WTW: NCAA Conference XC Champs Breakdown / The Women’s NCAA Team Battle Is Gonna Be Incredible
The Week That Was in Running, October 25 – October 31, 2021
November 1, 2021
The calendar has turned to November, which means the 2021 NCAA cross country season is getting serious. Last weekend, 31 conference championship meets were held across the United States, and we are now just 19 days away from the NCAA championships in Tallahassee, Fla. We recap the highs and lows of conference weekend below as this week’s weekly recap is devoted exclusively to NCAA XC action.
The Women’s Team Battle at NCAAs Could Be One of The Best in Meet History
It’s not uncommon to enter an NCAA championship meet where four teams have a legitimate chance to win. But when that happens, it’s usually a situation like last year, where there is no clear dominant team.
In 2021, it’s different. Again, there is no clear NCAA favorite, but that’s because there are four loaded teams that have totally separated themselves from the rest of the NCAA. Unsurprisingly, those teams entered last weekend as the top four in the USTFCCCA coaches’ poll: #1 New Mexico, #2 NC State, #3 BYU, and #4 Colorado.
Here’s what each of them did this weekend:
#1 New Mexico
Won Mountain West with 15 points
The Lobos won their 14th consecutive conference title on Friday by doing something they had never done before: perfect-score the conference meet. And they didn’t just perfect-score it; New Mexico went 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. The Mountain West isn’t the strongest conference in America, but it still features two other ranked teams, #12 Colorado State and #28 Utah State.
Even New Mexico’s 2015 squad — the greatest team in NCAA history, one that scored 49 points at NCAAs — could “only” manage 24 points at Mountain West. The 2021 team doesn’t have the low sticks up front — when they won Nuttycombe, their top runner was 12th overall — but their depth is astounding. Amelia Mazza-Downie, who won the individual Mountain West title, was UNM’s #8 runner at Nuttycombe.
#2 NC State
Won ACCs with 20 points
The ACC may be the deepest women’s conference in the country, with five teams ranked in the top 21 entering last weekend. Yet the Wolfpack put four women in the top five.
The best news for NC State fans was that Hannah Steelman, who was 5th at NCAAs last year but did not run at Nuttycombe, ran well and finished 4th overall. And the Wolfpack could even be even better by NCAAs.
Dominique Clairmonte, last year’s ACC individual champ, was only 24th at ACCs but she’s headed in the right direction. At the Joe Piane Invite four weeks ago, she was 49.1 seconds behind NC State’s #5. At ACCs, she was just 21.3 seconds back of 5th.
Won WCCs with 21 points
BYU’s winning score was good, but considering the WCC only has one other ranked team (#27 Portland), the score wasn’t what impressed us. Rather, it was the performance of BYU’s two biggest stars, Whittni Orton and Anna Camp. At Wisconsin, Orton, who has battled injuries in the past, did not race while Camp, the NCAA 1500 champ was BYU’s #4 runner in 32nd place.
Their results at WCCs were significantly more promising. Orton won the race and Camp was third, just six seconds behind Orton. Those two need to be firing on all cylinders if BYU is to repeat. Friday’s result was a very good sign.
Won Pac-12s with 24 points
The last time Colorado won NCAAs, in 2018, the Buffaloes didn’t even win their conference meet: they were second at Pac-12s with 48 points. This year, Colorado scored half that to post the lowest score at Pac-12s since Washington perfect-scored the meet in 2008 (back then, Colorado hadn’t joined the conference and it was still known as the Pac-10).
Colorado came close to a perfect score as they put four in the top five; the only non-CU athlete was Utah’s Emily Venters, who actually ran for Colorado until this year. The other fun note from this one is that Abby Nichols has now won titles in two separate Power 5 conferences: she was 2019 Big 10 5,000 champ at Ohio State and now the 2021 Pac-12 XC champ at Colorado (h/t LRC reader Kevin Blank). Has anyone else ever pulled that off?
Given all four teams are in different conferences, it’s impossible to say who was more dominant last weekend. But what is clear is that we have four truly exceptional teams. It’s been 28 years since two teams scored under 100 points at the same NCAA meet. At this point, it’s not crazy to think we could see three teams under that barrier on November 20.
Who Can Challenge the NAU Men?
The #1 NAU men handily won the Big Sky title on Friday — redemption for a team that rested some of its top athletes and wound up getting beaten by Southern Utah at the last Big Sky champs back in February. The Lumberjacks scored 30 points on Friday — a convincing win, but not as dominant as the top women’s teams mentioned earlier (though they didn’t run their #5 from Pre-Nats, Theo Quax). Does that mean they’re vulnerable?
NAU has a killer 1-2-3 punch in Abdi Nur, Nico Young, and Drew Bosley. Their #4, George Kusche, has been rock solid this year. But there are still some question marks at #5. If Quax runs like he did at Pre-Nats (24th), NAU should be fine. But if he or one of the other top four slips up, there was a 27-second gap to NAU’s #6 at Pre-Nats.
Who could spring a potential upset if the Lumberjacks falter? Iowa State entered the weekend ranked #2 on the strength of their win at Wisconsin. But their 88-point total was the highest at that meet since 2015, and they lost to #5 Oklahoma State at Big 12s. That loss might say more about OK State than Iowa State, however. The Cyclones still ran really well — they put five men in the top 10 and scored 31 points — but the Cowboys were even better, scoring 24.
Remember, OK State, who didn’t race Nuttycombe or Pre-Nats this year, was 3rd at NCAAs in March. They look to be a significantly better team now. Last year, the Cowboys put four in the top 34 at NCAAs, but their #5 was back in 80th. This year, those four All-Americans (Isai Rodriguez, Alex Maier, Ryan Smeeton, Victor Shitsama) are all back and went 2-3-4-9 at Big 12s. Plus Ryan Schoppe (230th at 2020 NCAAs) is running better (6th at Big 12s) and OK State has a potential wild card in Shea Foster (13:32/28:40), who was 14th at Big 12s in his first race since May.
There was another top-5 showdown at the Pac-12 meet as #3 Colorado took down #4 Stanford, 39-52. Colorado may be the deepest team in the country as the Buffaloes had seven men in before Stanford’s #5. Colorado’s top man, Eduardo Herrera (13:24 5k), is undoubtedly an ace, but NAU stomped them at Pre-Nats because there was a 25-second gap between Herrera and CU’s #2. That gap was way smaller on Friday — Colorado’s #2 and #3, Austin Vancil and Andrew Kent, were both within 10 seconds of Herrera, with #4 and #5 men Charlie Sweeney and Brendan Fraser 26 and 27 seconds back, respectively. The Buffaloes may have benefited from the meet being at altitude, but if they can repeat this sort of performance at NCAAs, they have a shot to win it all.
The other team some believed could topple NAU heading into this season was Notre Dame. But it was hard to get a read on the Irish because they didn’t run their full team until last weekend. The results were good — ND won easily with 32 points — though there’s still room for improvement. Dylan Jacobs (2nd overall) looks like a top-10 guy at NCAAs, while 1500m Olympian Yared Nuguse (5th) looked good in his first race since June and should be even better in three weeks’ time. The one real area to improve is the 17-second gap between ND’s #3 and #4. ND needs Matthew Carmody to run like he did at the Joe Piane Invite (4th, 23:22) and not like how he did on Friday on the same course (11th, 23:56).
So what to make of all this? The fact is, NAU didn’t run amazing at their conference meet, while a number of their key rivals posted strong performances. Even #7 BYU (who had a much tighter pack behind Conner Mantz at WCCs than at Pre-Nats) and #10 Wisconsin (27 points at Big 10) impressed, though they remain fringe title contenders. Mostly, last weekend’s results confirmed what we thought at the start of the season: Notre Dame and Oklahoma State are the teams with the best shot to break up the NAU dynasty (though Colorado is a lot better than anyone expected).
Wesley Kiptoo Crushes Big 12s, Charles Hicks Upsets Cooper Teare, & Mercy Chelangat Stays Unbeaten
Individually, there were a few notable results over conference weekend. One of the biggest wins came in the men’s race at Big 12s, where Iowa State’s Wesley Kiptoo ran 23:32 on an extremely windy day in Stillwater to beat Oklahoma State’s Isai Rodriguez by 24 seconds. Considering Rodgriguez set the OSU course record of 23:05 in his previous race this year — destroying Colorado’s Eduardo Herrera and the NAU trio of Nur, Young, and Bosley in the process — this was a commanding win for Kiptoo.
Conner Mantz of BYU (WCC) and Adriaan Wildschutt of Florida State (ACC) also earned convincing wins at their respective conference meets, but out west, one NCAA title contender was upset as Oregon’s Cooper Teare finished second at the Pac-12 meet in Salt Lake City. The Pac-12 champ, Charles Hicks, is a fine runner in his own right — he has run 13:33/27:47 and was 14th at NCAAs last year — but it was surprising to see him put almost 10 seconds on Teare (a 3:50/13:12 guy) over the final 400.
As of now, Mantz has to be the favorite — he has beaten both Kiptoo and Wildschutt already this year — but it should be a great race in Tallahassee.
On the women’s side, reigning NCAA champ Mercy Chelangat of Alabama — who didn’t race at Nuttycombe or Pre-Nats — returned to action by winning the SEC title, defeating NCAA indoor 5,000 champ Joyce Kimeli of Auburn by nine seconds. Chelangat has not lost a cross country race since September 2020.
Twin Power in the Big 10
On Friday, Minnesota’s Megan Hasz ran down Michigan’s Ericka VanderLende to win the Big 10 title at Penn State. That made her the second member of her family to win a Big 10 cross country title this year as her twin sister Bethany won the race back in January. We’re not sure if they’re the first set of twins to both win a conference XC title, but we’re fairly certain they will be the first and last to both win the same conference XC title in the same calendar year.
This was also a big upset for Megan. As you might imagine, Megan and Bethany have raced a lot over the years, and recently, Bethany had dominated. Entering Big 10s, Bethany had beaten Megan 16 times in a row, with Megan’s last win coming in a track 5k back in 2019. But there’s an asterisk — Bethany DNF’d that race. If you count only results where both sisters finished, Bethany’s win streak was 23 (dating back to February 2018) before Megan got the win on Friday (Bethany finished 9th at Big 10s).
Seeing double? We are.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 29, 2021
The Hasz twins of @GopherCCTF are keeping the #B1GXC Women's Championship in the fam.
Each sister had a last minute burst to win their respective 6K's just months apart! 👏 pic.twitter.com/Avp4amWe8J
Wisconsin Men Dominate Big 10s/Arkansas Women Rally To Win 9th Straight SEC Title
The top women’s teams above weren’t the only ones to put up a really low score at their conference meet. As we briefly mentioned earlier, the 10th-ranked men of Wisconsin deserve praise for scoring just 27 points to win their fourth straight and 52nd overall Big 10 title over #15 Michigan (79) and #29 Minnesota (83).
27 is the lowest winning total at Big 10s total since Wisconsin put up 17 in 2011. A perfect score of 15 has never happened at Big 10s — the closest anyone came was the 2005 Wisconsin team, which scored 16. By the way, both of those Wisco teams went on to win the NCAA title.
Scoring hardly any points and winning Big 10s is something the Badger program has a lot of experience with. From 1999 to 2012, when the Badgers won 14 straight Big 10 titles, they only scored over 40 points once. Since that win streak ended, the Badgers are the only team to win with 40 or less as they won with 38 in 2018 and 40 earlier this year in January.
Another blue-blood program delivered in the SEC women’s race. #15 Arkansas entered the SEC meet as just the third-highest ranked team (Alabama was ranked #5 and Ole Miss #11) but when the meet was over the Razorbacks had won their ninth straight SEC title with 68 as Ole Miss was second with 83 and Alabama third with 91.
It was an exciting race Alabama was actually leading, 58 to 62, through 4k. But Alabama’s #5 at 4k, Jami Reed, wound up dropping out, which killed the Crimson Tide’s team score. Even though Alabama put four women in the top 11 — led by individual winner and reigning NCAA champ Mercy Chelangat — their #5 finished 69th.
On the men’s side at SECs, Arkansas rolled to its 27th team title in 31 years, but the individual title went to Alabama’s Eliud Kipsang, an impressive display of range for a guy with a 3:35 1500 pb. After the race, Kipsang, who was 4th at NCAAs in the 1500 last year, said that he eventually plans on moving up in distance on the track.
Two programs extended historic win streaks last weekend at their conference meets. At the MAAC Championships, the Iona men scored 17 points to win their 31st consecutive conference title — the longest active streak among Division I programs. They still have a long way to go to catch the men of DIII North Central (Ill.), who won their 47th straight College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin crown on Saturday.
Celebration Of The Weekend
For most programs, winning a conference title is special, very special. And certainly worthy of celebrating.
Here are our favorite celebrations of the week.
Best celebration from a coach:
Best celebration from athletes:
Disappointment Of The Weekend/For The Second Time In 2021, A Team Fails To Record A Team Score At Pac-12s
Earlier this year at the Pac-12 cross country meet in March, we were blown away when the Oreogn women failed to record a team score.
If Oregon of all places can’t be bothered to pull people off the intramural team to record a team score, then why should other schools?
Well over the weekend, it happened again in the men’s meet at Pac-12s as Arizona — now coached by two-time Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat — failed to record a team score in the men’s standings.
If Pac-12 schools can’t be bothered to find five finishers, then our sport is in trouble. Football teams don’t just forfeit when they aren’t any good. They show up and get beat.
LRC USATF Inexplicably Announces 2022 World Championship Marathon Selection Policy Way Too Late Two years after botching the selection process for the Pan American Games, USATF has messed up again, leaving athletes in a web of confusion and frustration. Earlier this week, they announced a radically different marathon qualifying system that is based on just four races – three of which have already been held. Go figure.
Eliud Kipchoge: Inside The Camp, And The Mind, Of The Greatest Marathon Runner Of All Time Friend of LRC Cathal Dennehy travels to Kenya to get a behind the scenes look at Kipchoge’s training and lifestyle. He learns about Kipchoge’s daily routine, aversion for celebrations, views on training and if he’s thinking about Paris 2024.
Raven Saunders talks about going from two mental health insitutions to Olympic silver A good and inspiring profile of Saunders who succinctly described some of her struggles as, “I’m black, I’m gay, I’m in Mississippi,”
To see our favorite reads from other weeks, go here.
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.