2023 NCAA XC Championships Qualifiers & Analysis
OK State men & NAU women impress while Oregon men fail to qualifyBy Jonathan Gault
One of the most chaotic days on the running calendar, NCAA cross country regional day, is in the books. On Friday, the best college teams in America ran 18 races across nine regional sites to determine who will qualify for the 2023 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, which will be held on November 18 in Earlysville, Va.
The NCAA XC fields will consist of 31 men’s teams and 31 women’s teams, plus 38 at-large individuals. The first 18 in each field are easy — the top two finishers in each regional meet qualify automatically. The next 13 are complicated, with slots being awarded based on head-to-head wins throughout the season following a predetermined formula. Fortunately, former Duke XC runner Bo Waggoner has a site, XCquals.com, that allows you to plug the results of regionals into a program that follows the NCAA formula and spits out the projected NCAA field. It’s unofficial, but more often than not, it’s right.
We’ve run Bo’s program and have the full NCAA men’s and women’s field projections below, so if you’re interested in that, scroll down. Before we get there, though, a few thoughts on today’s regional action and what it means for NCAAs, which are just eight days away.
NAU vs Oklahoma State should be a clash of the titans on the men’s side
The men’s race at last year’s NCAA championships was one of the most dramatic ever as the top two teams tied on points for the first time since 1942. Back in ’42, Indiana and Penn State were crowned co-champions, but these days we break ties and NAU took the title over OK State on the Cowboys’ home course after both teams scored 83 points.
It’s very rare for a team to score 83 points or fewer at NCAAs and lose — before last year, no one had done it since Arkansas lost with 56 in 1997. But it could happen again in 2023 as NAU and OK State are both running incredibly well.
At the Mountain regional — run this year at just a little bit of elevation in Lubbock, Tex. (3,200 feet) — NAU won with 36 points despite New Mexico going 1-3-4. The Mountain region has produced nine of the last 10 national champions, and only once in that span has a team scored fewer points at regionals than NAU did today. Of course, regionals isn’t everything — the one team to score lower was NAU in 2019 (21 points), and NAU went on to finish 2nd at NCAAs that year behind BYU.
The big thing from an NAU perspective was the performance of Kang Nyoak. At the Nuttycombe Invitational in October, Nyoak finished 70th and was NAU’s 8th man. Today he was 5th and NAU’s #2, sandwiched between Nico Young and Drew Bosley. That doesn’t mean that Nyoak, a 13:42 5k man, will be with them next week — he’s never run NCAAs and is unproven on the big stage. But he could be the wild card that puts NAU over the top, like Santiago Prosser was for the Lumberjacks last year.
As good as NAU ran today, Oklahoma State was even better, scoring just 19 points to win the Midwest regional. How good was OSU? They went 1-2-3-5-8, and their #5 guy today, Alex Maier, was 5th at NCAAs last year. After their runner-up finish in 2022, Cowboys coach Dave Smith reloaded and the results were on display today as three of OSU’s top four were not on the roster a year ago: Denis Kipngetich (1st), Brian Musau (2nd), and Adisu Guadia (5th). The one downside for OSU is they only finished six men as Will Muirhead (8th at Big 12s) did not have a good day and wound up dropping out.
Both of these teams are absolutely loaded and would be heavy title favorites in any other year. But only one can win. It should make for an incredible race in Charlottesville.
Short-handed NAU women cruise while questions persist about NC State
The NAU women scored 39 to win the Mountain regional, which is impressive in and of itself considering the region also contains #3 BYU. The crazy thing is, NAU did it by resting three of its stars: Elise Stearns, Annika Reiss, and Keira Moore, all of whom were in NAU’s top five at Nuttycombe, did not run today (NAU coach Mike Smith told LetsRun he chose to rest them and they are all good to go for NCAAs).
While NAU has not missed a beat all season, two-time defending NCAA champion NC State, who won the Southeast regional with 52 points, has been trying to find the best version of itself. Two of NC State’s key runners, Sam Bush and Amaris Tyynismaa, were coming off injuries this fall and while Bush posted her most encouraging result of the season today (6th at the Southeast regional), Tyynismaa dropped out for the second race in a row (she also DNF’d ACCs). Tyynismaa has finished 3rd and 9th in two NCAA XC appearances and was 4th in the NCAA 5,000 final in June but has not finished a race since. If she can rediscover her form, she gives NC State a fighting chance at defeating NAU. If not, a third straight title will be very tough for the Wolfpack.
Gonzaga and Portland men come up huge while Washington & Oregon miss out
The most interesting race of the day was also the last race of the day: the men’s race at the West regional in Sacramento. Here are the pre-race regional rankings:
1. Cal Baptist
5. Boise State
And here are today’s results:
1. Stanford 73
2. Gonzaga 98
3. Portland 125
4. Cal Baptist 125
5. Washington 129
6. Boise State 142
7. Oregon 197
That shook things up a lot. Our pre-regionals projections had only the top three teams going: Cal Baptist, Stanford, and Washington. Instead, the top four will go: Stanford, Gonzaga, Portland, and Cal Baptist.
That’s right. No Oregon. And no Washington, either.
We’ll get to them in a minute, but let’s start with the teams that ran well on Friday, Gonzaga and Portland. A month ago at the Nuttycombe Invite, Cal Baptist finished 4th with 272 points. Gonzaga (26th, 592 points) and Portland (30th, 661 points) were way back. All three teams ran virtually the same rosters today. Gonzaga and Portland just ran way better than at Nuttycombe (and CBU ran a bit worse). The biggest turnaround came from Matt Strangio, a 13:30 guy from Portland who had an awful day at Nuttycombe (188th) but finished 2nd overall today.
Portland would need every one of those points as they only got into the meet by beating CBU and getting “pushed” in. If you flip CBU and Portland in the results, Portland has zero at-large points and would not have qualified. And if Washington, who finished four points behind Portland and CBU, had beaten both of them, they would be going to NCAAs and both Portland and CBU would have missed out.
How close was it? Portland only beat CBU because of a tiebreaker. And they only tied because two different Portland runners won head-to-head battles by miniscule margins. Look at places 18 through 21 at the West regional:
18. Daniel Abdala, Portland 29:41.0
19. Evan Jenkins, Washington 29:41.1
20. Jona Bodirsky, Portland 29:41.2
21. Jamar Distel, Washington 29:41.2
Abdala and Bodirsky beat the guys behind them by a combined 0.1 of a second. If either guy moves down a place, they finish 4th, one spot behind CBU, and don’t get into NCAAs. What a sport!
On the other hand, the Pac-12 conference went out with a whimper today as the second- and third-place teams from the final edition of that meet, Washington and Oregon, will both be watching NCAAs from home. At Pac-12s, Washington got big runs up front from its NCAA champion milers Luke Houser (2nd) and Nathan Green (3rd), but they did not fare as well over 10k today as Green was 17th and Houser 25th. The Huskies will miss NCAAs for the first time since 2016.
Oregon also took a step back from Pac-12s as its top three from that meet all finished lower at regionals today:
|Athlete||Pac-12 finish||West regional finish|
The Ducks, ranked 4th in the region coming in, could only manage 7th with 197 points and will miss NCAAs for just the second time since 2011 (the only other time Oregon missed in that span was the COVID year of 2020-21, when the Ducks likely could have run at NCAAs but chose not to). Even in a rebuilding year in Eugene, that’s obviously not a good result. And it caps a rough month for Oregon coach Jerry Schumacher. First, he received the triple blow of Cooper Teare, Grant Fisher, and Elise Cranny leaving the Bowerman Track Club, and now his Oregon men’s team has gone from 16th at NCAAs in his first year to not even qualifying for the meet in year 2. (The Oregon women, it should be noted, finished 2nd today and will be at NCAAs).
It’s lazy (and wrong) to blame Oregon’s failures this season on taking a monthlong break from racing and skipping Pre-Nats and Nuttycombe. While those meets offer opportunities to acquire points, even if Oregon had a ton of points, they still wouldn’t have qualified today — teams that finish 7th in their region rarely make it to NCAAs.
It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on in Eugene because Schumacher has repeatedly declined to speak with LetsRun when we’ve asked about his team. But the facts are that two of Oregon’s top athletes — star freshman Simeon Birnbaum and Izaiah Steury (63rd at NCAA XC last year) — have not raced in a Duck uniform this fall (both ran the Dellinger Invitational in September unattached). If they’re hurt, it’s understandable why he would not race them. If they’re healthy, not racing them doesn’t make much sense.
Long-term, Oregon is still in a good position. They’ve got a nice young core of talent with Birnbaum, Steury, Conner Burns, and Archie Noakes, and Schumacher plus the Oregon brand should help them add to it. If Oregon is contending for national titles in a few years, no one is going to be that bothered about missing NCAAs this fall. Which is a good thing for Duck fans, because 2023 was a season to forget on the men’s side.
Men’s projected 2023 NCAA qualifiers
1 Butler 2 Wisconsin 3 Princeton 4 Villanova 5 Oklahoma State 6 Iowa State 7 Northern Arizona 8 BYU 9 Iona 10 Harvard 11 Tennessee 12 Florida State 13 Texas 14 Arkansas 15 North Carolina 16 Eastern Kentucky 17 Stanford 18 Gonzaga 19 Syracuse 20 Portland 21 CBU 22 NC State 23 Wake Forest 24 Virginia 25 Michigan 26 Notre Dame 27 New Mexico 28 Air Force 29 Montana State 30 Colorado 31 Georgetown
Women’s projected 2023 NCAA qualifiers
1 Notre Dame 2 Wisconsin 3 Georgetown 4 Penn State 5 Oklahoma State 6 Iowa State 7 Northern Arizona 8 BYU 9 Syracuse 10 Boston College 11 Tennessee 12 Florida 13 Arkansas 14 Texas A&M 15 NC State 16 Furman 17 Stanford 18 Oregon 19 Washington 20 Michigan State 21 Virginia 22 CBU 23 Ole Miss 24 Alabama 25 Lipscomb 26 Utah 27 Colorado 28 Utah Valley 29 Colorado St. 30 Providence 31 Harvard
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