The Warm-Up Lap: Ranked Team Match-Ups Around the Country

The Warm-Up Lap: Ranked Team Match-Ups Around the Country

NEW ORLEANS – Week three of the 2013 NCAA cross country season is set to deliver some of the season’s best match-ups to date across all three divisions and 2013 debuts by a number of prominent individuals and teams, including at least one top Division I individual title contender.

Two meets on opposite sides of the country are shaping up to be the top events of the Division I calendar this weekend, as Saturday will feature the Dartmouth Invitational — including the 2013 debut of a certain Dartmouth distance star — and the BYU Autumn Classic.

Meanwhile in Division II and Division III, the state of Michigan takes center stage with significant DII competition at Michigan State’s Spartan Invitational and a large DIII presence at the Calvin Knights Invitational. Farther east, Kutztown will play host to its own Division II/Division III Challenge.

Between teams taking early-season breaks after shaking some rust off and teams coalescing into larger invitationals, the overall number of meets is down into the mid-80s from the 120+ of a week ago (see the full weekend slate via the USTFCCA Infozone This Weekend’s Meets page). But by no means does the decrease in quantity translate to a decrease in quality, which will be evident as The Warm-Up Lap takes you through each division below.

In addition, be sure to take a look at the headlines in the news that have caught our attention in the past week in the From the Wire section.

Division I

Hanover, N.H., is the site of what may be DI’s top meet of the weekend, as the Dartmouth Invitational field includes three men’s teams ranked in the top 30 and the 2013 debuts of the No. 6 Georgetown women’s squad and Dartmouth senior Abbey D’Agostino — 2012 NCAA cross country runner-up and the top returning individual finisher in the country.

D’Agostino is the back-to-back NCAA outdoor 5000 meters champion and also claimed indoor 3000 and 5000 meters titles in 2013, but an XC title is still missing from her resume with only one season left to check that off the list. Her journey in pursuit of an individual title will begin against the team champions from 2011, Georgetown. The Hoyas finished a disappointing 12th at NCAAs in 2012 in their bid for a title defense, but return three of their five scorers from a year ago and one scorer from that 2011 title team in junior Katrina Coogan.

The men’s race will feature No. 29 Dartmouth hosting No. 9 Syracuse and No. 24 Georgetown in the largest meeting of ranked men’s teams in Division I this weekend.

A 2,348-mile drive very nearly due west would put you in Provo, Utah, where the No. 4 BYU men (and unranked women) will host the BYU Autumn Classic. A pair of western top-10 powers will square off in the men’s race as the Cougars take on No. 8 Portland, while the No. 24 Weber State women headline their race.

The drive from Dartmouth to BYU (don’t plan on catching both meets in one day; Google estimates at least 35-hour drive) would take you by Penn State, where on Friday the Nittany Lions will put on the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational. University Park is the site of the final top-30 match-up in Division I this weekend, as No. 11 Penn State toes the line against No. 29 West Virginia. A number of top Division III teams will also compete — check their preview below to find out who.

Elsewhere, both No. 1 teams are in action this weekend: the Oklahoma State men at Kentucky’s Bluegrass Invitational and the Providence women at the Stony Brook Invitational.

Making their 2013 debuts as ranked teams on the men’s side are No. 10 Princeton, No. 11 Eastern Kentucky, No. 18 Columbia, No. 23 Florida, No. 24 Georgetown and No. 27 Villanova. Joining them from the women’s polls are No. 6 Georgetown, No. 12 Villanova and No. 28 Princeton.

Division II

"If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you," the Michigan state motto proclaims. If you’re looking for a cross country meet loaded with top-25 Division II teams, the pleasant peninsula in question is the Mitten State’s Lower Peninsula, specifically East Lansing where Michigan State will host its annual Spartan Invitational Friday. Between men and women, nine teams ranked in the preseason Division II National Coaches Polls will be in attendance — nearly 20 percent of all the Division’s ranked teams.

The women’s race looks to be the headliner, as defending champion and preseason No. 1 Grand Valley State will make its 2013 debut alongside four other teams ranked in the preseason top-25. GLIAC rivals No. 11 Hillsdale and No. 15 Ferris State join the Lakers on the start line, as do No. 18 Indiana (Pa.) and No. 20 Southern Indiana. GVSU will take its first steps in a bid to become the first DII women’s team to win back-to-back NCAA titles since Adams state reeled off seven straight from 2003 through 2009.

GVSU’s men, ranked No. 5, are also the top DII squad in the men’s race ahead of No. 10 Southern Indiana, No. 11 Southern Indiana and No. 25 Ferris State.

The Spartan Invitational is one of a handful of meets around the country hosting multiple ranked teams. Washington’s Sundodger Invitational (Saturday) will serve as the season debuts for Chico State (No. 4 men, No. 5 women) and the No. 13 Simon Fraser women’s squad, and will also feature the No. 16 Western Washington men.

On the other side of Lake Michigan in another state that claims to be shaped like a mitten, UW-Parkside’s Midwest Open (Saturday) will feature top-10 teams in the No. 8 Edinboro men and the No. 9 Winona State women alongside Edinboro’s No. 24 women’s crew. Check out the Division III section below to see which top-35 squads from one Division down will be joining them.

To the south of the Great Lakes in Pennsylvania is Kutztownn which is hosting a Division II/Division III Challenge (Saturday). The No. 6 Shippensburg women will take on No. 19 Stonehill, while the No. 17 Lock Haven men headline their race. The meet will also feature ranked Division III squads — find out more in the Division III preview section.

Division III

Michigan also happens to be the location of one of the top Division III meets of the weekend, as Calvin hosts its Calvin Knights Invitational in Grand Rapids on Saturday. Seven ranked teams between the men’s and women’s races will compete, the most of any Division III meet in the country this weekend.

The No. 9 Calvin men highlight a field featuring two other ranked teams in No. 29 Manchester and No. 33 Case Western. Just last November, the Calvin men finished tied with Hanover as runners-up at the NCAA Division III National Championships, but they now find themselves just inside the national top 10 at No. 9 following the graduation of all but one of their seven runners who competed at NCAAs a year ago, including all five scorers. A new unit of Knights will look to make a statement of their own this season, beginning with a strong home opener.

The No. 11 Calvin women are the best-ranked squad in their race, joined by No. 21 Kenyon, their bitter rival No. 26 Hope and No. 35 Case Western. Hope will also send student-athletes to Michigan State to compete.

Wisconsin accompanies Michigan as a state active with ranked teams, as a pair of schools in the University of Wisconsin system are set to host meets with multiple top-tier teams in attendance. UW-River Falls will host the only top-10 match-up in Division III this weekend as the No. 3 UW-La Crosse men take on No. 10 UW-Eau Claire. Both women’s squads are also ranked: Eau Claire at No. 6 and La Crosse No. 16. Meanwhile, the UW-Parkside meet will feature UW-Oshkosh (No. 20 men, No. 34 women).

Pennsylvania is similarly active with ranked teams competing at both Penn State and Kutztown. The Division I and II schools at Penn State will be challenged by the best women’s team Division III has to offer in defending champion and preseason favorite Johns Hopkins, in addition to No. 17 SUNY Geneseo. The men’s race will include three of Division III’s top 35 in No. 18 Johns Hopkins, No. 21 SUNY Cortland and No. 32 SUNY Geneseo. Meanwhile Dickinson will be the ranked representative for Division II at Kutztown’s Division II/III Challenge.

Rounding out the tour of the Great Lakes region is Illinois, where defending men’s champion and preseason favorite North Central (Ill.) will split its squad between the Illinois State Invitational and the Illinois Intercollegiate, which will also feature Chicago (No. 13 women, No. 33 men).

Out west, the UC-Riverside Invitational will host a pair of ranked men’s teams in No. 14 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and No. 26 Pomona-Pitzer — in addition to No. 24 Cal Baptist of Division II — and the No. 5 CMS women and No. 25 Cal State Stanislaus women of DII.

From the Wire

What’s hot in the world of track & field and cross country this week? Here’s what the USTFCCCA has been following: