The Warm-Up Lap: Cross Country 2014 is Here – Info to Get You Started
NEW ORLEANS—Knowing you aren’t the best is hard. In my job, I know it; I just read Spencer Hall’s annual college football preseason essay, and I know that is the best thing anyone will write before a college fall sport starts.
If you’re a 15:30 or 14:30 or even, in this era, a 13:30 5k man, you know it too. The gorgeous Matrix that is TFRRS makes sure you know exactly where you stand, for better or worse. The surety of that knowledge is ridiculous: in 2014, if you were a Division I woman with a very respectable 4:35 1500 PR, you know you didn’t crack the nation’s top 500 times listed in the database.
In a sport that’s been mostly bleached of any messy subjectivity, cross country remains wonderfully untamed and unknowable.
Today is opening day of cross country season for Divisions I and III, and it is a stone cold lock that in some 4k or 6k in some corner of the country, a callow harrier will lead a national contender for hundreds or even thousands of meters before staggering to an exceedingly painful finish. Because he or she just didn’t know.
Track & field is spectacular, but you can’t help knowing. “What’s his split?!”, the eternal refrain of the track fan or coach. No one cares about splits in cross country. It’s pretty difficult to know them accurately, or at least to observe them in real time. Speed ratings, polls, and past times remain pretty unhelpful in predicting races held on grass in the future, and that’s a beautiful blind spot.
Cherish the one tiny slice of the running calendar left for Not-Knowing.
Some bookmarks you should index as the season starts today:
- Here’s everything you need to know about NCAA championships qualifying criteria.
- While all three divisions have slightly different processes for picking their national qualifiers, all use regional championships. Regional championship central gives you dates, locations, and history for every region in every division.
- You don’t have to be a coach or sports information director to nominate an athlete for the National Athlete of the Week award. Every Monday at 4:00 PM eastern time, the USTFCCCA recognizes the top male and female performers from all three NCAA divisions, so get those nominations in by Mondays at noon eastern. (Next week, you have an extra day to nominate athletes)
- Every Friday morning, check Infozone for a list of the weekend’s biggest meets, and every Monday morning (or Sunday if you’re so inclined) check TFRRS XC for results from across the country
- The Regional Team Rankings and National Coaches Polls will come out every week here.
Preseason National Coaches Polls
Speaking of the polls, the preseason poll for DI and DIII dropped this week; the NAIA put out their own rankings, and we’ll have DII next week. DII is a week behind because their national championship is two weeks later than the other two divisions. You DII fans can slake your thirst for now with Kyle’s individual previews for men and women.
The men’s pollsters mostly preserved last November’s status quo. Defending champ Colorado is a unanimous preseason No. 1, and the top four teams in the poll (the Buffs are joined by Northern Arizona, Oregon, and Oklahoma State) all finished in the top five at NCAAs last year.
The women’s poll, topped by Michigan, is much more anarchic. Defending champ Providence tumbled to No. 18 and 2013 runner-up Arizona wasn’t even among the 41 teams to receive a single point. Five different teams (Michigan, Oregon, Stanford, Georgetown, and Arkansas) got at least one first-place-vote, and the Wolverines won a plurality to come out with their first No. 1 ranking ever.
Johns Hopkins received all twelve first-place votes in the women’s poll. Though Hopkins loses three of its top six from last year’s team, the Jays have earned the benefit of the doubt after winning the last two national titles in blowout fashion. They’re trailed in the poll by No. 2 Williams and No. 3 Middlebury, which combined to win eight of 11 national titles from 2000-10.
On the men’s side, St. Olaf receives its first-ever No. 1 ranking after winning its first-ever national title last year. The Oles received two more first-place votes than No.2 North Central (Ill.), which has been the first or second place team at NCAAs 29 out of the last 40 years.
The Oklahoma City men start at No. 1 after winning the national title a year ago; the only thing that got between the Stars and a unanimous top ranking was one coach casting a first-place vote for No. 2 Southern Oregon.
After taking third at nats last fall, Biola ascends to the top spot in the women’s poll. The Eagles are followed by No. 2 Lewis-Clark State and No. 3 Dordt (Iowa).
News and notes from the world of track & field and cross country
Here are some good things from the running internet:
- Flotrack has been counting down the top 31 men’s and women’s college squads.
- From Running Times: five storylines for the 2014 college cross country season.
- Also from RT: The Shepherd (Mich.) High School XC team parodies "Fancy"; link from Liam Boylan-Pett, who’s become one of the best writers covering American high school running.
- Deadspin on Jenny Simpson’s wonderful Diamond League title: “Track is a sport crippled by two evils: the stopwatch and the Olympics…”
- Squire and Sully answer "Does track have a Justin Gatlin problem?"
- Spikes gives us the alleged origins of the classic field event hand clap.
- Follow Statman Jon on Twitter if you don’t already.