Pac-12 XC Championships Preview

The Pac-12 Championships will be held Friday afternoon in Colfax, Washington. The men’s 8K race kicks off at 1:30pm ET followed by the women’s 6K race at 2:30pm ET.

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Men’s Team Storylines

Is Colorado Vulnerable?
Though they were comfortable victors at the Pre-National Invitational, the two-time defending National Champion No. 1 Colorado Buffaloes showed some weak spots in their armor in terms of depth. Pierce Murphy, Connor Winter, Ammar Moussa and Morgan Pearson were on point, but their depth was an issue as John Dressell was 46th in his collegiate debut and two-time NCAA top-10 finisher Ben Saarel didn’t run. Saarel is entered for this weekend, but whether he ultimately runs in another matter.

Which Stanford Team Will We See?
There are several teams around the country for whom the jury is still out in terms of NCAA Championships contention, but the jury has yet to even see a majority of the evidence for No. 23 Stanford. Sean McGorty has been exceptional this season and young Jack Keelan has had his moments, but the Cardinal have yet to run those two alongside All-Americans Jim and Joe Rosa, frosh phenom Grant Fisher and transfer Colin Leibold. McGorty, the Rosas, Fisher, Leibold and All-American Sam Wharton are all entered this weekend, but whether they run is ultimately another matter altogether.

Oregon Looking to Make a Run at the Title
Another team that will make a run at Colorado this weekend is No. 3 Oregon. Led by two-time defending national individual champion Edward Cheserek, the Ducks were runners-up to the Buffaloes at the Pre-National Invitational. Jake Leingang, Travis Neuman and frosh Tanner Anderson all had solid days in Louisville, and they could very well be joined in Colfax by another frosh sensation in Matthew Maton this weekend.

Don’t Forget About UCLA, Washington and Cal
Don’t discount No. 15 UCLA, No. 20 Washington or No. 21 California. There wasn’t a ton of separation at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational between ninth-place UCLA and 13th-place Washington, but consider that the Huskies ran without Colby Gilbert – their No. 3 runner from last year’s fourth-place Pac-12 team who is entered for this weekend – and that race becomes much closer. Cal will also be in the hunt as All-American Chris Walden looks to bounce back from a 42nd place finish at Pre-Nats.

Men’s Individuals to Watch

The Favorite: Edward Cheserek, Oregon

The Challengers: Sean McGorty, Stanford; Pierce Murphy, Ammar Moussa, Connor Winter & Morgan Pearson, Colorado; Chris Walden, Cal; Yorks, Washington; Lane Werley, UCLA; Jake Leingang, Travis Neuman & Tanner Anderson, Oregon

The Question Marks: Grant Fisher, Jim Rosa and Joe Rosa, Stanford; Matthew Maton, Oregon



Women’s Team Storylines

Colorado Enters as the (Narrow) Favorite
No. 3 Colorado may not have emerged victorious at the Pre-Nationals Invitational a couple weekends ago, but they did take round one against Pac-12 rivals No. 5 Oregon and No. 10 Stanford, 151-175-244 (Stanford without Aisling Cuffe). No team in the conference is stronger up front through three than the Buffaloes with Pre-Nats individual winner Erin Clark and another pair of top-20 finishers in Kaitlyn Benner and Maddie Alm. Finding depth will be important, because CU’s No. 4 and 5 runners crossed the line in the 60s at Pre-Nats.

Will Oregon’s Depth Propel them to Pac-12 Title Defense?
While reigning conference champ No. 5 Oregon may be the only one of the four top-ranked teams in the conference without a true frontrunner (No. 3 Colorado has Erin Clark, No. 10 Stanford has Aisling Cuffe [but no Elise Cranny], and No. 12 Washington has Maddie Meyers) but the Ducks have tremendous depth on their side. In their three meets this year, only one of their top seven runners –Alli Cash – has finished in the same spot twice. Cash was their leader at both Dellinger and Washington, but was only their No. 4 at Pre-Nats behind Waverly Neer, Molly Grabill and Sarah Baxter. Add in Maggie Schmaedick, who was their No. 2 at Washington, and that is a formidable scoring lineup.

How Will Stanford Fare with Aisling Cuffe, but without Elise Cranny?
Don’t sleep on No. 10 Stanford. Though the Cardinal ran without Washington Invite winner Aisling Cuffe at Pre-Nationals, they were still fourth overall and would have been in contention for second or third with CU/Oregon had Cuffe run. Elise Cranny continues to recover from injury and won’t compete this weekend (if at all this season), but join Cuffe with a solid core in Vanessa Fraser, Sophie Chase and Hannah Long and this is a team that could make some noise.

Washington & Utah Looking For Upsets
Two more teams have legitimate shots at cracking into that top three. No. 12 Washington was eighth at Wisconsin behind the trio of Maddie Meyers, Katie Knight and Anna Maxwell, but stands to improve even more with the re-integration of frosh Charlotte Prouse, who was the Huskies’ No. 2 runner at the UW Invitational earlier this year. Then there’s Utah, which boasts perhaps the conference’s best 1-2 punch in the sophomore duo of Hannah McInturff and Sarah Feeney. They were fifth and ninth individually at Pre-Nats as the team finished sixth overall. The Utes have more depth questions than any of these other contenders, but two frontrunners can go a long way in the team standings if the rest of their pack has a strong day.

Women’s Individuals to Watch

The Favorites: Erin Clark, Colorado; Aisling Cuffe, Stanford; Bethan Knights, California; Maddie Meyers, Washington

The Challengers: Hannah McInturff and Sarah Feeney, Utah; Waverly Neer, Molly Grabill & Co. Oregon; Carolina Johnson, UCLA

The Question Mark: Kelsey Santisteban, California (10th NCAAs two years ago)