of the first 50 individuals across the line in the men’s race not from BYU.

Freshman 5
Sophomores 3
Juniors 23
Seniors 19

What about the women? The results were pretty similar (I didn’t remove the BYU finishers for the women).

Freshman 4
Sophomores 5
Juniors 20
Seniors 21

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Non-Americans Win The Individual Title Yet Again

Rupp’s greatest cross country victory: 2008 NCAA XC

While American men placed 2-3-4 at NCAAs, the drought for an American men’s individual champion reached 11 years in Terre Haute on Saturday (Galen Rupp was the last to win it in 2008). That means 2010-2019 is the first decade where not a single American runner managed to win the NCAA XC title. That inspired us to look at how often an international runner has won during each of the last three decades.

Foreign Winners of NCAA XC 2010-2019 2000-2009 1990-1999
Men 10 5 8
Women 6 5 3

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International runners also dominated at the NCAA DII champs last week. According to Race Results Weekly, international runners took the top five spots in the women’s race and four of the top six in the men’s race.

Women’s Top 5 at 2019 NCAA DII XC Champs
1. Stephanie Cotter, SO, Adams State (IRL), 19:15.5
2. Eilish Flanagan, SR, Adams State (IRL), 19:39.0
3. Roisin Flanagan, SR, Adams State (IRL), 19:39.3
4. Ida Narbuvoll, SR, U-Mary (NOR), 20:12.1
5. Emmanuelah Chelimo, SR, Alaska Anchorage (KEN), 20:18.3

Men’s Top 6 Finishers at 2019 NCAA DII XC Champs
1. Ezra Mutai, FR, American Int’l (KEN), 29:31.2
2. Kale Adams, SR, Adams State (AUS), 29:43.9
3. Taylor Stack, JR, Western Colorado, 29:47.6
4. Kyle Moran , FR, Colorado Mines, 29:49.9
5. Gidieon Kimutai, SO, Missouri Southern (KEN), 29:49.9
6. Karim Achengli, SR, NW Missouri (ESP), 29:52.5

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How did Weini Kelati lose a race this year? This might explain it.

Domination

After watching New Mexico’s Weini Kelati win by ridiculous margins at the Mountain West (49 seconds) and Mountain Regional (57 seconds) meets and win NCAAs comfortably on Saturday (9.6 seconds, the largest winning margin in 12 years), it seems hard to believe that she actually lost a race this fall.

But at the Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison on October 18, Kelati finished a well-beaten second, 9.3 seconds back of Wisconsin’s Alicia Monson. Even though Kelati was, overall, a better runner in 2019 than 2018, she could only manage 19:48 at Nuttycombe this year; for comparison, she ran 19:35, 19:33, and 19:45 in three races in Madison in 2018, the latter on a snow-covered course at NCAAs.

So why was Kelati off at Nuttycombe this year — a race she called “the worst performance ever in my life”? Kelati said it had to do with a team trip to Flagstaff. New Mexico had a four-day fall break from classes from October 10-13, and during that time Kelati and five teammates went on a mini-vacation to Flagstaff, which sits at 6,900 feet, roughly 1,600 feet higher than UNM’s campus in Albuquerque.

“What we were concerned about was being stagnant at home because we’d never been at home without classes, other than summertime,” said UNM coach Joe Franklin (usually fall break coincides with the weekend of Nuttycombe). “So it was more just to keep them together, doing different things. It wasn’t necessarily about the training.”

That said, Kelati did get in some hard training and she said that she didn’t sleep much on the trip (Franklin said they departed after classes on Wednesday and returned on Sunday). As a result, she was feeling tired at Nuttycombe and not at 100% — which may explain her subpar (by her standards) result.

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Tulsa and Furman Had Great Years (Both Men and Women), Washington and Oklahoma State Not So Much

In our recap of the women’s NCAA race, we noted some of the biggest surprises and disappointments based on their rankings heading into NCAAs (you can see the stats for the men by looking at these results, which show the teams’ rankings heading into NCAAs next to their name). But how about heading into the season for both sexes? Below you will see how schools fared based on their preseason ranking with teams that finished more than five spots off their preseason ranking in red or green. Of men’s teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the beginning or end of the season and actually made the meet, the biggest positive surprise was Tulsa, which started the year ranked 29th but ended up 5th. And the biggest disappointment was Washington. They started ranked #3 but ended up just 19th — though Oklahoma State was ranked 7th in the preseason and didn’t even make it to NCAAs.

Pre-Season Rank Team NCAA Result Difference
1 NAU 2 1 spot worse
2 BYU 1 1 spot better
3 Washington 19 16 spots worse
4 Colorado 3 1 spot better
5 Iowa St. 4 1 spot better
6 Portland 10 4 spots worse
7 Ok St. DNQ – 5th in Midwest At least 25 spots worse
8 Wisconsin 18 10 spots worse
9 Notre Dame 8 1 spots better
10 Stanford 6 4 spots better
11 Oregon 9 2 spots better
12 Syracuse 27 15 spots worse
13 NC State 26 13 spots worse
14 Ole Miss 22 8 spots worse
15 Indiana 13 2 spots better
16 Wyoming DNQ – 6th in Mountain At least 16 spots worse
17 Colorado State DNQ – 11th in Mountain At least 15 spots worse
18 Michigan 7 11 spots better
19 Iona 12 7 spots better
20 Arkansas 30 10 spots worse
21 Princeton DNQ – 3rd in Mid-Atlantic  At least 11 spots worse
22 UCLA DNQ – 8th in West  At least 10 spots worse
23 Virginia 20 3 spots better
24 Purdue 11 13 spots better
25 Southern Utah DNQ – 8th in Mountain  At least 7 spots worse
26 Alabama 24 2 spots better
27 Air Force DNQ – 9th in Mountain  At least 5 spots worse
28 Villanova 23 5 spots better
29 Tulsa 5 24 spots better
30 Boise State 21 9 spots better
Teams Receiving Votes/Unranked Teams National Results Difference
31 E. Kentucky DNQ – 9th in Southeast At least 1 spot worse
32 Florida State 29 3 spots better
33 Texas 25 8 spots better
34 Gonzaga DNQ – 6th in West NA
35 Middle Tennessee 31 4 spots better
36 Harvard 15 21 spots better
37 Army DNQ – 7th in Northeast NA
38 Minnesota DNQ – 6th in Midwest NA
39 Michigan State DNQ – 6th in Great Lakes NA
40 Furman 14 26 spots better
41 Bradley DNQ – 11th in Midwest NA
42 Temple DNQ – 4th in Mid-Atlantic NA
43 Utah State 16 27 spots better
No Votes Georgetown 28th At least 16 spots better
No Votes Virginia Tech 17th At least 27 spots better

Here is the same table for the women. Of women’s teams at the meet that were ranked in the top 10 at the beginning or end of the season, the biggest positive surprises were Arkansas (preseason #8, ended up #1) and Air Force (preseason #29, ended up #8). There were a number of big-time negative surprises as three of the top four in the preseason poll ended up in the double digits at NCAAs: #1 Colorado ended up 10th, #3 Washington was 11th, and #4 Michigan was 13th. But those numbers pale in comparison to #9 Oregon, which ended up just 26th.

Speaking preseason rank, the rankings we’ve been referring to are from the USTFCCCA coaches’ poll. But LetsRun.com’s preseason top 5 fared much better as we didn’t have Washington or Michigan in our preseason top five and we did have Arkansas in it. The coaches only correctly ID’d two of the top five teams in the preseason; we nailed four of five.

Pre-Season Rank Team NCAA Result Difference
1 Colorado 10 9 spots worse
2 New Mexico 4 2 spots worse
3 Washington 11 8 spots worse
4 Michigan 13 9 spots worse
5 Stanford 3 2 spots better
6 BYU 2 4 spots better
7 Wisconsin 7 same
8 Arkansas 1 7 spots better
9 Oregon 26 17 spots worse
10 NC State 5 5 spots better
11 Notre Dame 15 4 spots worse
12 Michigan St. 6 6 spots better
13 Boise St. 17 4 spots worse
14 Penn State 18 4 spots worse
15 Furman 9 6 spots better
16 Ole Miss 21 5 spots worse
17 Iowa State DNQ – 6th in Midwest At least 15 spots worse
18 Columbia 27 9 spots worse
19 Oklahoma St. DNQ – 4th in Midwest At least 13 spots worse
20 Florida St. 12 8 spots better
21 UCLA DNQ – 11th in Midwest At least 11 spots worse
22 Utah 16 6 spots better
23 Princeton DNQ – 4th in Mid-Atlantic At least 9 spots worse
24 Syracuse DNQ – 5th in Northeast At least 8  spots worse
25 Minnesota 28 3 spots worse
26 Ohio St. 23 3 spots better
27 Dartmouth DNQ – 8th in Northeast At least 5 spots worse
28 Penn DNQ – 6th in Mid-Atlantic At least 4 spots worse
29 Air Force 8 21 spots better
30 Villanova 24 6 spots better
Teams Receiving Votes/Unranked Teams NCAA Result Difference
31 Georgia DNQ – 7th in South At least 1 spot worse
32 Florida DNQ – 7th in South NA
33 Georgia Tech DNQ – 8th in South NA
34 Oregon St. DNQ – 7th in West NA
35 Texas 30 5 spots better
36 Boston College 20 16 spots better
37 Duke DNQ – 5th in Southeast NA
38 Indiana 19 19 spots better
39 NAU 14 25 spots better
40 West Virginia DNQ – 5th Mid-Atlantic NA
41 Eastern Michigan DNQ – 9th in Great Lakes NA
43 Utah State DNQ – 9th in Mountain NA
No votes Illinois 28th At least 16 spots better
No votes Tulsa 17th At least 27 spots better
No votes Harvard 31st At least 13 spots better
No votes Cornell 29th At least 15 spots better

Looking at both lists combined, Tulsa did incredibly well as their men started out 29th and ended up 5th and their women started unranked and ended up 17th. Furman also did well as their men started the year unranked and ended up 14th and their women started the year ranked 15th and ended up 9th. On the opposite end of the spectrum, both of the Washington programs ended up more than 10+ spots off where they started the year. But at least made the meet. Oklahoma State (preseason #7 men, #19 women) didn’t make it as a team in either gender.

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Speaking of disappointing performances, can we give an award to the men of Middle Tennessee State? They were truly atrocious at NCAAs. None of their runners dropped out, but they managed to take five of the final 18 spots in the race, including four of the bottom five. In the end, they were last with 865 points.

That’s an incredibly high score, but it’s not the worst in NCAA history. Heck, it’s not even the worst score in the last decade. In 2011, the New Mexico men scored 885.

MB: What is the worst team score in men’s NCAA XC history?

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Stat of the Week / Putting Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 in Perspective

Courtesy Sean Hartnett/Chicago Marathon

2:15:10 – fastest time recorded by any team at the 39th Japanese Corporate Women’s Ekiden Championships last week, which is a full marathon run as a six-person relay.
2:14:04 – Brigid Kosgei’s marathon WR.

It would be fascinating if the Japanese raised a ton of money and had Kosgei race their best corporate teams next year, one vs. six.

More: Japan Post Leads Start to Finish to Win National Corporate Women’s Ekiden

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Quote of the Week (that wasn’t quote of the day)

Jordan Hasay Sums Up Alberto Salazar Perfectly

“Alberto, if you ask me is he obsessed about weight? Yes, but he’s obsessed about everything. He wanted to cut my hair [to reduce drag], he wanted me to wear a wetsuit in the Boston Marathon. It’s just every little detail is covered and weight happens to be one of those things.”

Jordan Hasay talking to Runner’s World about Alberto Salazar.

This quote sums up Salazar perfectly. When I was talking to a close friend about Salazar’s doping ban, he said he found Salazar’s excuse that he conducted the testosterone on his experiment on his sons out of fear that his runners might be sabotaged to be totally unbelievable. I responded, “Really? Do you realize how crazy/obsessed that guy is? If it was anyone else, I’d say, ‘Totally unbelievable’, but for him, it could conceivably be true.”

MB: RW Alberto wanted Hasay to wear a wetsuit at Boston 2018 and other fun stuff 

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Recommended Reads

To see our favorite reads from other weeks, go here.

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Quotes Of The Day And Last Week’s Home Pages

To see the quotes of the day from last week or last week’s home page or any home page, go to our archive page.

Got a tip, question or comment? Please call us at 844-LETSRUN (538-7786), email us or post in our forum


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