2022 NCAA XC Men’s Top 10: NAU Chases Second Three-Peat; Can Stanford or OK State Finally Knock Them Off?
By Jonathan Gault
September 21, 2022
It’s the middle of September, which means it’s time for LetsRun.com’s annual preseason* cross country rankings!
*Yes, the season officially started September 1, but everyone knows the first three weeks don’t matter
In some ways, predicting NCAA cross country is easy. Look at the previous year’s results, take out the seniors, and you’ve got a pretty good starting point for next year’s rankings. But some parts of it can be quite difficult. Many teams won’t run their full-strength lineup until Pre-Nats/Nuttycombe, just five weeks out from NCAAs, so it can be tough to tell which athletes are being rested and which are genuinely injured. And because only five athletes score per team, one very good or bad day at NCAAs can have a much bigger impact in cross country than most team sports.
That’s what makes the sport fascinating, and why, despite everything we think we know coming in, the NCAA Cross Country Championships remains one of the very best days on the running calendar. This year, it’s November 19 in Stillwater, Okla., on the spectacular but notoriously tough Oklahoma State course that the school spent $4 million renovating to host meets such as this one.
The LetsRun.com staff can’t wait to get to Stillwater as we’ve never been, even though the 2020 championships were in Stillwater. But the 2020 NCAA XC champs were different. They were held in March 2021 and spectators and media were barred from attending due to COVID restrictions, robbing the meet of the energy that comes with a horde of fans sprinting from point to point on the course to scream for their favorites as many times as possible. That energy should be back in 2022.
With that as preamble, here are the men’s teams that should make the most noise at that meet two months from now.
Or if you don’t like reading, just close out of your browser and wait a few days. We should get a good idea of how things stand this weekend as the top eight teams in LRC’s rankings will all be in action at the Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater on Saturday.
1) Northern Arizona
2021 finish: 1st *Returners from NCAAs: 6/7 (lose #1) *Coach: Mike Smith
For the fifth straight season, Northern Arizona is #1 in LetsRun.com’s preseason rankings (this doesn’t count 2020-21, when LRC didn’t publish rankings due to the COVID disruption). It’s a boring pick, but more often than not, it’s proven correct: NAU has won five of the last six NCAA titles.
The Lumberjacks lose Abdihamid Nur, the top man from their 2021 championship team, but they return everyone else, led by individual title contender Nico Young (4th & 11th in two NCAA XC appearances, 13:11 5k pb). Drew Bosley (13th NCAAs, 13:25 pb) should be right with Young at the front of every race, while George Kusche (37th) and Brodey Hasty (39th) were also All-Americans last year.
If NAU has a weakness, it’s at #5. Kiwi Theo Quax, the logical pick to fill it, has finished 151st and 114th in two appearances at NCAA XC — which won’t be good enough if the Lumberjacks are going to add another trophy to the pile this fall. But coach Mike Smith has a habit of finding a fifth man, and with a 13:41 pb on the track last spring and a win at the Coaching Tree Invitational to kick off his XC season on September 16, Quax has the talent to step up and finish in the top 50 in November. NAU also has Ryan Raff (13:51/28:56), though his NCAA XC history isn’t great either (151st, 150th, 162nd).
The most intriguing option at #5 is freshman phenom Colin Sahlman, the top recruit in the high school class of 2022. Smith, however, says it’s “on the more unlikely side” that he races for NAU this fall.
If Sahlman redshirts, it will be up to Quax, Raff, or perhaps Santiago Prosser (13:51) or Kang Nyoak, who finished 2nd and 3rd behind Quax at the Coaching Tree Invitational (but ahead of Georgetown’s 8:18 steepler Parker Stokes) to step up and support the Lumberjacks in their quest for a second three-peat in seven years.
Should NAU win it all this fall, it would mark the sixth time a school has won three or more consecutive titles (Villanova 1966-68, UTEP 1978-81, Arkansas 1990-93 & 1998-00, and NAU 2016-18); they’d be just the second school to win six titles in seven years (UTEP also did it from 1975-81). The Lumberjacks are already one of the greatest dynasties the sport has ever seen, but they still have a ways to go to surpass NCAA XC’s all-time dynasty: John McDonnell‘s Arkansas teams, which won 11 titles in 17 years from 1984-00.
2021 finish: 5th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #6, #7) *Coach: Ricardo Santos
So far in Ricardo Santos‘ three years in charge of the men’s distance program in Palo Alto, the Cardinal have finished 6th, 5th, and 5th at NCAAs. For most schools, 5th is an achievement worth of celebration, but Santos admitted that finishing one spot off the podium in 2021 stung.
“We were a little bit disappointed,” Santos says. “We did feel like we were a team that should have been on the podium. But we were close and sometimes those things happen like that.”
In each of the past two NCAA champs, Stanford has been among the youngest teams in the field — the top four on last year’s team were all freshmen, eligibility-wise — so this is not a “championship or bust” season. But championship windows can be a tricky thing to predict. And with the talent on hand, a championship is certainly within reach if the Cardinal can put it all together on the day in Stillwater.
“We’re looking forward to the season and hopefully competing for a title this year,” Santos says.
Charles Hicks (4th, 13:24/27:40) is the top overall returner from NCAAs last year, and he’ll be joined by Ky Robinson (14th, 13:20/27:47, 4th NCAA 5k) and Cole Sprout (15th in ’20, 13:24/27:42, 4th NCAA 10k) to form one of the most devastating lead trios we’ve seen in recent NCAA history. When was the last time a team entered a cross country season with three guys who’ve all run sub-13:30 and sub-27:50?
(Sorry if you expected me to answer that — I’m asking that as a rhetorical question, but feel free to email if you know).
Stanford has two more sub-13:40 men on the roster in Thomas Boyden (13:37) and Evan Burke (13:38) but neither has a track record of college XC success commensurate with their track pbs (neither raced beyond the Nuttycombe Invitational last year). Devin Hart is another option at the #4/#5 spot but will have to improve on his 80th-place finish from last year if Stanford is to challenge NAU.
If Stanford’s top guys run to their potential, the Cardinal should have a very low point total through three runners. But it’s how they run at #4 and #5 that will determine if Stanford can win its first NCAA XC title in 19 years.
Here’s how NAU and Stanford’s projected top sevens stack up against each other (assuming Colin Sahlman redshirts).
|#1||Nico Young||Charles Hicks|
|13:11; 4th & 11th at NCAA XC in ’20/’21||13:24/27:40; 14th & 4th at NCAA XC in ’20/’21||Tie|
|#2||Drew Bosley||Ky Robinson|
|13:25; 22nd, 62nd, & 13th at NCAA XC in ’19/’20/’21||13:20/27:47; 14th ’21 NCAA XC; 2nd NCAA indoor 5k||Stanford|
|#3||George Kusche||Cole Sprout|
|3:37/13:28; 37th ’21 NCAA XC||13:24/27:42; 81st & 15th at NCAA XC in ’20/’21; 4th NCAA 10k||Stanford|
|#4||Brodey Hasty||Devin Hart|
|13:42; 46th, 44th, & 39th at NCAA XC in ’19/’20/’21||7:51/13:45; 141st & 80th at ’20/’21 NCAA XC||NAU|
|#5||Theo Quax||Meika Beaudoin-Rousseau|
|13:41; 151st & 114th at NCAA XC in ’19/’21||13:52/28:35; 174th, 102nd, & 94th at ’18/’19/’21 NCAA XC||Stanford|
|#6||Ryan Raff||Thomas Boyden|
|13:51/28:56; 151st, 150th, & 162nd at NCAA XC in ’18/’20/’21||13:37/28:44; DNF ’20 NCAA XC||Stanford|
|#7||Santiago Prosser||Evan Burke|
On paper, Stanford has the edge if NAU doesn’t have Sahlman, but NCAA xc isn’t run on paper, it’s going to be run a difficult xc course in Oklahoma and NAU has a proven track record of success.
3) Oklahoma State
2021 finish: 3rd *Returners from NCAAs: 6/7 (lose #4) *Coach: Dave Smith
The nucleus of the team that finished 3rd at the 2020 and 2021 championships remains in place, and there’s reason to believe the Cowboys could be even better in 2022 despite losing Ryan Smeeton (26th and 57th at the last two NCAAs). For one, Alex Maier, who had an off day at NCAA XC in November (147th), reached a new level at NCAA outdoors last year, finishing 2nd in the 10,000 meters. Coach Dave Smith also believes Englishman Rory Leonard, 79th a year ago, should finish a lot higher this fall.
“He is light years beyond where he was last fall, winter, and spring,” Smith says. “He’s just a different individual right now. He was going through some very personal tragedies last year in his family and close personal circle that I think weighed on him heavily.”
Add in Isai Rodriguez, Shea Foster, and Victor Shitsama, all of whom finished in the 20s at NCAAs last year, with Rodriguez also finishing in the top 10 in 2018 (4th) and 2020 (8th), and the advantage of running NCAAs on their tough home course and the Cowboys have a legitimate shot to win it all if everything breaks right on November 19.
There are question marks, however. First, Maier must stay healthy — he was sick in the leadup to NCAAs last year and finished 147th as a result.
“Maier, he’s kind of susceptible to these things and they’ve snuck up and got him many times over his career and in high school, so you’re always just kind of walking on eggshells that last part of the season,” Smith says.
Second, OK State may be without one of its key runners this fall, though Smith did not want to divulge details regarding who or why.
“We might lose one,” Smith says. “I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet…People have made mistakes, put it that way.”
As a result, the Cowboys may need one more guy to step up (noticing a trend among the top teams?). OK State has a number of capable fifth-man candidates — Fouad Messaoudi (13:46) and Ryan Schoppe (7:46/13:43 but just 230th and 225th at two NCAA XC appearances) are the most promising — but Smith knows that if this team is to achieve its best-case scenario in 2022, one has to take a leap.
“I don’t need five guys who can be the fifth man and run between 50 and 100,” Smith says. “I need one guy to be the fifth man that can run between 30 and 50.”
2021 finish: 7th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #1, #5) *Coach: Ed Eyestone
Even though the Cougars lost the winner of the last two NCAA meets, superstar Conner Mantz, the team as a whole should be stronger in 2022 than it was in 2021. Casey Clinger (24th, 13th, 8th in three NCAA XC appearances) is one of the top runners in the country, and BYU adds in another top-20 guy from last year in Weber State transfer Christian Allen (16th, 13:36/28:26). Brandon Garnica (13:26/28:19) just missed earning All-American honors in 2019 and 2021 and gives the Cougars a strong top three.
The back end is in flux. Last year’s #4 man Lucas Bons (102nd) has been dealing with the effects of long COVID, so his availability this fall is in question. Ditto 2021 #6 man Aidan Troutner (175th, 13:55 pb). Fortunately BYU has guys on the roster capable of replacing them. Joey Noakes (28:37) was sick at outdoor regionals last year, but Eyestone believes he had a shot to make it to NCAAs in the 10,000 if healthy and should contribute this fall. Kenneth Rooks ran 8:22 and finished 6th at NCAAs in the steeple in June. And Eyestone believes star second-year recruits (and identical twins) Creed and Davin Thompson (2nd and 10th at RunningLane Nationals in 2020) should be ready to make an impact with a year of college training under their belts.
Dirty little secret about NCAA cross country: the teams ranked between 4th and 10th are usually pretty similar. The difference between finishing 4th and 10th at NCAAs has less to do with the talent on the roster and more to do with who shows up and runs to their potential at NCAAs. Eyestone gets that.
“I think we’re certainly a top-10 team and on a really good day, I think we’re going to battle and be in a position to be on the podium,” Eyestone says.
2021 finish: 8th *Returners from NCAAs: 4/7 (lose #1, #3, #7) *Coach: Mark Wetmore
Colorado finished 14th at the COVID-delayed NCAA championships contested in March 2021 — just its third time finishing outside of the top 10 since 1992. The Buffs reloaded in 2021 with a slew of transfers, winning the Pac-12 title and finishing 8th at NCAAs last fall, and though they lose top man Eduardo Herrera, they return a strong squad.
Andrew Kent (28:15), Austin Vancil (28:16), and Charlie Sweeney (28:33) all ran well under 29:00 on the track last spring for 10,000, while Brendan Fraser finished 85th at NCAAs last fall. Add in grad transfer Seth Hirsch from Wisconsin (84th at NCAAs) and Colorado has four guys returning from the top 90 last year (plus Sweeney).
That core makes Colorado a top-10 team, and if those five can stay healthy and progress from last year, a podium challenge is possible. If injury strikes, however, someone will have to step up as the rest of the roster is unproven in cross country.
2021 finish: 6th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #2, #4) *Coach: Steve Gulley
Over the last decade, Tulsa has transformed from a program with little NCAA history to a perennial NCAA qualifier to its current incarnation: consistent top-10 finisher. The Golden Hurricane has finished 5th, 6th, and 6th at the last three NCAA meets — its three best NCAA performances ever — with the trio of Peter Lynch, Scott Beattie, and Isaac Akers elevating the program to new heights.
The next test for Tulsa and coach Steve Gulley: maintaining what they’ve built. Lynch and Beattie are out of eligibility, while Akers has one more season this fall. The good news is that the cupboard is far from bare. Cormac Dalton (34th NCAAs, 13:43), Michael Power (51st NCAAs, 13:29), and Akers (19th ’20 NCAA XC, 13:32), give Tulsa one of the best front threes in America. And assistant coach Taylor Gulley is excited about Shay McEvoy, who ran 13:46 in April and has been training with their top group as he enters his third year in Tulsa, but was only 148th (March) and 157th (November) in the two NCAA xc meets held in 2021.
“By any metric we have, [McEvoy] is further along than any guy we’ve had at this point in their career,” Taylor Gulley says (remember, this is a program that has produced recent NCAA 10k champions Marc Scott and Patrick Dever).
Like many of the teams on this list, a lot will be determined by Tulsa’s #5 runner. Chris McLeod, despite an injury-delayed start to the season, ran at NCAAs last year and finished 157th and Gulley believes he could be a top-100 finisher in 2022, while redshirt freshman Luke Lambert, the Texas 6A state champion in cross country, the 1600, and 3200 in 2020-21, is “ready to take the next step,” according to Gulley. If one of those two, or someone else on the roster, can emerge as a consistent scorer, Tulsa could break through for its first-ever podium finish — something that would mean the world not just to the current roster, but the athletes like Chris O’Hare, Scott, Dever, Lynch, and Beattie who helped build a second distance power in Oklahoma.
“It would be the culmination of the work that all these guys and a lot of other guys have put in,” Taylor Gulley says.
7) Wake Forest
2021 finish: 10th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #5, #7) *Coach: John Hayes
Wake Forest made its first NCAA appearance in 19 years at the 2020 championships (held in March 2021), finishing 15th. Last fall, the Demon Deacons did even better, cracking the top 10 for the first time since 1992 (well before any of the current roster was born). And with four of the top five from that squad returning in 2022, Wake could improve again this season and perhaps win its first ACC title since 1994.
This Wake team has an international feel. Top man Zach Facioni (19th NCAAs, 13:30) is Australian, #2 Aaron Las Heras (13:38/28:13) is Spanish, Thomas Vanoppen (3:37/13:53) is Belgian, and Joaquin Martinez de Pinillos (13:39) is…American (admit it, the name fooled you). Add in Luke Tewalt (13:43), Jonathan Velasco (101st at ’20 NCAA XC), and Ben Mitchell (29:19) and the Demon Deacons are very solid through seven.
Coach John Hayes‘ top priority is to make sure that group stays in one piece for the next two month because his team doesn’t have the depth to deal with with many injuries.
“That’s our big thing,” Hayes says. “If we get to nationals healthy, we could be pretty good but if we lose one or two, we get in trouble pretty quickly.”
2021 finish: 13th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #2, #3) *Coach: Andy Powell
There’s a lot of talent on this roster. The question is whether it can come together to make a good cross country team. Last year’s Washington squad was similarly talented, a podium contender just going by track pbs, but finished just 13th at the Big Dance. Can the 2022 Huskies do better?
Irishman Brian Fay is the clear #1. He was 38th at NCAAs last fall but improved to 13:16 on the track, finishing 7th in the 5k at NCAAs and 8th at the European Championships in Munich. Isaac Green (13:27) should be a capable #2, but he has yet to crack the top 100 at NCAA XC in three appearances and was just 152nd last fall. The #2 man might end up being grad transfer and Olympian Ed Trippas from Princeton/Australia. He was 67th last year and has run 8:19 in the steeple so he should step in and contribute right away.
How far Washington goes will likely depend on its trio of 1500 stars. In June, Joe Waskom, Luke Houser, and Nathan Green finished 1st, 5th, and 7th in the NCAA 1500 final. But excelling in a tactical 1500 final and a 10k on a grueling XC course like Oklahoma State are two totally different animals. Can the milers make an impact?
Houser has has already shown he can do it — he was 51st at the ’20 NCAA XC meet in Stillwater. And Powell believes the other two are capable of finishing in the same range.
“It’s important that they have a good cross country season,” Powell says. “Guys like Matthew Centrowitz or Mac Fleet, guys that have done well for me in the 1500, I always made sure they did well in cross or emphasized it…Joe looks like a different person, he’s doing great. Nathan probably never ran more than 40 miles last year but he’s crushing it right now. People forget, he was the #1 returner from NXN the year we signed him (11th in 2019), so he actually was a good cross runner in high school.”
If Waskom, Houser, and Nathan Green deliver in Stillwater, the Huskies have a great shot to return to the top 10 — and perhaps challenge for the podium.
2021 finish: 11th *Returners from NCAAs: 5/7 (lose #1, #3) *Coach: Mick Byrne
Wisconsin loses two of its top three from last year in NCAA 5k champ Olin Hacker and Seth Hirsch, who is finishing up his eligibility at Colorado. But the Badgers still bring back six guys who ran 13:51 or faster on the track last spring, led by reigning Big 10 XC champ Bob Liking (13:37).
Charlie Wheeler (13:43), Evan Bishop (13:45), Rowen Ellenberg (13:46), Shuaib Aljabaly (13:49), and Jackson Sharp (13:51) round out the supporting cast. None finished in the top 100 at NCAAs last year (though Ellenberg was 78th in ’20), so a few of them will have to make strides if Wisconsin is to better its ’21 performance and return to the top 10 for the first time since 2018.
10) Iowa State
2021 finish: 2nd *Returners from NCAAs: 3/7 (lose #1, #2, #4, #5) *Coach: Jeremy Sudbury
The Cyclones had a dream NCAA meet in 2021, finishing as runner-up behind NAU in the team’s first year under head coach Jeremy Sudbury, who was promoted after the departure of Martin Smith. But the Cyclones have lost a lot of firepower following the program’s best NCAA finish since winning it all in 1994. #1 man Wesley Kiptoo turned pro. Veterans Thomas Pollard and Festus Lagat exhausted their eligibility. So did grad transfer Ryan Ford. That leaves Iowa native Gable Sieperda (41st) as the team’s only returning scorer from NCAAs last year.
When you suffer that many losses, there are usually two options; rebuild or reload. Sudbury tried the latter, hoping to land a couple of big fish via the transfer portal, but it didn’t come together quite as he hoped. But between the returning talent and a few of the transfers Iowa State did get, this group has a strong chance at finishing in the top 10 for the sixth straight year.
“It’s not a full reload or a full rebuild year, it’s kind of somewhere in between,” Sudbury says.
In addition to Sieperda, Ezekiel Rop (65th in ’21) returns and should be a capable #1 — he’s not the single-digit scorer that Kiptoo was the last two years, but Sudbury believes he has the talent to grow into a top-25 guy (Rop ran 13:36 last spring while only running 40 miles per week). Chad Johnson (122nd and 116th at the last two NCAAs) took a step forward on the track in ’22, running 13:34 at the Bryan Clay Invite in April.
The Cyclones also brought in Titus Winders — the DII indoor 3k/5k champ at Southern Indiana last year (13:38 pb) — and Kelvin Bungei, the 2020 juco national XC champ at Iowa Central — to patch some holes, with Sudbury believing Winders can contribute immediately.
Put it all together and there’s the makings of another top-10 team in Ames this year.
- Air Force finished 17th last year but brings back its entire top seven, led by 7:47/13:25 man Sam Gilman.
- Though NCAA 10k champ Dylan Jacobs followed departed coach Sean Carlson to Tennessee and Yared Nuguse turned pro, Notre Dame still has a talented roster. The question is whether Carlson’s replacement Chris Neal, working under ND director Matt Sparks, can continue what Carlson built in South Bend.
- Speaking of Sean Carlson, his Tennessee team could be competitive rather quickly. Karl Theissen (14:03/28:59) made NCAAs individually last year, finishing 125th, and the Vols landed the top two transfers in the country in NCAA 10k champ Dylan Jacobs and Yaseen Abdalla (32nd, 13:33), who anchored Texas to the DMR title at NCAA indoors in March. It may take a year or two to build the rest of the roster, but those three are a promising start.
- Chris Miltenberg guided the North Carolina men to NCAAs last year for the first time since 2014. Now entering his fourth year in Chapel Hill, Miltenberg has had time to get his recruits in place and looks to have a budding star on his hands with Parker Wolfe (28th as a true freshman). Can the Tar Heels take the next step and crack the top 10 for the first time since 1985?
- Harvard posted its best NCAA finish ever last year, 12th, led by the All-American trio of Graham Blanks, Matthew Pereira, and Acer Iverson. Blanks and Iverson both return in 2022, and the Crimson add Vivien Henz, who ran 3:38 for 1500 as a high schooler in Luxembourg and finished 7th at World U20s. Harvard should be good enough to finish in the top 20 at NCAAs again, but can it win its first Heps title since 1972?
Update: This article initially said Notre Dame returned Danny Kilrea (31st at NCAAs last year). He is no longer on the team.
Talk about the 2022 NCAA XC meet on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: Jonathan Gault unveils his top 10 men’s NCAA xc teams. Agree or disagree?
More: Top Recruit Colin Sahlman May Not Race for NAU This Fall “It’s probably on the more unlikely side that we are putting him out there [this fall],” says NAU coach Mike Smith.
MB: Colin Sahlman may not race for NAU in 2022 – “It’s probably on the more unlikely side that we are putting him out there.”
Women: 2022 NCAA XC Women’s Top 10: NC State Is Still the Team to Beat NC State loses two of its top five but could still be better than they were in 2021.
*MB: Jonathan Gault unveils his top 10 women’s NCAA xc teams. Agree or disagree?