The Warm-Up Lap: Battle in Beantown, Roy Griak & More
The main portion of the NCAA Division I Cross Country season is here!
Follow along LIVE with the biggest meets of the weekend – the Battle in Beantown and the Roy Griak Invite – on the USTFCCCA National Results Wall!
NEW ORLEANS – While September 1 may have been the official start date for the NCAA Division I cross country season, September 25 is an even more important box on the calendar.
From September 1 through this Thursday, all meets in NCAA DI XC have essentially been exhibitions; they can’t help or hurt you in your quest to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Louisville on November 21.
That all changes on Friday. If you go out with your top guys/gals, you had better be in it to win it.
Of the 31 teams that qualify to NCAAs, only 18 are guaranteed berths as top-two finishers at each of the nine regional championships on November 13.
The remaining 13 teams? They can only hope they’ve done enough during the regular season/regionals to earn an at-large berth to NCAAs. (You can see the breakdown of how the at-large process works here.)
That work begins this weekend.
We’ve previewed the meets below that will likely have the biggest implications on future at-large positioning, based on how many nationally ranked teams are on the starting line.
Friday, September 25 | USTFCCCA National Results Wall Coverage
3pm ET – Women’s 5K | 3:30pm ET – Men’s 8K
What better way to start out the “scoring season” than with top-five men’s and women’s teams facing their first tests of the season?
Though both the No. 3 Syracuse men and No. 4 Georgetown women have fielded teams of varying degrees of completeness in early September, both are expected to suit up most, if not all, of their “A” squads against deep field featuring multiple nationally ranked teams.
We won’t have to wait long for our first head-to-head match-up between national top-10 teams, with a Big East battle between No. 4 Georgetown and No. 8 Providence – both of whom have won national titles in this decade.
They’ll duke it out atop a field of 24 teams that also includes No. 19 Syracuse, No. 25 Dartmouth and a trio of national vote-receiving teams in Florida State, Lipscomb and New Hampshire.
The No. 4 Hoyas dominated the James Madison Invitational two weekends ago behind individual winner Samantha Nadel, despite not running most of its top athletes. Nadel will be joined by fellow All-American Andrea Keklak for the first time this season, but not likely scorers Haley Pierce or Sarah Cotton. This will be their first big test in the post-Katrina Coogan era, as the graduated senior was fourth in this meet a year ago and ultimately 16th at NCAAs.
On the other side of the coin, not only does No. 8 Providence return all seven of its scorers from a surprise 13th-place team a year ago, but they also return two-time All-American Sarah Collins from an injury-laden redshirt season.
This will be Collins’ first big XC race since finishing 39th at NCAAs as part of the Friars’ NCAA-winning team in 2013, but she’s been running strong this September alongside top 2014 returner Catarina Rocha (33rd) in two early-season meets.
No. 19 Syracuse is back in action after suffering an early-season loss to No. 17 Penn State at PSU’s Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invite, 21-34. The Orange ran with a majority of its top squad two weekends ago – led by runner-up Margo Malone.
No. 25 Dartmouth was unchallenged in its season-opening home invitational two weekends ago. Former All-American Dana Giordano took the victory to lead a comfortable sweep of the top 10 spots.
Among the three vote-receiving teams in the field – all of whom will looking to pick up key wins to help their at-large cases – two different storylines emerge. For Florida State, this will be its first test in a new era: a new head coach in Kelly Phillips and a new crop of top runners led by Georgia Peel following the departure of last year’s top three finishers.
Since 2007, FSU has finished either first or second in the South Region, but that might change this year. No. 22 Vanderbilt is the reigning champ, and teams like Lipscomb and Mississippi State (more on them later) are on the rise.
Lipscomb finished a close fourth at Vanderbilt a weekend ago (only five points separated runner-up Vandy , Mississippi State  and Lipscomb  – after winning the season-opening Belmont Invitational. They’ll be looking for a strong showing in Boston to make their first-ever top-30 appearance, led by Barbara Lee Ball and Sally Larson.
New Hampshire is likewise looking for its first national ranking. The Wildcats have run different lineups in each of their three season-opening meets, but will field a similar group to their 16-39 defeat at the hands of Providence a couple weekends ago. Amber Short and Samantha Blais were the top finishers for UNH in fifth and seventh, respectively.
After running a partial squad at the Penn State Harry Groves Invitational two weekends ago, the Orange will begin their NCAA team title quest in earnest this weekend as projected top runners Martin Hehir and Justyn Knight don the orange and blue for the first time.
They’ll join near-All-American Dan Lennon and former National Athlete of the Week Colin Bennie, both ran at Penn State.
Hehir was 38th at the NCAA Championships a year ago, while all Knight has done since a disappointing 143rd-place showing at NCAAs is finish 25th in World Junior Cross, run 13:34 over 5K on the track and finish sixth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Knight told us on the newest QA2 Max Podcast (out today) that he and Hehir will be going for the individual win (more on the individual race in a moment).
They’ll be battling No. 26 Florida State in a field 20 teams deep.
Florida State, after running its top returners from a year ago in Zak Seddon and Jack Goodwin earlier this season, will likely put all the pieces together for the first time with prized NJCAA transfer Harry Mulenga. The former Central Arizona standout from Zambia claimed nine national titles in two years at the junior college level.
In two years at Central Arizona, he won both NJCAA DI individual cross country titles. How have other recent NJCAA champs fared in their transition to the NCAA level?
- 2012 winner Stanley Kebenei (Iowa Central) did fine for himself at Arkansas with a pair of sixth-place NCAA finishes
- His Arkansas teammate Kemoy Campbell won NJCAAs in 2011 and went on to finish 17th and 46th at NCAAs
- 2010 winner Henry Lelei (Central Arizona) went on to finish fifth overall at NCAAs for Texas A&M in 2012
- The last back-to-back winner before Mulenga, Stephen Sambu (Rend Lake College) in 2008 and 2009, was runner-up for Arizona in that same 2012 race
He’ll get a good challenge straight away with Knight, Hehir & Co. from Syracuse, but that’s not all.
With Purdue in the field (representing the Great Lakes Region, alongside teams from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and the South), that means Boilermaker senior Matthew McClintock will likely be on the line. He got his first First-Team All-America honor at 10,000 meters this spring on the track after two consecutive years of XC All-America honors.
Saturday, September 26 | | USTFCCCA National Results Wall Coverage
1:20pm ET – DI Men’s 8K | 2:20pm ET – DI Women’s 6K
Back-to-back team champions are rare at the Roy Griak Invitational. It’s a testament to the constant high level of competition the meet brings in year in and year out.
If you’re looking at the men’s race, it hasn’t been done since Wisconsin won consecutive titles in 2003 and 2004. Since then, there have been nine different champions with BYU as the only two-time winner in the span (2005 and 2013).
What about the women? Well, it’s been done more recently with Minnesota taking advantage of its home course in 2007 and 2008. The Gophers’ team total of 31 in 2008 was the lowest women’s team score in 19 years (Villanova notched 20 points in 1989).
There, however, is a very strong chance both champions from last year – Southern Utah (men) and Michigan State (women) – could repeat; more so Spartans than T-Birds.
That’s not a knock against Southern Utah, but a nod to the talent in this year’s race. The T-Birds are one of several teams returning nearly all of their top athletes from 2014. In fact, Southern Utah is one of five of the six teams in the field who appear in the National Coaches’ Poll and have at least four runners coming back. The others: No. 22 Colorado State, No. 29 California, RV Boise State and RV Minnesota. The T-Birds aren’t backing down – actually far from it.
“My guys are fighters,” Southern Utah head coach Eric Houle said Wednesday. “We’re not going to go in and just be happy to be there and know that we won it last year. We’re looking to compete and mix it up and if that means we won, it’s even better.”
2014 men’s individual champ Nate Jewkes, who ran for the T-Birds, graduated and left an opening for a new Griak King. Among those runners looking for an individual crown are California’s Chris Walden (fourth last year), Colorado State’s Jerrell Mock (seventh) and Minnesota’s own Aaron Bartnik (eighth).
Also keep an eye on South Dakota State’s Trent Lusignan, the 12th-place NCAA finisher from 2013 who missed last year because of injury.
The path to another team title for No. 6 Michigan State’s women is a little clearer. While there may be four other ranked teams in the field – No. 2 Iowa State, No. 20 Boise State, No. 26 Minnesota and No. 30 California – no one knows much about any of them yet.
The Cyclones must find another No. 1 runner since it was learned that two-time All American Crystal Nelson would redshirt. The Broncos are young with freshman Allie Ostrander leading the way. The Gophers return all five of their scorers from last year’s meet, but they failed to impress in 2014. And the Bears need to find other runners to complement sophomore Bethan Knights, who finished 15th last year.
As far as the women’s individual title goes, it’s wide-open with Schulist as the odds-on favorite based on her past accomplishments and talent. Could a freshman like Ostrander make a statement the first chance she gets? Will Baylor’s Maggie Montoya sneak in there at the last minute? These questions will have answers.
When the dust is settled on Saturday, both races should have proved exciting. How does the Griak do it every year? You’ll want to check out our Facebook Feature Friday post.
Virginia Panorama Farms Invitational
Even though the past has shown that both Virginia programs aren’t always shoo-ins to sweep the team titles at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational, this year seems like a formality. That’s not a jab at any other team in the field, the Cavaliers are just good.
Starting on the men’s side, Virginia returns four runners who finished in the top-10 last year – Kyle King (third), Zach Herriott (seventh), Connor Rog (eighth) and Thomas Madden (10th). This is the season debut for three of those guys as Rog opened three weeks ago with a 4K time of 12:15 at the Virginia Duals.
What about the women? Well, the Cavaliers put three inside the top-10 including meet champion Sarah Fakler, Iona Lake (fourth) and Sara Sargent (ninth) – all of whom are expected to toe the starting line Saturday.
If you’re looking for a team to challenge the Virginia men for the team title, look no further than No. 18 Furman. The Paladins were second last year and top runners Tanner Hinkle (sixth in 2014) and Frank Lara (ninth) are expected to run. There is also a chance No. 20 Eastern Kentucky could make a run at the crown, but the Colonels will be without the services of top runners Amos Kosgey and Ambrose Maritim.
The Virginia women could get the stiffest competition from Mississippi State, a team that received votes in the latest USTFCCCA National Coaches’ Poll. The Bulldogs will debut Rhianwedd Price (24th at NCAAs last year) as well as her sister Ffion Price (the reigning Welsh national champion in cross country making her NCAA debut). MSU will also race Marta Freitas, who finished second at last week’s Commodore Classic. Eastern Kentucky is also in the field and received votes in the latest poll, too.
While one would expect King, Hinkle or Herriott to run away with the men’s individual title, Campbell’s Lawrence Kipkoech could have something to say about that. Kipkoech earned All-America honors in the 10K at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Butler’s Erik Peterson, Oklahoma’s Brandon Doughty and Yale’s Kevin Dooney all should also be within striking distance throughout the race.
And can Fakler make it two in a row? Those aforementioned runners from Mississippi State will try to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree
Saturday, September 26
10:15am ET – Women’s 6K | 10:45am ET – Men’s 8K
One week ago, this meet looked like a very intriguing match-up between two perennial podium contenders in the No. 5 Oklahoma State men and No. 11 Northern Arizona. In the wake of news from LetsRun.com earlier this week that NAU’s three-time All-American Futsum Zienasellassie and teammate Nathan Weitz will redshirt the 2015 season, this becomes intriguing in a different way: we get our first look at the new-look Lumberjacks.
They’ll get their first test against an Oklahoma State squad that is scheduled to run many of its top athletes. Cerake Geberkedane, Brian Gohlke and Vegard Olstad are all expected to run, as is reigning NCAA 1500 meters champion Chad Noelle. Notably absent from the Cowboys’ official lineup is last year’s 16th-place NCAA finisher Craig Nowak, who is running unattached after undergoing an undisclosed surgery last month, LetsRun reports.
Challenging for the individual win will be former National Athlete of the Week Antibahs Kosgei of Alabama, who won that national honor in his first NCAA race after completing a highly successful NJCAA career at South Plains. He won handily at the Brooks Memphis Twilight and is looking forward to the even stronger individual challenge this meet will provide.
For the women, No. 28 Oklahoma State will see the XC debut of 9:48 steeplechaser Ingeborg Loevnes, who is expected to be a leader on the course for the Cowgirls. She’ll be joined by the All-American 800-meter duo of Savanah Camacho and Kaela Edwards, both of whom will be making their 2015 debuts and both of whom will be expected to make big contributions for OSU.
Joining them in the field is a pair of national vote-receiving teams in Alabama and Northern Arizona looking to pick up important wins and break into the top 30. Alabama will look to follow Rachael Reddy and Katelyn Greenleaf to another strong performance after winning the Brooks Memphis Twilight. NAU will see the 2015 debut of Melanie Townsend, who had a breakout 2014 en route to a 56th-place finish at NCAAs.
Saturday, September 26 | LIVE RESULTS/ENTRIES
12:50pm ET – Women’s 6K | 1:30pm ET – Men’s 8K
Most notable here is who is/isn’t running for the No. 2 Stanford men and No. 5 Stanford women.
For the men, we’ll once again see Joe Rosa and the debut of Sean McGorty, but not the likes of Grant Fisher (though LetsRun is reporting he’ll run unattached), Jim Rosa, Sam Wharton, Garrett Sweatt and Jack Keelan.
The Cardinal’s top women will not compete: Elise Cranny, Aisling Cuffe and Vanessa Fraser.
We are scheduled to get our first look, however, at North Dakota State’s Erin Teschuk. Though she finished 116th at NCAAs last year, she had an exceptional regular season and went on to excel on the track with three All-America awards and a berth to the IAAF World Championships as the Canadian Champ in the steeplechase.