#2 Oklahoma State Knocks Out #1 NAU, Graham Blanks Fires On All Cylinders For Harvard

Oklahoma State puts 5 in the top 15 to earn dominant win as Graham Blanks won his first NCAA crown in the individual race

EARLYSVILLE, Va. – Earlier this week, as Oklahoma State coach Dave Smith pondered what would have to change for his squad to reverse the outcome of last year’s NCAA Cross Country Championship – a race OSU lost to Northern Arizona on a tiebreaker – he drew on an old boxing adage.

“If you’re going to beat the champ, you’ve gotta knock them out,” Smith said.

His words proved prophetic in front of more than 5,000 fans at the sold-out 2023 edition of the NCAA Cross Country Championships, hosted at the University of Virginia’s Panorama Farms course on Saturday. With Northern Arizona chasing a fourth straight men’s team title – a feat not accomplished since Arkansas from 1990-93 – and it seventh win in eight years, Smith’s Cowboys connected with an uppercut square to the jaw. The Cowboys placed all five scorers in the top 15 to finish with 49 points, the lowest winning score since 2005 when Wisconsin won with just 37. 

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NAU ran incredibly well to finish second with 71, a lower point total than what they put up in all but one of their winning runs during the last eight years. 71 is the lowest score put up by a runner-up in the modern era of 31 teams which started in 1998. The last time a team put up fewer than 71 points and lost on the men’s side was in 1997 when the meet only had 22 teams.

Honestly, let me just say what NAU has done over the last seven years to me is unbelievable,” Smith said. “I can’t imagine the pressure of reloading and coming back year after year after year, [always] being in the hunt. To beat a team like that – one of the legendary teams in history, in any sport – is incredible.”

#3 BYU ended up third for the second year in a row with 196 points as #7 Arkansas rounded out the podium in 4th with 211. It’s the 23rd podium finish (top 4) for the 11-time champion Razorbacks.

Individual race

In the individual race, Harvard junior Graham Blanks broke free of two-time world junior medallist Habtom Samuel of New Mexico, the 19-year-old Eritrean freshman who sports pbs of 13:13 and 27:20 on the track, with a little less than 1000 meters to go and won his first NCAA title in 28:37.7 to Samuel’s 28:40.7. Stanford’s Ky Robinson, who dominated the NCAA outdoors last spring, was third in 28:55.7. Oklahoma State’s Kenyan freshman Denis Kipngetich was the only other man under 29:00 as he was fourth in 28:59.7. *Full results here.

“To be honest, I ran like a dumb-ass – pardon my French. I covered a lot of stupid moves wasted a lot of energy. So you just watched me run a 10k with my heart,” said Blanks. “Far and away, that was the hardest race I’ve ever run.”

Blanks, 21, is the seventh American to win the NCAA men’s XC title this century but the the first to do it under the age of 22 since Dathan Ritzenhein 20 years ago.

2002 – Jorge Torres – age 22
2003 – Dathan Ritzenhein – age 20
2006 – Josh Rohatinsky – age 24
2007 – Josh McDougal – age 22 2008 – Galen Rupp  -age 22
2021 – Conner Mantz – age 24 (he won two NCAA xc titles in 2021 as the 2020 race was held in March 2021 due to Covid)
2023 – Graham Blanks – age 21

This is a flash recap. Our analysis of the meet can be found here: 2023 NCAA XC Breakdown: Tuohy’s Heroics, Valby’s Historic Season, OSU Dethrones NAU, & More Tuohy did not get the repeat individual title but today’s gutsy run may have been her finest hour in what may have been her final race for NC State. Our Jonathan Gault breaks it down in 3,000+ words.

Check out our many post-race interviews up on YouTube. Also, be a fan and talk about the meet on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard.

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