The Warm-Up Lap Part 2: Wisconsin adidas Invitational (& DIII Wisconsin Action)
NEW ORLEANS – Madison, Wis., will be one of the two epicenters of potentially earth-shaking collegiate cross country action this 7weekend, with 38 ranked teams between men and women and more than a quarter of all the top 100 NCAA individual finishers from the 2012 championships in action.
Pretty impressive for a meet that started in 2009.
Formed as an alternative to the annual Pre-National Invitational, the Wisconsin adidas Invitational has grown into perhaps the premiere event of the cross country season. In just four short years the meet’s individual winners have won two NCAA titles — Lawi Lalang of Arizona and Sheila Reid of Villanova, both in 2011 — and one of its team champions has claimed an NCAA title, Wisconsin’s men in 2011. Lalang will be in action again this weekend as the two-time defending champ at the event, joined by women’s individual headliner Abbey D’Agostino of Dartmouth.
This year it is as big as ever, perhaps the biggest meet in the country outside of the NCAA Championships, alongside the Pre-National Invitational that will be run nearly simultaneously in Terre Haute, Ind. Read more about Pre-Nats in yesterday’s The Warm-Up Lap.
As if Wisconsin being a focal point of Division I cross country this weekend wasn’t enough, the state is also hosting two significant Division III meets: UW-Oshkosh’s Brooks Invitational and the UW-La Crosse Jim Drews/Tori Neubauer Invitational. Keep reading for previews of both meets.
So many plotlines, so much intrigue: we’ll break it all down in The Warm-Up Lap.
Ranked Men’s Teams
|3. Northern Arizona|
|13. North Carolina|
|16. Eastern Kentucky|
|25. New Mexico|
|28. Notre Dame|
|30. Arizona State|
RV. Air Force
RV. Michigan State
* Split between Pre-Nats & Wisconsin
No. 3 Northern Arizona’s first big meet since losing to No. 1 Oklahoma State: Granted it was an early-season match-up and granted neither team ran all of its top runners, but the Lumberjacks’ 29-57 loss to the Cowboys on OSU’s turf in late September was enough to set NAU back from No. 2 to No. 3 in the rankings.
As the top-ranked men’s squad in Madison, the Lumberjacks have a golden opportunity to flex the combined muscle of its full squad against the deepest field to be found this season outside of the NCAA championships. All five of their scorers from last year’s fourth-place NCAA championships team are scheduled to suit up together for the first time this season, led by All-Americans Brian Shrader and Futsum Zienasellassie.
Both Zienasellassie and Shrader performed very well at Oklahoma State with fourth- and fifth-place finishes, while Caleb Hoover finished ninth. Absent from that race were Matt McElroy and Nathan Weitz, the Lumberjacks’ No. 3 and No. 5 runners at NCAAs last year, respectively. Both will debut this weekend.
Top-10 Challengers: Northern Arizona won’t be the only top-10 team flexing its muscles this weekend. Joining the Lumberjacks in Madison from the nation’s top 10 are No. 5 BYU, No. 6 Arkansas, No. 7 Portland and No. 8 Columbia.
The Cougars of BYU have been relatively busy in this young season, having already turned in a pair of big wins over now No. 7 Portland at the BYU Autumn Classic, 25-33, and at the Roy Griak Invitational over a host of ranked teams. All-American Tylor Thatcher has led the way with individual wins at both meets, leading a deep squad that placed its top seven runners among the top 29 finishers in a very, very deep Roy Griak Field. Three of the Cougars’ scorers from the 2012 NCAAs will compete in Thatcher, Thomas Gruenewald and Steve Flint, as will Jason Witt, who finished near the back of the pack at the 2012 NCAAs but has been the second Cougar in both of the team’s big races this season.
Arkansas has one of the best top-trios in the nation behind 2012 All-American Kemoy Campbell, steeplechase All-American Stanley Kebenei and Solomon Haile. Campbell has looked particularly strong coming off a two-time All-America 2013 track season, having already pushed individual NCAA champion Kennedy Kithuka at the Arkansas Chile Pepper Invitational and finishing about eight seconds back. The Razorbacks have yet to see a true test this season, and they will get it in Wisconsin.
Columbia’s men may be the surprise of the 2013 cross country season after winning the team title — then as the No. 30 team in the nation — at the Notre Dame Invitational over top-10 squads in Tulsa and Princeton. The Lions’ top three — Nico Composto, Jake Sienko and Daniel Everett — all came in within a second of one another for 12th, 13th and 14th, and their No. 4 was just 12 seconds back in 24th. As a top-10 team, no one will be surprised by the Lions anymore, who are out to prove their ND performance wasn’t just a one-time deal.
Portland’s top men haven’t seen competition since that narrow 25-33 loss to No. 5 BYU, so the Pilots will be well-rested for the occasion. The duo of All-American Scott Fauble and William Kincaid finished third and fourth, respectively, at BYU.
Just outside the top 10 is Syracuse at No. 11, and the Orange are looking to get back in. Top returning runner from NCAAs Joe Whelan will be in the line-up, as is Martin Hehir, who led the Orange with a third-place individual showing to a runner-up team finish to No. 4 Oregon at Boston College in late September.
Looking to Make an At-Large Impression: Regional championships are on the horizon in a month’s time. At each of the nine regional sites, two teams will automatically advance for a total of 18, leaving 13 at-large spots. A number of the teams in Madison this weekend find themselves on the automatic qualifying bubble, per the most recent regional rankings.
- The Mountain Region is deep. So deep, in fact, that No. 5 BYU is the third team in the region behind No. 2 Colorado and No. 3 NAU. If the Cougars keep their current trajectory an at-large bid at worst is very likely. No. 25 New Mexico, considered a darkhorse by many, will also look to bolster its status as the No. 5 team in the region, as will the sixth team, Air Force, which is receiving votes nationally.
- The West is similarly deep, with teams at least receiving national votes through the No. 6 spot in the region. No. 30 Arizona State is fourth in the region rankings, but No. 21 UCLA in the fifth spot is held in higher regard nationally, having been as high as No. 12 two weeks ago. Washington, which is receiving votes nationally, is sixth.
- No. 22 Minnesota in the Midwest is the fourth team in the region rankings, but it is held in higher national esteem than the third team, Oklahoma, which is receiving national votes.
- No. 27 Dartmouth is the fifth team in the Northeast, but will have an opportunity Saturday at Wisconsin to stack up against three of the four teams ahead of it.
- Host No. 20 Wisconsin is second in the Great Lakes Region, but breathing down the Badgers’ necks are No. 28 Notre Dame and national vote-getters Michigan and Michigan State — all of whom are in the field with something to prove. Meanwhile, the Badgers haven’t lost the Great Lakes Regional in the past 11 seasons.
Individuals to Watch: Two-time defending champion Lawi Lalang of Arizona — a finalist for the 2013 The Bowerman for his efforts on the track in 2013 — is back for a third consecutive title. In 2011 his first Wisconsin title was part of a breakout freshman campaign that led to an NCAA title.
Last season Lalang won by four seconds over teammate Stephen Sambu, but Sambu and the next eight finishers from a year ago are gone. Tenth-place finisher Ben Toroitich of Eastern Kentucky, who finished more than a half-minute behind Lalang, is the next-best returner.
A new crop of elite runners will take on Lalang this year, with 13 All-Americans from a year ago in the field.
Shrader of NAU (15th), Andrew Colley of NC State (16th), Campbell of Arkansas (17th) and Ryan Dohner of Texas (19th) are among the top All-Americans looking to keep pace with the two-time meet champ. Campbell has looked especially strong after hanging with defending NCAA champ Kennedy Kithuka at the Arkansas Chile Pepper Festival earlier this month.
Other returning All-Americans who have already made big statements are New Mexico’s Luke Caldwell, who finished runner-up in his season debut to Anthony Rotich of UTEP at the Notre Dame Invitational, and Eastern Kentucky’s Soufianne Bouchikhi, a National Athlete of the Week honoree earlier this season who has won both of his races this season in convincing fashion.
Ranked Women’s Teams
|7. New Mexico|
|9. Michigan State|
|10. San Francisco|
|24. Boston College|
|28. Iowa State|
|30. Notre Dame|
Will No. 1 Providence keep rolling? The last time No. 1 Providence took to the cross country course was in late September at the Boston College Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown, where the Friars took down a field that included defending champion No. 6 Oregon and No. 15 Cornell, then a top-10 squad.
Leading the Friars are the formidable trio of Laura Nagel, Emily Sisson and Sarah Collins — all three of whom are returning All-Americans. Collins may be the top returner based on NCAA performance (10th), but Nagel and Sisson have split the wins in their two races this season. Sisson looked especially strong at Boston College, pulling away from a pack featuring three other All-Americans and a top-100 NCAA finisher in the final mile to win by seven seconds.
Catarina Rocha proved an effective No. 4 at Boston College with a seventh-place finish, but Wisconsin will be a test for the Friars to find their consistent No. 5 to round out their scoring lineup and further entrench themselves as NCAA favorites.
Incredibly deep field: Six other top-10 teams will challenge the Friars for the title in Madison this weekend.
No. 3 Arizona put on a show at the Roy Griak Invitational in its last full competition, with All-American Elvin Kibet leading a pack of four Wildcats in the top eight finishers. Nicci Corbin, Kayla Beattie and Maria Larsson were all within seven seconds at Griak to boost Arizona to a 24-point victory over a deep field that included runner-up Michigan State, now No. 9 in the country.
Battling the Wildcats for Pac-12 and West Region supremacy is No. 4 Washington. Despite losing standout Megan Goethals to injury earlier this season, the Huskies most recently decisively defeated No. 6 Oregon on its home course at the Bill Dellinger Invite in Eugene. Newcomer Amy-Eloise Neale was the top Husky in third place overall, followed by 2011 top-10 NCAA finisher Katie Flood in fifth. All five of the UW runners came through within the top nine of the meet and within 30 seconds of one another.
No. 7 New Mexico is among the nation’s more intriguing teams, as the Lobos nearly pulled off an upset of No. 2 Florida State at the Notre Dame Invitational, narrowly falling by a 77-82 score. Samantha Silve finished third, while Charlotte Arter and Calli Thackery took 10th and 11th, respectively, among six Lobos within the meet’s top 35 — a better distribution than even Florida State. With three teams ranked ahead of them, the New Mexico women have another shot at a big upset in Madison.
No. 8 Arkansas has yet to face a true test this season, but it will make up for it this weekend at Wisconsin. The Razorbacks have dominated their competition this season, most recently claiming a near-perfect 16-point victory at its home Chile Pepper Festival. Grace Heymsfield led the way as the top collegian in the race, heading a pack of five Razorbacks within 20 seconds of one another on a very sloppy course.
Michigan State, the No. 9 team in the nation, was the only team to put its entire scoring lineup of five within the top 20 finishers at the Roy Griak Invitational, led by newcomer Rachele Schulist in ninth and the duo of Leah O’Connor and Katie Landwehr in 12th and 13th, respectively. Defending Big Ten cross country champion Sara Kroll is running unattached for the Spartans.
Another surprise from Notre Dame was the third-place finish by No. 10 San Francisco, yet another West Region team in the top 10. The pair of Bridget Dahlberg and Eva Krchova finished seventh and eighth, respectively, to headline a pack of six finishers within the top 39. The one-through-six spread was second only to No. 7 New Mexico and better than No. 2 Florida State.
Though not technically a top-10 team, No. 17 Duke will be a major player in this meet, as well. The Blue Devils fell from No. 4 to No. 17 after not running its full squad at Notre Dame and finishing 10th as a team as a result. Juliet Bottorff, a former National Athlete of the Week, took the individual title at Notre Dame, and she’ll have the full strength of her squad behind her in Madison as Duke looks to reclaim its top-flight ranking. Top returning NCAA finisher and All-American Kelsey Lakowske will make her season debut, as will Carolyn Baskir, the Blue Devils’ No. 3 at NCAAs last season.
At-Large ramifications: As in the men’s race, the women’s race features a number of teams who will be looking to solidify their resumes just in case they end up vying for one of 13 national championships at-large bids.
- The Northeast Region is incredibly deep with its top seven teams all making an appearance in the most recent National Coaches Poll with at least "also receiving votes" status. No. 13 Dartmouth jumped to No. 2 in the region after a runner-up showing at the Paul Short Run, but right behind them are No. 15 Cornell and No. 24 Boston College, both of which will be in the field. Three teams also receiving votes nationally — Syracuse, Columbia and Harvard — will also look to make a statement.
- The West is just as deep and even more top-heavy, as No. 4 Washington will look to hold on to its second spot — or take the top spot from No. 3 Arizona — in the region while No. 10 San Francisco will look to move up.
- No. 25 Vanderbilt is currently second in the South Region, but vote-receiving Florida, third in the region rankings, will debut its full squad with World Championships 1500 meters qualifier Cory McGee for the first time this season.
- Indiana, receiving votes nationally, is the fourth team in the Great Lakes Region, but the Hoosiers have a precarious grip on the spot as No. 30 Notre Dame occupies the fifth spot. Both teams will look to bolster their status this weekend.
- In the Midwest, No. 22 Minnesota and No. 28 Iowa State will wrangle for the second spot in the regional rankings.
The Individual Race: Headlining the women’s individual competition is the top returning All-American from the 2012 season and the queen of the distance events during the 2013 track season, Abbey D’Agostino of Dartmouth. The senior is coming off a three-national-title track season and has decimated the fields in both of her races this season en route to a National Athlete of the Week nod follow Paul Short.
The NCAA Championships have been kind to Wisconsin winners the past two seasons, as Sheila Reid of Villanova won the meet in 2011 en route to her second consecutive NCAA title, while freshman Laura Hollander of Cal Poly finished ninth at NCAAs after winning in Madison last season. The runner-up in that race was Iowa State’s Betsy Saina, the eventual NCAA champion.
D’Agostino will have to take down a field that includes 10 other All-Americans from the 2012 season and nearly a quarter of the top-100 NCAA finishers.
Collins (10th) and Sisson (15th) of Providence, Kebet of Arizona (19th) and Lakowske of Duke (20th) round out the top five returners from NCAAs in the meet this weekend.
All-Americans who have made a significant impact on the national scene already this year are Bottorff (27th) after her Notre Dame win Arizona State’s Shelby Houlihan (31st), who defeated Kibet by 13 seconds en route to a Griak title and National Athlete of the Week honors.
Boston College’s Liv Westphal (85th) made a statement when she finish fourth in the Battle in Beantown ahead of Providence’s Collins.
It was New England’s chance to shine last weekend, but the Great Lakes and Midwest take the spotlight this weekend with a combined 27 men’s and women’s ranked teams in action between the UW-Oshkosh Brooks Invitational and the UW-La Crosse Jim Drew/Tori Neubauer Invitational.
UW-Oshkosh Brooks Invitational
|1. North Central (Ill.)|
|3. Washington (Mo.)|
|14. UW-Eau Claire|
|29. Augustana (Ill.)|
|9. Trinity (Texas)|
|24. St. Scholastica|
|26. Washington (Mo.)|
A showdown between defending men’s champion No. 1 North Central (Ill.) and No. 3 Washington (Mo.) headlines a men’s field field that includes seven other ranked teams, while a top-10 showdown between No. 6 Chicago, No. 8 Calvin and No. 9 Trinity (Texas) is the main draw of a women’s field that includes six other ranked teams.
Two-time National Athlete of the Week John Crain and his NCC squad are the unanimous No. 1 in the Division after a slew of wins over Division I and II teams, but in the preseason the Cardinals only took six of the first-place votes.
One went to Haverford, and the other went to Washington (Mo.). The Bears will now have a chance to prove themselves against the Division’s top team, led by former National Athlete of the Week Drew Padgett.
No. 7 UW-Oshkosh will look to use its home-field advantage to boost itself to a strong showing against Midwest Region rivals North Central and Washington, and a higher national rank. Also of note is a match-up between No. 13 Wabash and No. 24 Calvin. Calvin has won the last 17 Great Lakes Region titles, but Wabash is in position to snap the streak this season.
In the women’s race, Chicago, Calvin and Trinity are all separated by just 13 votes. The trio, all ranked as the top teams in their respective Midwest, Great Lakes and South/Southeast regions, will have the opportunity to settle it on the course.
Chicago is coming off a strong weekend showing at UW-Parkside where it finished fourth in the mostly- DI and DII field, led by third-place finisher Catherine Young. Calvin took seventh in the Notre Dame Gold race. Trinity’s women were most recently the Division III Pre-Nationals team champions.
Among the other ranked teams is No. 24 St. Scholastica, featuring two-time National Athlete of the Week Chelsea Johnson. Will she notch a third blow-out wire-to-wire win in Oshkosh?
UW-La Crosse Jim Drews/Tori Neubauer Invitational
Headlining the men’s field is a top-10 duel between No. 2 host UW-La Crosse, No. 5 St. Olaf and No. 10 Central (Iowa), in addition to four other ranked teams. The women’s race showcases No. 2 Wartburg against three other ranked teams.
|2. UW-La Crosse|
|5. St. Olaf|
|10. Central (Iowa)|
|16. UW-La Crosse|
|18. St. Olaf|
Former National Athlete of the Week David Stilin will lead UW-La Crosse — already with a runner-up finish in the Division II section at Roy Griak under its belt — against an upstart St. Olaf program that has reached its highest national rank since the beginning of USTFCCCA records in 2006.
Central (Iowa) is looking to continue its climb back into the top 10. After beginning the preseason at No. 7, the Dutch had dropped as far as No. 32 in the rankings, but have worked their way back to No. 10. Central has a bone to pick with St. Olaf, as the Oles usurped the Dutch from the top spot in the Central Region week one rankings.
No. 2 Wartburg is the main attraction in the women’s race. The Knights were the runaway team winners in the Roy Griak Maroon III race, placing all five scoring runners within the top 21 finishers led by Alana Enabnit and Sammi Bruett in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Finishing ahead of the Wartburg duo at the Griak was former National Athlete of the Week Noelle Olson of St. Olaf, who finished runner-up. Olson and her No. 18 St. Olaf squad will also be in the field.