The Warm-Up Lap (Part 2/3): Midwestern/South Regions in Divisions I & III
NEW ORLEANS – The Midwestern states are home to two of the longest active regional championship streaks among all NCAA cross country teams with the Calvin men’s 17-straight in Division III and the Wisconsin men’s 11-straight in Division I. Both teams are in their divisions’ Great Lakes Region, and both are defending their streaks on their home courses this weekend in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Madison, Wis., respectively.
Both teams are also in very real danger of losing those streaks.
No. 19 Wisconsin already lost one streak with a Big Ten Championships defeat, and is ranked third in the region entering this meet, while No. 18 Calvin is tied atop its regional ranking with No. 20 Wabash. The two were separated by just one point at the UW-Oshkosh Brooks Invitational in their most recent meeting.
That Great Lakes Region drama is only one storyline this weekend taking place around the country. In this edition of The Warm-Up Lap, Division I regionals in the Great Lakes, Midwest and South regions get in-depth looks, as do Division III’s Great Lakes, Midwest and South/Southeast regions. Today’s installment is the second part of a three-section series previewing all the regional championships this weekend. Yesterday’s covered meets on the East Coast, with the next focusing on the western half of the U.S.
A host of ranked women’s teams in the Great Lakes, headlined by No. 6 Michigan State, will duel for the pair of at-large bids and defending Division I men’s national champion No. 3 Oklahoma State is in action in the Midwest, while the No. 5 Florida State women headline the South region.
The Division III Midwest region men’s race features 10(!) teams that appear in the latest National Coaches Poll, including two-time defending national champion North Central (Ill.) and No. 2 Washington (Mo.). The women’s race in the South/Southeast Region in Newport News, Va., is the headliner at that meet with No. 12 Trinity (Tex.), the Pre-Nationals Champion.
The number 11 looms large over the Great Lakes Region. The Wisconsin men’s 11-year reign atop the region is in limbo following its third-place showing at the Big Ten Championships — snapping its 14-year winning streak in the conference.
The biggest threat to the Badgers’ region streak is the same team that interrupted its conference streak: Indiana, ranked — wait for it — No. 11 in the nation and No. 1 in the region. The Hoosiers, led by freshman Jason Crist in fifth place, put four runners among the top 10 individual finishers to take down No. 16 Michigan and No. 19 Wisconsin in the final kilometer, 51-66-71.
Michigan was the only team at Big Tens with five top-20 finishers, led by ninth-place Mason Ferlic. Wisconsin, meanwhile, had only one top-10 finisher in the meet — individual champ freshman Malachy Schrobilgen. The Badgers seemed to be the favorite in the region prior to Big Ten meet after a fourth-place finish in a loaded Wisconsin adidas Invitational field.
At third, the Badgers are positioned in the regional rankings just outside one of the top two automatic qualifying spots. No. 22 Notre Dame is the other ranked team battling for an auto or at-large bid.
The top-ranked No. 6 Michigan State women are set to get a big boost with 2012 Big Ten individual champion Sara Kroll set to make her 2013 debut. Even in her absence, the Spartans displayed both strength and depth en route to a Big Ten title with runner-up Leah O’Connor leading three top-10 finishers and seven in the top 21. MSU defeated rival No. 14 Michigan, 43-55.
Challenging MSU is another top-10 team in No. 9 Butler, which finished third in the Big East behind No. 2 Providence and No. 4 Georgetown, 28-47-66. Mara Olson and Katie Clark finished eighth and ninth, respectively to lead the Bulldogs, who narrowly finished third to No. 5 Florida State at the Pre-National Invitational in mid-October.
MSU and Butler theoretically occupy the two auto bids, per the regional rankings, leaving two-time defending regional champ No. 14 Michigan, No. 21 Notre Dame and three national vote receiving teams in Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin all vying to usurp one of those two teams and/or build a case for at-large national consideration.
Juli Accurso of Ohio is the defending regional champion, and is coming off her third consecutive Mid-American Conference title.
November 15 | Meet Home | Ames, Iowa (Host: Iowa State)
The Midwest Region is home to Oklahoma State, the No. 3 defending men’s national champion and winner of three of the past four national titles. The Cowboy’s recent national success is the culmination of an even longer streak of regional dominance, with regional champion trophies from seven of the past eight years residing in Stillwater.
Winners of the past two region titles, Oklahoma State again enters as the top-ranked team in the region. The Cowboys have only rolled out their top runners for a couple meets, winning against No. 2 Northern Arizona in late September and claiming a sixth consecutive Big 12 title. OSU recorded three of the top five individual finishers at Big 12’s, including runner-up Kirubel Erassa and third-place Shadrack Kipchirchir. Those two also finished second and third at the Cowboy Jamboree, followed by fellow All-American Tom Farrell.
A preseason top-five squad, No. 13 Tulsa enters as the Conference USA champion. Top runner and defending region champion Chris O’Hare finished third at Pre-Nationals behind Kithuka and UTEP’s Anthony Rotich and was runner-up to Rotich at the C-USA championships. The Golden Hurricanes recorded five of the top eight finishers at C-USAs to take the title, and finished fifth at Pre-Nationals.
No. 24 Iowa State — distant runners-up to OSU at Big 12 — and three national vote receiving teams in Oklahoma, Minnesota and Illinois are the next four teams in line to either dethrone OSU and/or Tulsa for an auto bid or notch head-to-head wins for at-large consideration.
The No. 7 Iowa State women enter as three-time defending region champions, and are the top-ranked team in this year’s field. Led by Big 12 runner-up Crystal Nelson and seven top-20 finishers, the Cyclones won the conference by nearly 70 points over Texas, 35-104. Iowa State was also fifth in a very strong Wisconsin adidas Invitational field.
No. 16 Minnesota is the only other nationally ranked team in the region and is in position to take one of the automatic bids, per the region rankings. The Golden Gophers were eighth at Wisconsin as one of only four teams with six or more top-80 finishers, led by 45th-place Molly Kayfes, and were third at the Big Ten Championships behind No. 6 Michigan State and No. 14 Michigan, 43-55-68.
National vote earning Oklahoma State is the first team outside the perceived top-two bubble.
With very few nationally-ranked teams — in fact, only the No. 5 Florida State women — in the field at the South Region Championships, finishing in the top two and securing an automatic bid into NCAAs is perhaps more important than in most other regions. The region’s scarcity of ranked teams likely won’t allow teams to build a robust head-to-head record needed for at-large consideration.
Those Florida State women are three times the defending champions in the region, and winners of the past five six. FSU, which was ranked No. 2 in the nation, fell to its current No. 5 slot after a runner-up showing at Pre-Nationals. The duo of Colleen Quigley — the 2012 runner-up in the region — and Hannah Walker is one of the best in the nation, leading FSU to its sixth ACC title in a row and the team title at the Notre Dame Invitational.
With FSU firmly at the top of the region per the national polls, a pair of teams receiving national votes in Florida and Vanderbilt will battle to either usurp Florida State or take the final auto bid. Vanderbilt was a nationally ranked team earlier this season, but Florida defeated the Commodores at the SEC Championships in fourth and fifth, respectively. The Gators’ Agata Strausa was fourth in the SEC individually, just ahead of Vanderbilt’s Liz Anderson in fifth.
Florida and Georgia are the two most nationally prominent teams in the men’s race as national vote earning programs. Led by a pair of top-10 finishers in fifth-place Jimmy Clark and Mark Parrish, the Gators were runners-up in the SEC to No. 9 Arkansas, 31-96. The Gators finished just ahead of Georgia’s 101 points, led by fourth-place finisher Lucas Baker.
Other challengers include two-time defending region champ Florida State, Auburn and Atlantic Sun Lipscomb, in order based on the regional rankings. Florida State’s Jakub Zivec is the defending individual champion.
The longest active streak of regional title championships in the entire NCAA resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with the No. 18 Calvin men who have claimed each of the past 17 Great Lakes Region titles. Coincidentally, the 2013 Great Lakes meet also resides in Grand Rapids, where the streak could either stretch to 18 — or be claimed by another team for the first time in nearly two decades.
As the regional rankings currently stand, Calvin is tied atop the Great Lakes Region with No. 20 Wabash, with the tiebreaker on Saturday on Calvin’s turf.
The Knights claimed their 27th straight MIAA title two weeks ago behind six of the top 10 individual finishers, and were seventh at the loaded UW-Oshkosh Brooks Invitational.
UW-Oshkosh was a significant indicator of what could be in store in this meet, as Wabash finished just one single point back in eighth place, 234-235. The Little Giants’ conference performance at the NCAC meet was similarly impressive as Calvin’s with five of the top nine individual finishers.
OAC champ Mount Union and HCAC runner-up Manchester are two other team in the receiving-national-votes category either competing for one of the two auto spots or building an at-large case.
The women’s race features five nationally ranked teams all vying for just two auto spots, leaving the rest to fend for themselves in the at-large pool. No. 5 Calvin and No. 13 Oberlin are in position to qualify as the top two teams in the rankings, ahead of defending region champion No. 18 Hope, No. 25 Case Western Reserve and No. 31 Ohio Wesleyan.
Calvin won the MIAA behind individual champ Cassandra Vince — a former National Athlete of the Week — and five of the top eight finishers to defeat Hope, 21-36. Two weeks prior, the Knights were team champions in a very strong UW-Oshkosh Brooks Invitational field as the only team with six top-35 finishers, and one of just two teams with multiple top-10 finishers.
Oberlin was the champ at the NCAC Championships behind four top-10 finishers, and it finished fifth in a deep Oberlin Inter-Regional Rumble field.
Four of the past five Division III men’s titles have been won by North Central (Ill.), and in all five of those seasons the Cardinals first claimed the Midwest Region. As the No. 1 team in the nation in 2013, North Central is again the favorite to take the region and national titles, but will have to do so over a field loaded with ranked teams.
Behind NCC are, in order of their national rank, No. 2 Washington (Mo.), No. 4 UW-La Crosse, No. 9 UW-Eau Claire, No. 11 UW-Oshkosh, No. 17 Chicago, No. 25 UW-Stout, No. 30 Wheaton (Ill.) and No. 35 UW-Platteville — not to mention national-vote-receiving Augustana (Ill.) — for a total of ten nationally acclaimed teams battling for just two assured bids into NCAAs.
Recently, 40-time defending CCIW champ No. 1 North Central and three-time National Athlete of the Week John Crain defeated No. 2 Washington — and a number of the region’s other top teams — head-to-head for the UW-Oshkosh title, 33-64. The Bears’ own former two-time National Athlete of the Week Drew Padgett, was runner-up to Crain.
In the WIAC, UW-La Crosse narrowly edged out UW-Eau Claire and UW-Oshkosh, 53-58-66. The Eagles had three top-10 individuals, while UW-Eau Claire, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Stout each recorded a pair of top-10 finishers.
Chicago most recently finished third at the UAA Championships, while Wheaton (Ill.) and Augustana (Ill.) were second and third at the CCIW meet, respectively.
Outside the top two automatic qualifiers, whichever teams finish highly will have very strong at-large cases.
By comparison, the four nationally ranked teams and two others receiving national votes in the women’s race may seem like a small field. No. 7 Chicago leads the way, followed by No. 17 Washington (Mo.), No. 19 UW-La Crosse and No. 27 UW-Stevens Point, along with vote-getters Augustana (Ill.) and North Central (Ill.). Not to mention defending region champion UW-Eau Claire, who has won the region in three of the past four years.
Chicago narrowly claimed the UAA title over No. 9 NYU, 54-60, behind individual runner-up Catherine Young, and was runner-up to Calvin at UW-Oshkosh. Washington was fourth at the UAA meet behind individual champion Lucy Cheadle, the runner-up in the region last season.
UW-La Crosse won the WIAC easily behind individual champion Laura Mead, scoring 34 points to UW-Stevens Points’ 78 and the 86 points scored by both UW-River Falls and UW-Eau Claire.
As in the men’s race, the teams just outside the two auto slots will amass a significant number of head-to-head wins toward potential at-large bids.
Pre-Nationals women’s champion No. 12 Trinity (Texas) is the lone ranked team in the South/Southeast Region as the defending region winner.
The Tigers were dominant in winning the SCAC title behind individual winner Maddie Murphy and the top five finishers for a total of 15 points. Murphy was also the Tigers’ top finisher with a fourth-place finish at Pre-Nationals, where they defeated Division II NCAA Championships qualifier Lewis, 44-73.
Per the region rankings, Emory — receiving votes nationally — is in position to take the second automatic bid. Centre, Bridgewater (Va.) and host Christopher Newport round out the top five teams in the region.
Lynchburg is the three-time defending men’s champion in the region, but is ranked fifth in the region heading into the 2013 meet.
Centre, led by two-time defending individual champion John Kieffer, is the top-ranked team in the region. Kieffer led his squad to a team championship at the SAA meet behind six top-10 finishers.
Second in the region rankings is Bridgewater (Va.), the ODAC champions. It was the only team in the meet with seven top-25 finishers, and no other team — including three-time defending region champ Lynchburg — had more than four.
Per the region rankings, Christopher Newport, which finished runner-up in the Capital Conference, Emory and Lynchburg are the next three teams in line beyond the two auto bids.
Check back for the final installment of The Warm-Up Lap featuring Region Championship previews from the Division I Mountain, South Central and West regions and the Division III Central and West regions.