Weekend College XC Recap: Crazy Weekend At Roy Griak

Weekend College XC Recap: Crazy Weekend At Roy Griak

NEW ORLEANS – What a crazy first weekend of the NCAA Division I "true" regular season.

As we’ve said ad nauseum the past few weeks, Friday marked the beginning of the first weekend from which results will count toward NCAA Championships at-large consideration.

With the stakes raised for the first time in 2014, some of Division I’s top teams validated themselves, others stepped up, and some did quite the opposite.

So let’s get right to it. Here’s your Saturday recap. Check what happened on Friday on the brand new USTFCCCA National Results Wall (and let us know what you thought of it, if you checked it out). And get the full slate of action on TFRRS or the USTFCCCA This Weekend’s Meets page.

Minnesota Roy Griak Invitational

Men’s Division I Gold Results | Women’s Division I Gold Results

What a crazy women’s race…

Michigan State, already racing it’s "A" squad for the third time this year, showed once again why it’s the No. 3 team in the country with a decisive 66-102 victory over No. 9 Iowa State. All five scorers for the Spartans crossed the line among the top 22 individual finishers – no other team had more than three in the top 30 – and put two more across the line in the top 50 for good measure.

Rachele Schulist was fifth overall, while reigning NCAA steeplechase champ Leah O’Connor was ninth, Lindsay Clark 12th and 2012 Big Ten Champ Sara Kroll 18th.

Matching the Spartans’ top-three head-to-head was Iowa State (21 points from MSU’s top three to 23 from Iowa State), which put the combo of Crystal Nelson and Katy Moen across the line in third and fourth overall, with Bethanie Brown just behind in 16th.

Those two were expected to challenge one another for the win, but the team race went way off script after that point. Entering as just the seventh-highest ranked team in the field, No. 30 North Carolina scored 174 to finish third.

Just 10 points behind with 184 points No. 20 Boise State held to form with a fourth-place finish. More on the Broncos’ frontrunner Emma Bates and her disappointing day a little bit later.

Usurping three of the nationally ranked teams was Baylor (receiving votes nationally), which finished fifth with 209 points led by individual runner-up Rachel Johnson.

Another team outside the top-30 that could hop back into the National Coaches Poll after this weekend, Arizona State finished sixth with 221 points. Individual winner Shelby Houlihan – the victor for a second-straight season – contributed one point to that total. More on her in a moment.

No. 28 Minnesota (225 points), No. 22 Vanderbilt (237), receiving-votes BYU (269) and two-time reigning DII champ Grand Valley State (290) rounded out the top 10. Third at nationals a year, the Butler Bulldogs finished a disappointing 14th after entering as the No. 11 team in the nation. Top runner Mara Olson, who was 26th at NCAAs a year ago, finished 21st on Saturday.

To the individual race. Shelby Houlihan took the lead with less than a minute remaining in the race, making a move that was initially matched by Baylor’s Johnson. Showing the speed and strength that propelled her to both a top-10 XC finish and NCAA 1500 meters title in 2013-14, Houlihan easily dropped Johnson with 400 meters to go and cruised down the homestretch alone and across the finish line in 20:34.5.

Don’t discount Johnson’s performance, however. Despite finishing seven seconds back of Houlihan, the senior pushed the pace for much of the race and responded better than the rest of the field to the Sun Devil’s final push. Considering this result, her third-place NCAA steeplechase finish and her NACAC U-23 steeplechase title, she appears to be on a much better trajectory than her 107th-place finish at NCAA XC a year ago.

The Iowa State duo of Nelson and Moen impressed, finishing just three and five seconds back of runner-up Johnson. Nelson was 32nd and Moen was 77th at NCAAs a year ago, but the duo, along with All-American Bethanie Brown (16th Saturday, 37th 2013 NCAAs) all had relatively quiet track seasons.

Finishing well back of Houlihan were two of the women expected to challenge her for not only the win on Saturday, but on NCAA Championships Saturday. Emma Bates – the 2013 national XC runner-up and NCAA 10,000m champ on the track – dropped off the lead group about 16 minutes into the race and finished sixth.

Michigan State’s O’Connor fell off the group even earlier and finished ninth – and third among steeplechasers behind Johnson and former National Athlete of the Week Courtney Frerichs of UMKC in seventh.

… And a crazy men’s race, too

In terms of the sheer number of ranked teams in the field, the men’s race wasn’t as top-heavy as that of the women. Then again, the National Coaches Poll positioning ultimately meant very little in this race.

It wasn’t No. 19 North Carolina or No. 24 Texas who got the team victory. Or even No. 27 Iowa State or No. 29 Colorado State.

Nope. It was unheralded, unranked Southern Utah that emerged with the team win – and the individual win behind Nate Jewkes. The Thunderbirds squeaked through a whole pack of teams challenging for the team title, scoring 142 to edge out Colorado State (146), similarly unranked Minnesota (149) and Michigan State (153) and Iowa State (162).

That’s two of the four ranked teams accounted for. Texas was back in sixth, despite runner-up Craig Lutz among two runners in the top 10, with 215 points. North Carolina? The Tar Heels were ninth with 302 points.

Like his Thunderbirds team, which only had one runner at the NCAA Championships a year ago, Jewkes likewise came up clutch to snag the individual title. After a pair of All-Americans in Texas’ Lutz and Michigan State’s Caleb Rhynard led for most of the race, the senior – who ran only once during cross a year ago – overtook then-leader Rhynard with just tens of meters left in the race. Lutz would also sneak by Rhynard before the line.

What did each of the top five teams have in common? Depth. Take third-place Minnesota, for example: it was the first to get its fifth across the line in 46th place, and got two more in the top 60 after that. Runner-up Colorado State combined depth and low sticks to win, as the only team with three top-25 finishers.

Cowboy Jamboree & Stanford Invitational

Cowboy Jamboree Results | Stanford Invitational Results

Not much to talk about from a team aspect at either of these meets, as both hosts just went out and did their own things on their home courses.

The No. 4 Oklahoma State men debuted its top squad, which swept the top 11 positions in the race. Kirubel Erassa took the individual win on the 8k  course in 24:19.59, followed distantly by teammates Fabian Clarkson and Craig Nowak. In all, there was nearly a full minute spread between Erassa and No. 5 Anthoney Armstrong.

The No. 5 Stanford men only debuted a pair of its big guns in Joe Rosa and transfer Maksim Korolev, and – despite reportedly making a wrong turn early in the race – the duo made the most of it with a 1-2 finish, holding hands across the finish line in 23:16 on the 8k course.

Stanford finished third in the team standings, but with so few of its top guys in action it likely won’t have any ramifications on the at-large picture.

Check back later for updates on Divisions II and III – the latter of which had an equally screwy day.