The Warm-Up Lap (Part 3/3): Western Regionals in Divisions I & III

The Warm-Up Lap (Part 3/3): Western Regionals in Divisions I & III

NEW ORLEANS – With both top-ranked Division I squads in action, two of the deepest DI regions and  a number of top-flight Division III match-ups, Regional Championships in the western half of the country are shaping up to be some of the most important in the country.

Regional Championships Central: Division I | Division III
NCAA Championships Qualification

The  No. 1 Colorado men headline a stacked Mountain Region field, while the No. 1 Arizona women lead a similarly deep field in the West Region. Before they try to prove those rankings are true at the NCAA Championships, they must both survive regions loaded with seven ranked teams apiece.  

The South Central region fields aren’t as nationally acclaimed as the Mountain’s and West’s, but with fewer ranked teams comes higher stakes. With the possibility of at-large berths slimmer, attaining one of the top two spots and their accompanying automatic NCAA Championships bids becomes even more crucial.

Meanwhile in Division III, the Central and West Regions feature multiple top-10 teams and a number of ranked teams that will be left fending for at-large consideration if they don’t clinch the regions’ two automatic qualifying spots into the NCAA Championships.

This is the final section of a three-part regional preview. Regional championships on the East Coast and in the Midwestern/South states preceding this edition of The Warm-Up Lap.

Division I

Mountain Region

November 15 | Meet Home | Ogden, Utah (Host: Weber State)

Nowhere in Division I is there a deeper, more top-heavy field than the men’s race in Ogden, Utah, for the Mountain Region championships. Take No. 5 BYU for instance. Despite being the fifth-ranked team in the nation, the Cougars are third in the region among seven ranked teams and on the outside looking in at the two auto-qualifying bids in the region.

Those top two spots will be tough to crack as they are currently occupied by No. 1 Colorado and No. 2 Northern Arizona.

The Buffaloes are coming off a Pac-12 title over No. 4 Oregon and No. 6 Stanford, 28-54-79, with third-place Blake Theroux leading five CU runners in the top nine. In their only other national-level competition, the Colorado men won the Pre-National Invitational over No. 4 Oregon, No. 7 Iona and No. 6 Stanford. Colorado is going for its first regional title since 2008.

Northern Arizona is the defending region champion. The Lumberjacks claimed the Big Sky title most recently, with a team victory at the Wisconsin adidias Invitational before that over region foe No. 5 BYU, 121-174. In a very deep field, Futsum Zienasellassie finished sixth to lead six finishers in the top 50.

In addition to finishing runner-up at Wisconsin, a very deep No. 5 BYU team claimed titles at the WCC meet and the Roy Griak behind a one-two punch of former National Athlete of the Week Jason Witt and Tylor Thatcher. Sitting at third in the region, BYU will try to take down either or both Colorado and Northern Arizona for its first region title since 2011, or could solidify an impressive at-large resume whilst trying.

The Cougars will get a boost as earlier Thursday the NCAA reinstated 2012 All-American Jared Ward after he was controversially ruled ineligible due to participation in a fun run back in 2009. Ward was the third overall finisher in the region a year ago.

Other teams looking to take one of those two spots or build at-large cases are Mountain West champion No. 11 New Mexico, No. 23 Colorado State, No. 27 Southern Utah and No. 29 Air Force.

Individually, defending national and regional champion Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech will look to keep an undefeated season going, having already notched five wins this season including titles at the Big 12 meet and Pre-Nationals.

On the women’s side, a pair of top-10 squads in No. 8 New Mexico and  No. 10 Colorado are in position to take the two auto spots, with national-vote-receiving BYU third in the region rankings. Before Weber State took the region title last year, both New Mexico and Colorado tied for the win in 2011.

New Mexico’s season includes a near-defeat of No. 5 Florida State, 77-82, at the Notre Dame Invitational, a sixth-place finish in a deep Wisconsin adidas Invitational field and a dominant win in the Mountain West. At Notre Dame, Samantha Silva finished third overall to lead three Lobos among the top 11 individuals.

Last time out, Colorado nearly defeated No. 1 Arizona at the Pac-12 Championships, losing by just six points, 69-75. Led by eight-place finisher Shalaya Kipp, the Buffaloes were the only team at the meet with four top-15 finishers. Two weeks prior, Colorado was seventh at the Pre-National Invitational.

Defending region champ Weber State is fourth in the region rankings.

South Central Region

November 15 | Meet Home | Waco, Texas (Host: Baylor)

The Arkansas Razorbacks are the headliners at the South Central Region in both the men’s and women’s races. The No. 9 men and No. 25 Texas are the only two nationally ranked teams in their race, while the No. 3 Arkansas women and No. 28 Texas A&M are the only top-30 teams in theirs.

Kemoy Campbell, the closest competitor to Kithuka this season with a runner-up finish at the Chile Pepper Festival, leads a potent top three for SEC champion Arkansas with former National Athlete of the Week Stanley Kebenei and Solomon Haile. Not only did Campbell lead the Razorbacks to the SEC crown, but he also claimed the individual title at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational. After a disappointing seventh-place finish at Wisconsin as a team knocked them out of the top 10, the Razorbacks jumped back in with their SEC title.

Two-time defending region champion Texas was 18th at Wisconsin behind 14th place Craig Lutz, and finished third at the Big 12 meet just behind No. 24 Iowa State, 77-80. Ryan Dohner was fourth and Lutz sixth at Big 12s.

Next in line for the two auto bids, per the regional rankings, are Sun Belt champ UT-Arlington, Southland champion Lamar and Texas A&M.

The No. 3 women of Arkansas weren’t far behind No. 1 Arizona at Wisconsin, finishing runner-up, 117-136, as the only team in the field with seven top-80 individual finishers. Sixth-place Grace Heymsfield and eighth-place Dominique Scott led the way at Wisconsin, and the pair again led the two-time defending region champion Razorbacks to a dominant SEC win over No. 28 Texas A&M, 32-123.

The Aggies are in position to take the second spot, ahead of American champion SMU, Texas — with defending individual champion Marielle Hall — and UTSA.

West Region

November 15 | Meet Home | Sacramento, Calif. (Host: Sacramento State) | Timing Site | Meet Entries
The No. 1 Arizona women. Three top-10 men’s teams. Seven total ranked women’s teams and six teams appearing in the national men’s poll. All of this combines to form one of the most intriguing regions in the nation: the West.

Arizona’s women lead a field that includes No. 12 Washington, defending national and regional champion No. 15 Oregon, No. 17 San Francisco, No. 18 Stanford, No. 25 Boise State and No. 26 Arizona State. Prior to Oregon’s title last year, Washington had claimed the previous four titles.

The Pac-12 champion Wildcats will look to bounce back from a near-defeat to No. 10 Colorado at the Pac-12 meet in their first meet at No. 1. Elvin Kibet was runner-up individually to lead Arizona to a 69-75 win over Colorado behind three top-five finishers. Before that, a win at Wisconsin behind seventh-place Kayla Beattie and four top-25 finishers — no other team had more than three — boosted Arizona to No. 1.

Washington was narrowly ahead of Oregon at the Pac-12 meet, finishing third and fourth by a score of 111-113. The Huskies were ninth at Wisconsin and Oregon was fifth at Pre-Nationals, and Washington already has a head-to-head win over Oregon at the Bill Dellinger Invitational.

Behind Washington at Wisconsin was West Coast Conference champion San Francisco in 10th. The Dons finished third at the Notre Dame Invitational earlier in the season behind seventh- and eighth-place finishers Bridget Dahlberg and Eva Krchova.

Stanford has one of the most dangerous one-two combinations in the nation behind Pre-Nationals runner-up and Pac-12 Champion Aisling Cuffe and Jessica Tonne. The Cardinal was fifth at the Pac-12 meet and ninth at Pre-Nationals. The individual winner who beat out Cuffe at Pre-Nationals was former National Athlete of the Week and Mountain West champ Emma Bates of No. 25 Boise State. The Broncos were runners-up to No. 8 New Mexico in the Mountain West.

No. 26 Arizona State and former National Athlete of the Week Shelby Houlihan — the individual winner at Roy Griak — round out the ranked teams in the region.

With so many ranked teams in the region, whichever team finish just shy of the two automatic NCAA bids will be in a good position to earn at-large berths with numerous head-to-head wins.

On the men’s side, No. 4 Oregon, No. 6 Stanford and No. 10 Portland will all battle for the two automatic bids in the region, along with No. 28 Arizona State, No. 29 Washing and national vote earner Boise State.

The Ducks finished runner-up to No. 1 Colorado at both the Pre-National Invitational and the Pac-12 Championships. Freshman Edward Cheserek has been a significant pick-up for Oregon this season, with a conference title among his two wins and a fourth-place finish at Pre-Nationals. Cheserek led three Ducks in the top 10 at Pac-12s in a 28-54 loss to Colorado.

If not for an off day for fellow freshman phenom Sean McGorty — the fifth-place finisher at Pre-Nationals — at the Pac-12 Championships due to illness, No. 6 Stanford very likely could have finished runner-up at the meet. The Cardinal did have runner-up Jim Rosa leading four top-20 individual finishers, and he was among three top-15 finishers at Pre-Nationals for Stanford — the only team that accomplished the feat.

Like West Coast Conference rival No. 5 BYU in the Mountain Region, No. 10 Portland is a top-10 national team that finds itself third in the region — outside the two auto bids as the rankings currently stand. The Pilots were third behind BYU at Wisconsin, led by 15th-place Scott Fauble.

If they don’t manage to attain one of the auto bids, Portland, along with No. 28 Arizona State, No. 29 Washington and Boise State, will all battle for at-large positioning.

Division III

Central Region

November 16 | Meet Home | Northfield, Minn. (Host: St. Olaf) | Entries: Men/Women

A pair of third-ranked teams — both defending region titles in 2013 — atop fields with five ranked teams headline the men’s and women’s races at the Central Region Championships.

The No. 3 Wartburg women were runners-up at the 2012 NCAA Championships and have won each of the past two Central Region titles behind individual runner-up Alana Enabnit both times. Enabnit and fellow top runner Sammi Bruett did not compete in Wartburg’s dominant IIAC title performance, but are entered to compete this weekend.

MIAC Champion No. 15 Carleton is in line for the second auto bid according to the most recent regional rankings. The Knights were the only team in the MIAC field with three top-10 finishers, led by fifth-place Colette Celichowski.

In winning the MIAC, Carleton edged out No. 22 St. Olaf, 51-69., and the Oles will get a chance to even the score at the Central Region Championships. St. Olaf recorded the top two individual finishers in former National Athlete of the Week Noelle Olson and Jorden Johnson. In early October, St. Olaf finished third at the UW-Blugold Invitational to Carleton’s fifth.

Host St. Olaf, No. 30 St. Benedict and No. 33 Loras will all be battling to take one of the two auto bids or notch wins for at-large consideration.

Individually, St. Scholastica’s Chelsea Johnson — two times a National Athlete of the Week — will look to claim the region’s  individual title for the first time after finishing third behind Enabnit a year ago. The UMAC individual champion has claimed five wins this season.

The host St. Olaf men are the top team in their Central Region rankings with No. 10 Central (Iowa) occupying the second spot.

Individual MIAC  champion Grant Wintheiser led the Oles to sweep the top three individual places at the conference meet en route to putting six runners in the top 10 for a 20-81 win over No. 33 Carleton. Two weeks before, the Oles made their biggest statement of the season with a 41-96-104 win over No. 4 UW-La Crosse and Central (Iowa) with four top-10 individual runners at UW-La Crosse.

The Oles are the defending champion, but teams haven’t been able to get a firm grasp on the region of late. Before St. Olaf the region title went to Nebraska Wesleyan, Grinnell and a tie between Nebraska Wesleyan and St. Thomas before that.

Central (Iowa) enters after an up-and-down season in the national polls, dropping as low as the low-30s. That third-place finish at UW-La Crosse boosted them up into the top third of the rankings behind runner-up Austin O’Brien, and an IIAC title solidified that rank behind individual champ O’Brien and the top three finishers. The Dutch defeated Pre-Nationals champion No. 22 Loras, No. 28 Luther and Wartburg to claim the IIAC. 31-54-64-74.

The aforementioned Loras, Luther, Carleton and Wartburg will attempt to upheave one of those two top-10 teams and/or accumulate head-to-head wins.

West Region

November 16 | Meet Home | Claremont, Calif. (Host: Pomona-Pitzer) | Timing Site

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is the defending West Region champion in both the men’s and women’s race, having won four of the past five titles in the latter.

The No. 8 CMS women are by far the top-ranked team in the region, well ahead of No. 28 Willamette and No. 35 Whitworth. The Athenas were victors at the SCIAC Championships behind seven top-20 finishers, led by individual runner-up Adele Eslinger. CMS defeated Occidental, 31-54.

Should region rankings hold true to form, a pair of NWC squads will be battling for the second auto spot in NWC Champion Willamette and runner-up Whitworth. Behind individual winner Michaela Freeby and runner-up Taylor Ostrander among four top-10 finishers, Willamette claimed the title, 37-52, over Whitworth’s three top-10 finishers.

The men’s race is much closer on paper, with defending region champion CMS and defending individual winner Zorg Loustalet at No. 29 — behind NWC Champion No. 23 Willamette but ahead of host No. 35 Pomona-Pitzer in the all-important second spot.

Individual NWC champion Parker Bennett led Willamette to its conference title, while Loustalet finished third at the SCIAC Championships for CMS to lead them to a narrow conference title over Pomona-Pitzer, 51-57.

CMS had seven top-20 finishers at the SCIAC meet, and both CMS and Pomona Pitzer registered two top-10 individual finishers.

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