THE WARM-UP LAP: Wisconsin adidas Invitational Preview
The defining weekend of the NCAA Division I cross country regular season is here. Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Friday. Pre-Nationals on Saturday.
Nearly every ranked team is at one of those two meets.
You can follow along LIVE with both on the USTFCCCA National Results Wall!
Six of the top ten teams in the country. Seventeen nationally ranked top-30 teams. Ten more teams receiving votes in the latest National Coaches’ Poll. Eight All-Americans returning from the 2014 NCAA Championships. Numerous individuals looking to make that jump this year or return to All-American form from previous years.
Those are just some objective, empirical descriptors for Friday’s race at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational.
Just the men’s race, that is.
Factor in the women’s race and we’re talking another 20 top-30 teams, four more national vote-receiving teams and nine additional All-Americans from a year ago.
Add it all up and you get a more subjective take: It’s the best race cross country fans will see until the NCAA Championships on November 21 in Louisville, Kentucky.
From teams looking to assert themselves in the national podium hunt, to teams fighting for the at-large qualifying lives, to individuals looking to make a statement on one of the sport’s biggest stages, the story lines are as intriguing as they are plentiful. We break down the women’s and men’s races below.
You can follow along with us live as we update and analyze the race as it happens on the USTFCCCA National Results Wall, featuring a live breakdown podcast shortly after the conclusion of the men’s race.
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Whatever word you want to use to describe the women’s field at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational probably wouldn’t do it justice.
Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look.
Twenty of the 30 teams that were ranked in the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) National Coaches’ Poll will be in Madison, Wisconsin. Not to mention four other teams that were just outside of the top-30.
That’s strong, right? We’re not done yet.
Five of those 20 teams are in the top-10 – No. 1 New Mexico, No. 3 Providence, No. 6 Boise State, No. 8 Iowa State and No. 10 Washington – and every team from No. 11 (Arkansas) to No. 25 (Princeton) is accounted for.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the favorites.
It’s not a stretch to imagine the top-ranked Lobos running away with their second team title in as many meets. Two weeks ago New Mexico debuted – and put on a clinic – at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational. The Lobos’ Formidable Four – Rhona Auckland, Courtney Frerichs, Calli Thackery and Alice Wright – were all in the top-6 and New Mexico scored the second fewest points in meet history (29).
Both third-ranked Providence and sixth-ranked Boise State should provide the Lobos some stiff competition in the team race.
It’s been a while since the Friars raced a full roster – three weeks to be exact. The last time anybody saw Providence’s women attack a course, they did so with reckless abandon on their way to a dominant win at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown.
Not to be outdone, the Broncos had a coming-out party of their own one week later at the Roy Griak Invitational. Boise State, led by standout freshmen Allie Ostrander and Annie Bothma, crushed the field over the 6K tract at the Les Bolstad Golf Course. The Broncos slid four in the top-10 and tallied a meager 37 points in the process.
“We punched them in the face and they didn’t punch back,” Boise State head coach Corey Ihmels said earlier this week of his team’s performance in Minnesota. “No one saw it coming except for me. There is going to be some push-back this week, for sure.”
One of those teams the Broncos took out was 2014 national champion Michigan State. It should be mentioned that the Spartans, who are ranked 13th in the latest poll, have yet to race at full strength this year as Lindsay Clark and Katie Landwehr both nursed injuries. Landwehr is listed among Michigan State’s runners for this meet and that’s big news for the Spartans, who demolished the field at last year’s meet. Don’t forget Michigan State also has the top returning finisher from 2014 (Rachele Schulist, second).
If there is going to be a surprise team that reaches the podium on Friday, it would be either No. 14 Wisconsin or No. 18 Notre Dame. The Badgers will likely welcome back 2014 XC runner-up Sarah Disanza to the fold (she’s a "game day decision," as reported by Flotrack) and the Irish could find itself with some low scores thanks to freshman Anna Roher and 2015 NCAA 10K champ Molly Seidel.
A few teams need to prove themselves in Madison, notably No. 20 West Virginia and No. 23 William & Mary. The Mountaineers will once again be without top-15 NCAA finisher Jillian Forsey and need a strong showing to regain their footing after dropping to fifth in the Mid-Atlantic Region. The Tribe bombed out of the Princeton Inter-Regional Meet two weeks ago despite Regan Rome and Emily Stites leading the way with a 1-2 finish.
Where do you start?
This is a serious question.
The lead pack of the women’s race at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational will have about 100 runners in it, give or take a few.
We can automatically pencil in New Mexico’s Formidable Four into contention. There is little reason to believe that Rhona Aukland, Courtney Frerichs, Calli Thackery and Alice Wright won’t be in the top-10 at some point during the race – most likely at the end. Out of those four, however, Auckland and Frerichs are the two most likely to battle for the individual title – which is not to discount Thackery or Wright.
Arkansas senior Dominique Scott is a contender as well. Scott won the individual title at the Chile Pepper Festival two weeks ago by covering the 5K course in 16:07.18. She was eighth at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational last year.
The most impressive group this side of the Lobos is the talented class of freshmen taking the NCAA Division I Women’s Cross Country world by storm. There are three freshmen – Boise State’s Allie Ostrander, North Carolina State’s Ryen Frazier and Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer – who could very well walk out of Madison with the first-place medal.
We wouldn’t put it past Frazier, a two-time DI National Athlete of the Week, to claim her third individual title in as many races. Frazier already showed she’s not intimidated by taking down New Mexico’s Formidable Four at the Notre Dame Invitational.
Unlike Frazier and Rohrer, Ostrander doesn’t have an NCAA XC win to her credit just yet but is knocking on the door. Ostrander took second at the Roy Griak Invitational.
Rohrer – who won at the National Catholic Cross Country Invitational – and teammate Molly Seidel will push each other at the front of the pack.
Let’s not forget about Michigan State’s Rachele Schulist, the top finisher from last year’s meet to return in 2015. Schulist was runner-up behind Iowa State’s Crystal Nelson, who is redshirting and won’t be running on Friday.
Another runner from the Big Ten that should be listed among the favorites is Wisconsin’s Sarah Disanza, who would be making her 2015 debut. Disanza hasn’t raced since she placed third in the 5K at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Other runners who will be in the lead pack include the Providence duo of Sarah Collins and Catarina Rocha, William & Mary’s tandem of Regan Rome and Emily Stites as well as Washington’s Maddie Meyers.
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National Contending Teams
Syracuse exploded into the national consciousness with a dominant win – 85-154 over Iona – on this course in 2014, propelling the Orange to an eventual fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. So surprising was that Orange Crush that their mid-race lead was infamously pronounced a “chip malfunction” before Cuse proved that no such malfunction had occurred.
One year later, Syracuse is ranked No. 2 in the country with the target squarely on their backs. Led by Justyn Knight, Martin Hehir and Colin Bennie, the Orange looked as sharp as ever in a decisive win at the Battle in Beantown in late September.
They’ll get a serious test from the six other top-11 teams in the field, particularly No. 4 Stanford and No. 5 Iona.
Stanford previously held the Orange’s No. 2 spot in the rankings behind two-time champ Colorado, but tumbled after a loss at the Washington Invitational to now No. 3 Oregon. The Cardinal fielded an incomplete team in that loss, and will do so once again in Madison this weekend – though that “incomplete team” may still challenge for one of the top spots in the team standings. The brothers Rosa – Jim and Joe – won’t run for Stanford on Friday, nor will frosh phenom Grant Fisher, the Cardinal still trots out a lineup that includes three 2014 All-Americans in Sean McGorty, Garrett Sweatt and Sam Wharton, as well as another potential All-American in Jack Keelan.
Iona, meanwhile, looked exceptional in a win at the Greater Louisville Classic the following day. The Gaels, led by top-10 finishers Chartt Miller and Kieran Clements, easily topped No. 8 Michigan – also in this Wisco field – by 13 points, 48-61. The core of this team, minus Clements, was runner-up here a year ago.
This will be the season’s first look at No. 7 Virginia against a field of depth and strength, while No. 8 Michigan and No. 9 BYU availed themselves well with runner-up and third-place efforts in strong Greater Louisville Classic (led by winner Mason Ferlic) and Washington Invitational meets, respectively.
Perhaps the biggest question (and certainly the most controversial team of late) in the field is the potential of No. 11 Wisconsin. The Badgers came into the Greater Louisville Classic ranked No. 4 in the country, but finished seventh while using the race as a workout/course preview and subsequently tumbled out of the top 10. Led by Malachy Schrobilgen, these same youthful Badgers finished 10th at the NCAA Championships a year ago, but their early-season rank shows an expectation of improvement. Their first outing this season with the reins loosened will give an indication of what type of improvement to expect.
Wisco is also an opportunity for teams like No. 19 Ole Miss and No. 20 UCLA to work their way back up the national polls toward their former top-13 ranks after disappointing performances at Louisville and Washington, respectively.
And it’s an opportunity for teams like No. 15 Michigan State and No. 17 NC State to prove their legitimacy and staying power after strong early-season performances. MSU won the Roy Griak Invite without All-American Caleb Rhynard (he’s entered this weekend) while NC State was a surprise runner-up at Notre Dame.
On The Bubble
For better or for worse, this is the weekend during which dreams of at-large qualification to the NCAA Championships either flourish or perish, sink or swim. With a field of 36 teams – all of whom are currently regionally ranked and all but four of whom are ranked inside the top eight of their regions – the opportunity for qualify head-to-head wins in enormous.
Remember, only two teams from each of the nine regional championships automatically advance to the NCAA Championships – 18 total. The rest of the 31-team field is rounded out by at-large teams. (At-large teams are selected by determining which team has the most head-to-head wins over the 18 auto qualifiers, adding that team to the field, and then repeating the process with the new group of 19, and so on until the field is filled.)
Though anything can happen on the course, only 10 of the 36 teams in the field are currently ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in their respective regions, with four holding down No. 1 ranks.
From the preceding section, all but Michigan State and UCLA fall into that category. The Spartans and Bruins lead a pack of another 11 teams ranked third (like MSU) or fourth (like UCLA) in their respective regions.
|15. Michigan State||Great Lakes||3|
|26. Iowa State||Midwest||3|
|RV. Florida State||South||3|
|16. Indiana||Great Lakes||4|
Perhaps running on even more of a mission are the seven teams ranked fifth or sixth in their respective regions. Most come from deep and competitive regions like the West (No. 5 Boise State and No. 6 Washington), the Great Lakes (No. 5 Illinois), the Mountain (No. 6 Northern Arizona), and the Southeast (No. 6 Eastern Kentucky).
Victories over any regional top-two teams would be exceptional for these teams, but even wins over teams ranked No. 3 or 4 would be significant, should any of them manage to break into the top two at regionals and claim auto bids.
One other notable team that is very much on the bubble and needs a breakout performance to get back to NCAAs is last year’s NCAA third-place finisher Portland. The Pilots, gutted by the loss of key runners, sit at No. 8 in the West Region and unranked in the National Coaches’ Poll.
The Individual Race
Eight All-Americans from a year ago are entered (but not guaranteed to race) in Schrobilgen, Ferlic, Marc Scott of Tulsa, McGorty, MJ Erb of Ole Miss (formerly Syracuse), Hehir, Wharton, and Tyler King of Washington.
That doesn’t include All-Americans from years past in Trent Lusignan of South Dakota State, Kyle King of Virginia and Rhynard, among others.
Ferlic, Scott, and McGorty all have wins under their belts in 2015 from the Greater Louisville Classic, Arkansas Chile Pepper Festival and Stanford Invitational, respectively. Joining them as a big meet winner from 2015 is Syracuse’s Knight, who won the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown. The Canadian sophomore was 143rd at NCAAs in an off-day performance, but has been stellar throughout the rest of his young career and is an expected top-10 contender at NCAAs.
We could also see the debut of two-time NJCAA champion Harry Mulenga for Florida State. He was previously scheduled to make his NCAA debut at the Battle in Beantown but ultimately didn’t. The former junior college stud is expected to make a big impression on the NCAA stage, as we previously discussed in our Beantown preview.
Some more athletes to watch after strong early-season performances:
- Meron Simon, NC State – Fourth at Notre Dame
- Brandon Doughty, Oklahoma – Third at Virginia Panorama Farms
- Lane Werley, UCLA – Third at Washington