Division II XC Takes Center Stage with Conference Championships
NEW ORLEANS – Last weekend’s college cross country conference championships extravaganza was superb. As our own Dennis Young wrote last Thursday, there’s something special in the air when conference rivals get together and battle one another. The tradition, the passion, the urgency.
The only thing that was missing from all of it? Division II.
As Divisions I and III rest ahead of regional championships, arguably the most important weekend of the season – after all, you can’t take a shot at national glory unless you step up at regionals – Division II gets a solo for its conference championships weekend. DII is on its own quirky schedule this year with NCAA Championships being later (December 6) as part of the DII Fall Sports Festival in Louisville, Kentucky.
With six conferences fielding at least two top-25 men’s teams and two top-25 women’s teams, the action is going to be scintillating (you can follow along with all the results of DII Conference Championships here) so without further ado let’s get right to it, starting with the rivalry that defines DII perhaps more than any other.
Saturday, Nov. 8 | Gunnison, Colorado (Host: Western State)
Men – 11am MT | Women – 11:45am MT
There may not be a rivalry in DII cross country – or cross country at any level, for that matter – as intense as Adams State and Western State. On the men’s side, the rival who emerges victorious at this meet has gone on to win the NCAA title 11 times since 1998. Four other times the RMAC runner-up has gone on to upset the RMAC winner at NCAAs for the national title – most recently last year as not only did Adams State upend RMAC champ Western State at NCAAs, but Adams State’s Tabor Stevens upset individual RMAC champ Vegard Olstad of Western State for the individual national crown.
We haven’t seen much of No. 1 Adams State this year, with their lone big race coming in a third-place finish at Paul Short (a race in which 2012 national runner-up Kevin Batt was defeated by two other DII runners and Stevens was nearly upset by a Division III runner in Williams’ Colin Cotton). This will be the first time this season the Grizzlies have squared off with their rival Mountaineers.
No. 5 Western State has been in action more frequently, but have been running recently without former National Athlete of the Week Kiefer Johnson (and, of course, without Olstad, who has since transfered to Oklahoma State). His return could tip the scales back closer toward the Mountaineers and current No. 1 Ian Butler, not only against Adams State but also another team perennially in the RMAC and national title picture that has shockingly never won an RMAC title: Colorado Mines.
Actually ranked higher than WSCU at No. 4, the Orediggers have taken down Western State twice since the beginning of October at the Fort Hays State Tiger Open and the Colorado Rocky Mountain Shootout. Experience is certainly on the Orediggers’ side with a pair of multiple-time All-Americans in Phil Schneider and Derek Alcorn who were part of CSM’s national runner-up squad in 2012.
No. 23 Colorado Mesa is also in the men’s race.
For the women, the battle will once again come down to No. 2 Adams State and No. 4 Western State – a rivalry that will again play itself out at the national level. From 1992 through 2009 (just before GVSU’s current run atop the division), Adams State won 15 national titles and Western claimed three while finishing runner-up eight other times. Only twice in that time (2002 and 1994) has the winner at RMACs not gone on to finish higher at NCAAs.
The Grizzlies looked out-of-sorts in their race at Paul Short, finishing behind Division III No. 1 Johns Hopkins in the team standings. Though neither team ran at full strength at Fort Hays State, Adams defeated Western, 33-83, with No. 11 UC-Colorado Springs also in the mix in third with 116 points.
Saturday, Nov. 8 | Tiffin, Ohio (Host: Tiffin)
Women – 11am ET | Men – 11:45am ET
It may be the deepest women’s conference with four top-15 women’s teams and six teams in the top 20 of the latest National Coaches’ Poll, but can anyone challenge two-time defending national champion No. 1 Grand Valley State in the GLIAC?
With 13 GLIAC titles in a row under their belts, the Lakers are riding a streak that is nearly twice as long as that of any other team in the country (Tampa has won seven Sunshine State Conference titles). With dominant team performances at UW-Oshkosh and Notre Dame over No. 3 Minnesota Duluth and a top-10 showing in the Division I race at Roy Griak, no evidence has been presented thus far to suggest anything will change this year.
Whilst taking a run at GVSU, the rest of the field will be making their opening salvos in a battle that will reconvene at the Midwest Regionals on November 22 – this time with more than just conference standings on the line. The Midwest Region will only take four teams to NCAAs, even though six teams from the GLIAC alone are ranked in the top 20.
We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but in the meantime, No. 6 Hillsdale (dominant winners at the Midwest Regional Preview); upstart, pack-running No. 10 Northern Michigan; surging No. 13 Malone; No. 18 Wayne State (Mich.); and No. 20 Saginaw Valley State will see how they stack up against one another and GVSU.
Individually, the race will feature not one, not two but three former National Athletes of the Week in GVSU’s Allyson Winchester (not to mention the pack of returning All-Americans on the Lakers’ roster), SVSU’s Emily Short and Hillsdale’s Emily Oren.
A word not often on the minds of their female teammates, former National Athlete of the Week Alan Peterson and the men of No. 2 Grand Valley State may be thinking "redemption" following a throttling at UW-Oshkosh at the hands of DIII No. 1 North Central (Ill.) (though the Lakers and Cardinals are tied, 1-1, in the season series when counting the Notre Dame Invitational). Overall, GVSU has claimed each of the past 12 GLIAC titles (tied for second-longest in the country with Chico State in the CCAA behind Mars Hill’s 17 in the SAA).
They’ll have to be on guard, as among the three other ranked teams in the field is No. 10 Malone, who defeated No. 20 Ashland when the Eagles were riding high as a top-10 team earlier this season, and are most recently coming off a near-upset of No. 5 Southern Indiana at the Midwest Regional Preview (held at Southern Indiana). Led by a front-running pack of Ryan Roush, Andrew Trusty and Jordan McKelley, the Pioneers are looking to notch another upset in just their second year in the league.
No. 14 Hillsdale and Ashland – led by former National Athlete of the Week Brian Baum – will also be scrapping for the top of the final standings.
Saturday, Nov. 8 | Wayne, Neb. (Host: Wayne State (Neb.))
Men – 11am CT | Women – 12:15pm CT
While teams from the RMAC and GLIAC (deservedly) garner significant attention for their accomplishments, it should be noted that the most recent women’s individual champion – Jennifer Agnew of U-Mary – came from the NSIC, the that an NSIC team – Augustana (S.D.) in 2011 – has won a national team title more recently than a team from the RMAC.
While Augustana is still certainly a contender for the conference title at No. 7 in the nation, the favorite to go home with the NSIC trophy in hand at this point would have to be defending champ No. 3 Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs have only those two losses to GVSU on their Division II CV, and dispatched Augustana on two occasions: head-to-head for the team title at Roy Griak, 74-97, and at UW-Oshkosh as UMD was runner-up and Augustana was fifth.
Though the transitive property and cross country don’t always play nicely together, Minnesota Duluth defeated two-time DIII champ Johns Hopkins at UW-Oshkosh, who in turn was coming off a win over DII No. 2 Adams State at Paul Short.
UMD also has former National Athlete of the Week Samantha Rivard, the woman who could well follow Agnew as back-to-back NSIC champions who claim NCAA titles.
No. 23 Winona State will look to make a statement after dropping from top-10 territory into the 20s earlier this season, with No. 25 U-Mary rounding out the nationally ranked squads in the field.
Only two nationally ranked teams will square off in the men’s race, though it is shaping up to be an excellent race. The No. 9 Augustana men are tasked with extending a streak atop the NSIC that dates back to 2009 – their first year in the conference. The expected debut of All-American Harald Karbo will boost the Vikings, who have been the No. 2 DII team at both UW-Oshkosh (fourth overall) and Roy Griak.
They’ll have to contend with a team even newer to the conference: No. 12 Sioux Falls, in just its third full year after a transition from the NAIA. It’s a squad that is riding on an all-time program-high streak right now. The Cougars were the top DII team at the Chile Pepper Festival and notched an early-season win at Augustana’s Twilight Invitational, while the Vikings were fourth.
Saturday, Nov. 8 | San Bernardino, California (Host: Cal State San Bernardino)
Men – 9am PT | Women – 10am PT
While all of the aforementioned conference reside in the heartland of the country, that’s certainly not to say there won’t be superb meets on our nation’s coastal extremes. Take the West-Coast CCAA, for example.
The men’s race features three top-25 teams – including a potential national title contender and probable podium threat in No. 3 Chico State – but the women’s match-up between No. 5 Chico State and No. 9 UC San Diego could be the highlight of the meet.
Each of the past six seasons have ended with Chico State donning the CCAA crown, and at No. 5 with top DII finishes at both Santa Clara and Stanford behind junior Quetta Peinado, but the latter result is particularly interesting.
In Palo Alto, the Wildcats were the top DII team in non-Division I scoring with 104 points, but they only just barely edged West Region rival No. 8 Simon Fraser and UC San Diego, 104-109-111. The Tritons have also since won their home Triton Invite behind No. 1 Corinne Hinkle.
A win for UC San Diego – which, based on the results from (an admittedly distant) Stanford meet, is certainly within the realm of possibility – would be its first title since 2005.
In the men’s race, Chico appears to be heading toward its 13th title in a row, having already handily defeated No. 13 UC San Diego at Stanford, 30-100, in the non-Division I scoring. The Wildcats have not yet gone up against No. 21 Cal Poly Pomona, who recorded dominant wins at Cal State Fullerton just a week ago and Cal State San Bernardino earlier this season.
Other Top-25 Match-Ups Around the Country
- PSAC Championships: Three nationally ranks men’s squads will go head-to-head – the same three that have traded the trophy back-and-forth since the beginning of the new millennium. No. 8 Lock Haven is the top-ranked team in the field and the defending champion, challenged by No. 15 Shippensburg and No. 24 Edinboro.
Lock Haven bested Shippensburg in the Paul Short Run, 458-639, but this race will play out significantly differently with a much, much smaller field size. The two also squared off in the unconventionally formatted Dickinson Long-Short Run.
The clear favorite is California (Pa.)’s Aaron Dinzeo, who has lost only to fellow NCAA DII championships frontrunner Mike Biwott of American International at Paul Short, and has crushed the field in each of his other three races (including both Lock Haven’s and Ship’s top runners).
- GLVC Championships: Both the Southern Indiana men (No. 5 nationally) and women (No. 15) will be going up against the No. 25 teams in the country in the UW-Parkside men and the Lewis women, respectively. Both USI squads are coming off bumpy performances at their home Midwest Regional Preview meet, as the Screaming Eagle men were nearly upset by Malone and the women were soundly defeated by Hillsdale and were upset by Malone.
The men, led by frontrunning defending individual conference champ Johnnie Guy and Tyler Pence, are going for their ninth title in a row, and the women have taken three in a row and five of the past six.
- Northeast-10 Championships: While the men’s individual title is hardly up for debate – three-time National Athlete of the Week and two-time defending conference champ Mike Biwott of American International has been one of the best runners in the entire country this season, let alone the NE10 – but the team race is still up in the air.
Biwott’s No. 18 Yellowjackets and No. 22 Franklin Pierce. FPU was able to edge AIC most recently at the NEICAAA Championships (AIC ran without No. 2 John Chirchir), but AIC at full strength finished far better at Paul Short and at Franklin Pierce (in September).
Also lurking are the vote-receiving men of Stonehill, who has won each of the past three titles. In fact, a title by either AIC or Franklin Pierce would be their first conference wins. Franklin Pierce was runner-up last year, and AIC the year before that.