Wisconsin adidas Invitational Preview

By Kyle Terwillegar, USTFCCCA

October 15, 2014   

NEW ORLEANS – If you found yourself in Madison, Wisconsin, this Friday afternoon and didn’t know any better, you might think the race you’re watching is the NCAA Division I Championships.

Wisconsin adidas Invite

Meet Home
Friday, Oct. 17

Men’s Race: 11 a.m. CT
Women’s Race: 11:45 a.m. CT


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Nope, it’s the Wisconsin adidas Invitational. But we would certainly forgive you for the mix-up.

Of the 30 nationally ranked teams for each gender, 22 from the women’s poll (plus four receiving votes) and 19 from the men’s (and three RV) will toe the line against one another on the Zimmer Championship Course.

Six of those teams in both the men’s and women’s races are top-10 squads. In the women’s race: No. 2 Michigan State, No. 5 Arkansas, No. 6 Stanford, No. 8 Iowa State, No. 9 Florida State and No. 10 Virginia. For the men: No. 3 Northern Arizona, No. 5 Portland, No. 6 Syracuse, No. 7 Stanford, and two teams tied at No. 9 in UCLA and host Wisconsin.

The intrigue extends far beyond the top of the polls, however – the opportunities for those ever-important head-to-head victories are enormous.

Only 11 teams in the men’s race and 11 teams in the women’s race – both with approximately 40 teams – are currently projected within their respective regions’ two automatic qualifying positions into the NCAA Championships. Twelve more women’s teams and 11 more men’s squads are currently ranked on their regions’ bubbles at No. 3 or 4.

The competition for the individual title will be just as stout. Of last year’s 40 All-Americans, as many as 15 of the women’s honorees and 10 of the men could toe the line against one another in Madison. More on the individual races below (and note that official entry lists have not yet been announced).

There’s a lot going on here, so either read through or hit the quick links below to find a certain part.

Women’s Race: Team Storylines | Individual Storylines
Men’s Race: Team Storylines | Individual Storylines


Team Storylines

Another Big Test for Michigan State: The No. 2 Spartans have had a target on their back all year long – ranked No. 2 by the coaches and No. 1 by Flotrack – but have nonetheless performed well in each of their "A" squad’s three races this year. Particularly strong was their Roy Griak win with a pair of top-10 finishers in fifth-place Rachele Schulist and ninth-place Leah O’Connor to go along with three more top-25 individual finishers. MSU was able to easily elude current No. 8 Iowa State by nearly 40 points, 66-102.

Top-30 Teams

2. Michigan State (3)
5. Arkansas
6. Stanford
8. Iowa State
9. Florida State
10. Virginia
11. New Mexico
12. Syracuse
13. North Carolina
14. Washington
15. Wisconsin
16. Boise State
17. Boston College
19. William and Mary
20. West Virginia
23. Providence
24. Dartmouth
25. Arizona State
26. Minnesota
27. Vanderbilt
28. Notre Dame
30. BYU
Iona (RV)
Ohio State (RV)
Portland (RV)

The Challengers: This, however, will be the toughest field the Spartans have faced this season. No. 5 Arkansas – led by former National Athlete of the Week Dominique Scott – has looked dominant against lesser competition so far this year, but are an unknown quantity having not gone toe-to-toe with any top-30 squad’s "A" team this year. This will be the first big XC meet for the Razorbacks since they entered NCAAs as the No. 3 team in the country but finished a disappointing 15th after beating eventual national champ Providence at this meet a year ago.

Conversely, No. 6 Stanford is coming off a strong runner-up showing to No. 3 Oregon at one of the year’s toughest meets to this point, the Washington Invitational. Despite the reported injuries of last year’s fourth-place NCAA finisher in Aisling Cuffe and another top-100 NCAAs runner in Cami Chapus, the Cardinal still managed a narrow, 48-52, loss to Oregon, led by frosh phenom Elise Cranny‘s win in her collegiate debut. In fact, the Cardinal were exceptionally young at Washington, with their top seven playing out as such: frosh, frosh, sophomore, junior, frosh, frosh, junior.

(UPDATE: Cuffe will not compete this weekend but "has not been ruled out for a return by nationals," per GoStanford.com. Chapus is also not among the line-up listed on the website, though no update was given for her.)

As top-heavy as Michigan State was at Griak, No. 8 Iowa State put two women across the finish line before MSU’s No. 1 Schulist: the dynamic duo of Crystal Nelson and Katy Moen (perhaps the best one-two punch in the nation so far this season?) in third and fourth, respectively. Add another All-American to the mix in Bethanie Brown (16th at Griak) and – assuming the Nos. 4 and 5 spots can be filled out – the Cyclones become a dangerous team.

A new face at Wisconsin this year is No. 9 Florida State. FSU decided to shake things up in 2014 after a recent "Pre-Nationals Curse". Four of the past six years, FSU had won its Pre-Nats race only to finish no better than runner-up at NCAAs. The Florida State women earned a pair of fourth-place national finishes in 2011 and 2012 after being ranked No. 1 in the nation following their mid-October wins.

Their shake-up hasn’t gone exactly to plan, as they opted out of their traditional Notre Dame race to run at Lehigh, where – despite the individual win for Colleen Quigley – FSU finished third behind dominant winner Guelph of Canada and a shorthanded No. 4 Georgetown squad.

The list of top challengers – and potential head-to-head wins – literally goes on and on right down the line: No. 10 Virginia (winners of the Panorama Farms Invite), No. 11 New Mexico (winners at Notre Dame), No. 12 Syracuse, No. 13 North Carolina, No. 14 Washington, No. 15 Wisconsin (Greater Louisville Classic champ), No. 16 Boise State, No. 17 Boston College, No. 19 William and Mary and No. 20 West Virginia. Not to mention defending national champion Providence at No. 23.

Don’t Win This Weekend? Don’t Worry: Speaking of Providence, it proved this last year as the Friars’ search for a solid No. 5 runner hadn’t yet produced eventual fifth scorer Grace Thek. The eventual NCAA team champions finished a disappointing third in Madison behind NCAA runner-up Arizona and 15th-place Arkansas.

As a side note, last year’s champion Arizona enters the meet 13th in the West region and one of only two teams with double-digit region ranks.

The Regional Perspective: Though geographically centered in the Great Lakes Region nearby the Midwest Region, the meet will especially be the center of attention for fans of Northeast and West region cross country. Eight of the top 11 teams in the Northeast are set to compete, as are eight West teams among the region’s top 13. The Great Lakes has six teams in the race, and the South and Southeast Regions both have four.

Check out the full breakdown below.

Great Lakes Region

2. Michigan State
3. Wisconsin
4. Notre Dame
5. Ohio State
7. Toledo
8. Indiana

Mid-Atlantic Region

3. West Virginia

Midwest Region

1. Iowa State
3. Minnesota

Mountain Region

2. New Mexico
3. BYU
9. Weber State

Northeast Region

1. Syracuse
2. Boston College
3. Dartmouth
4. Providence
6. Harvard
8. Cornell
9. Iona
11. Columbia

South Region

1. Florida State
2. Vanderbilt
4. Florida
9. Georgia

South Central Region

1. Arkansas
4. SMU
6. Texas A&M

Southeast Region

1. Virginia
2. North Carolina
3. William and Mary
7. Duke

West Region

2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Boise State
5. Arizona State
7. Portland
9. San Francisco
13. Arizona


Individual Race

Remember that great Roy Griak race a few weeks ago? Wisco is going to be  like that, but even better. Nearly all of the key top-10 players from that race are back for another round: Griak champ and arguably the frontrunner for the NCAA title in Arizona State’s Shelby Houlihan, the Iowa State duo of Nelson and Moen, 2013 national runner-up and preseason favorite Emma Bates of Boise State, and the MSU duo of  Schulist and O’Connor, among others.

Add to that mix the winners of a few big meets earlier this season: Liv Westphal of Boston College (winner at BC Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown over No. 1 Michigan runners); Charlotte Arter of New Mexico (Notre Dame Invite winner and former National Athlete of the Week); Quigley of Florida State (Paul Short winner); Cranny of Stanford (Washington Invitational winner); and Sara Disanza of Wisconsin (Greater Louisville Classic winner).

The race could also feature the 2014 debuts of returning NCAA third-place finisher Kate Avery of Iona after an extended track season at the Commonwealth Games and Sarah Collins of Providence, who is already a two-time All-American in XC as a junior (10th as a frosh in 2012).

Bottom line: the race for the individual national title – or at least who will contend for it – will be in much clearer focus by the time the sun sets Friday evening.

Other returning All-Americans potentially in the race include Annie LeHardy of North Carolina (25th at 2013 NCAAs), Arkansas’ Dominique Scott (28th), Dartmouth’s Dana Giordano (31st), Wisconsin’s Emma-Lisa Murphy (35th), Iowa State’s Brown (37th), and Ohio State’s Katie Borchers (40th) – plus 2012 All-Americans Kelsey Lakowske of Duke (20th), Emily Stites of William & Mary (26th) and Lianne Farber of North Carolina (40th).

All told, the race could feature about a third of last year’s top-100 individual NCAA finishers.

Looking for a dark horse pick? How about Texas A&M’s Karis Jochen, who finished eighth at Griak ahead of MSU’s O’Connor? Or Notre Dame runner-up Agnes Sjostrom of SMU? Or Washington Invite third-place finisher Maddie Meyers of Washington?


Team Storylines

Upset Alert?: The last time 2013 national runner-up No. 3 Northern Arizona took to the trails – two weekends ago at the Washington Invitational – the Lumberjacks were nearly upset by upstart No. 9 UCLA. NAU, despite putting three guys in the top six in that race, only defeated the Bruins by 10 points, 62-72, behind runner-up and returning fourth-place national finisher Futsum Zienasellassie. The Lumberjacks were nearly doomed by their Nos. 4 and 5 runners finishing in the mid-20s – a gap that could prove devastating in a field of teams more than three times the size than that at Washington.

UCLA is in the field again, as are the No. 5 Portland Pilots – who only ran a "B" squad in Washington to focus on this race. Not to mention No. 6 Syracuse, No. 7 Stanford (though reportedly without 2013 fifth-place finisher Jim Rosa after knee surgery) and No. 9 host Wisconsin. Could any of these teams chop down NAU? Time will tell.

Top-30 Teams

3. Northern Arizona
5. Portland
6. Syracuse
7. Stanford
9. Wisconsin
11. Michigan
12. BYU
13. Providence
14. Iona
16. New Mexico
17. Arkansas
18. Florida State
19. Eastern Kentucky
20. Oklahoma
23. Indiana
24. Princeton
25. Washington
27. Minnesota
Iowa State (RV)
Dartmouth (RV)

UCLA For Real?: Conversely, UCLA has a chance to prove its narrow runner-up finish to NAU was not a fluke. The Bruins have a strong pack working to their advantage, with four of their five scorers – led by 2012 All-American Lane Werley – finishing in a row from ninth through 12th. A solid No. 5 kept the Bruins from pulling the upset, but the potential 2014 debut of Daniel Herrera (UCLA’s No. 2 at Pac-12s in 2013) after a strong redshirted/unattached outdoor track campaign could solve that problem.

The Challengers: Perhaps NAU’s biggest upset threat comes from No. 5 Portland – insofar as it’s a very unknown quantity at this point in the season. To say the Pilots have been flying below the radar would be inaccurate; they’re still sitting on the runway. Of their five returning runners from their seventh-place NCAA team a year ago, only two-time All-American Scott Fauble (13th in 2013) with a win at Division III Willamette and their No. 6 man Alex Dillard (runner-up in a dual vs. Illinois) have competed in 2014.

Looking to prove they belong at No. 6 following last year’s 10th-place finish at NCAAs – the school’s best showing since a fourth-place finish way back in 1957 when only 17 teams competed – are the Syracuse men. We’ve seen them in top form just once this season, when they finished a distant runner-up to No. 2 Oregon at Boston College, 24-52. Martin Hehir finished fourth in that race to give the Orange a strong low stick, while room for improvement still exists as their top returner from a year ago, MJ Erb, was only their No. 5 runner at BC.

This weekend will also tell us a lot about No. 7 Stanford. The Cardinal finished third in a stacked Washington Invite race with its presumptive No. 5 man leading the pack – top runners Maksim Korolev (3rd NCAAs 2013), Joe Rosa, Jim Rosa (5th) and Sean McGorty all sat it out. Korolev and Joe Rosa have already run this year and appear to be in fine form – the duo went 1-2 at their home invite despite taking a wrong turn early in the race – but it was reported this week that Jim Rosa underwent surgery in his knee, and McGorty has yet to debut. (UPDATE: Jim Rosa is in fact out for the season, while McGorty will debut at the Pac-12 Championships, per GoStanford.com)

Though host No. 9 Wisconsin scored a dominant win as the clear class of the field at the Greater Louisville Classic two weekends ago, the Badgers will face their first big test of the season at home this Friday. Returning Big Ten champ and All-American Malachy Schrobilgen led the way at Louisville with a runner-up showing with Michael VanVoorhis finishing 10th.

Those are just the top-10 teams in the race, but the field will be loaded with team trying to topple them. No. 11 Michigan (Notre Dame Invite winner), No. 12 BYU, No. 13 Providence, No. 14 Iona (more on them in a second), No. 16 New Mexico, No. 17 Arkansas, No. 18 Florida State, No. 19 Eastern Kentucky and No. 20 Oklahoma are all in the next tier of 10 teams looking to usurp NAU et al.

Iona is of particular interest, as the Gaels have yet to debut their top runner from their 2013 sixth-place NCAAs team – Kieran Clements (57th) – or competed with all their guys in one spot (though they still managed a narrow third-place finish at Virginia Panorama Farms).

They have, however, debuted a pair of XC newcomers who both finished high in strong meets: Gilbert Kirui (not that one) was second behind Auburn All-American Ty McCormack at Virginia, and Chartt Miller was third to Division II studs Mike Biwott of American International and Aaron Dinzeo of California (Pa.) at Paul Short. Put them together and what have you got? Perhaps we’ll find out this weekend.

Regional Interests: Five regionally-ranked Great Lakes teams and four Midwest teams will compete – makes sense geographically, of course – but we’ll find out the most about the regions on the exterior of the Continental United States. Seven of the top 15 West Region teams will be in action – including six of the top eight – and six of the top seven teams from the Northeast will compete in Madison.

Needless to say, expect some rearranging in Monday’s Regional Team Rankings. Check out the full regional breakdown below:

Great Lakes Region

1. Wisconsin
2. Michigan
3. Indiana
4. Michigan State
5. Notre Dame

Mid-Atlantic Region

2. Princeton

Midwest Region

2. Oklahoma
4. Minnesota
5. Iowa State
6. Illinois

Mountain Region

2. Northern Arizona
3. BYU
4. New Mexico
10. Weber State

Northeast Region

1. Syracuse
2. Providence
3. Iona
5. Dartmouth
6. Harvard
7. Columbia

South Region

1. Florida State
3. Florida
9. Georgia

South Central Region

1. Arkansas
3. Lamar
4. Texas A&M

Southeast Region

2. Eastern Kentucky
5. North Carolina
10. William and Mary

West Region

2. Portland
4. Stanford
5. Washington
6. Arizona State
8. Boise State
12. Arizona


Individual Race

How does a match-up between last year’s third-, fourth-, and sixth-place individual finishers at the NCAA Championships sound? That’s what we’re presumably going to get with Stanford’s Korolev, NAU’s Zienasellassie and Arkansas’ Stanley Kebenei.

We’ve already seen Kebenei notch a signature win this season edging out two-time All-American Anthony Rotich of UTEP for the win at the Chile Pepper Festival a couple weeks ago – avenging his loss in the 2014 NCAA steeplechase final at the hands of Rotich. Zienasellassie was runner-up to Villanova’s Patrick Tiernan – whose squad is one of the few not taking part in the Wisco/PreNats festivities this weekend – at Washington.

This is the race in which Korolev made his big breakthrough a year ago, as he finished runner-up and went on to win the Ivy and Northeast Region titles. This will be his first big race in a Stanford uniform after graduating from Harvard earlier this year.

It’s more than just those three in this race, obviously. Five other All-Americans will toe the line: Fauble of Portland (13th), Aaron Nelson of Washington (20th), Mason Ferlic of Michigan (22nd, Notre Dame Invite champ), NAU’s Matt McElroy (25th) and Tyler Byrne (29th while at Louisville), Wisconsin’s Schrobilgen (33rd), and Michigan State’s Caleb Rhynard (34th).

Rhynard performed well in top-five finishes at Bill Dellinger and Roy Griak, while Nelson and McElroy finished fifth and sixth at Washington, respectively.

The Iona guys have a shot to put some guys near the front, as well, given that both Kirui and Miller finished near/ahead of All-Americans in their races.

Eastern Kentucky could also have some runners near the front, as Amos Kosgey and Sean Vandermosten finished sixth and eighth at Notre Dame within seconds of 2013 All-Americans John Mascari of Indiana State and Matt McClintock of Purdue.