History Not On The Side Of Top-Ranked Syracuse Men

History Not On The Side Of Top-Ranked Syracuse Men

NEW ORLEANS — Five might be the magic number to score at a cross country meet, but three were enough to hand Syracuse a narrow win last year at the 2015 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Orange had to get the most out of Colin Bennie, Martin Hehir and Justyn Knight knowing Colorado lurked with a formidable lineup. Bennie, Hehir and Knight came through in a big way as all three placed inside the top-10, led by Knight in fourth.

Through three runners, Syracuse owned an 18 (3-7-8) to 43 (2-20-21) lead but the Buffaloes chipped into the advantage one runner at a time. It became 47-66 after the No. 4 runners crossed the finish line and 82-91 once all five runners were accounted for.

That nine-point spread was an exception, not the rule at NCAAs.

Since the meet’s inception in 1937, there have only been 17 titles decided by 10 or fewer points. Before last year’s nail-biter by the Orange, the last similarly close victory was by — who else? — Colorado in 2004 (four points). In the 10-year span bookended by those two meets, the average margin of victory was 49 points, which included a 120-point win by Oklahoma State in 2010 over Florida State (73-193).

Close Wins At NCAAs

Year
Team
Margin
Repeat?
2015
Syracuse
9
TBD
2004
Colorado
4
No
2001
Colorado
1
No
1997
Stanford
3
No
1984
Arkansas
10
No
1979
UTEP
7
Yes
1977
Oregon
5
No
1975
UTEP
4
Yes
1970
Villanova
1
No
1967
Villanova
5
Yes
1957
Notre Dame
6
No
1952
Michigan State
3
No
1950
Penn State
2
No
1942
Indiana/Penn State
0
No
1940
Indiana
3
No
1939
Michigan State
3
No
1938
Indiana
10
No

 

History shows that winning in such dramatic fashion does more for the runner-up than it does for the champion the following year.

Back in 2004, Colorado beat Wisconsin 90-94 in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Buffs and Badgers were knotted at 55-all through four runners, so it would come down to the fifth runner. Colorado’s James Strang beat Wisconsin’s Bobby Lockhart to the line by a little less than three seconds to give Mark Wetmore his second national title.

Want to know what happened in 2005? The Badgers, led by Simon Bairu, won.

Let’s go back to 2001 when Colorado — them again — won its first crown. The Buffs edged Stanford 90-91 and this time it was their first (Jorge Torres, second), second (Dathan Ritzenhein, fourth) and third runners (Ed Torres, 15th) that provided coal for the championship furnace, just like Syracuse 14 years in the future.

We bet you can guess what happened in 2002. The Cardinal held the championship trophy high above its heads after the first ever race in Terre Haute.

That was actually the third title in seven years for Stanford as it also won in 1996 and 1997. The Cardinal’s second title came by three points (53-56) over Arkansas.

Guess who stood atop the podium in 1998. Who else, but the Razorbacks?

We need to go all the way back to 1979 to find the last time a team won by 10 or fewer points and repeated the following season. That was UTEP, guided by the late Ted Banks, in the middle of a four-championship run from 1978-1981.

So what does this all mean for Syracuse and better yet, Colorado?

First of all, the Orange is in better position to repeat than the Buffs are to stopping it from happening. Syracuse returns four of its five scorers from 2015 (Bennie, Germano, Hubbard, Knight), compared to only two from Colorado (John Dressel and Ben Saarel).

More importantly, if either the Orange or Buffs win the title, they would have really, really earned it because there is more parity in the NCAA system this year than last.

Oregon, the No. 2 team in the Preseason National Coaches’ Poll, is poised to make another run at the crown. Edward Cheserek wants to make it four in a row and the Ducks would love to send him out with a team title to go with another low stick.

Third-ranked Northern Arizona slapped a bunch of redshirts on its top guys last year — including Futsum Zienesallassie — with hopes of making a run at it this year, so don’t count out the team from Flagstaff, Arizona.

Then there is the trendy pick, the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford is ranked fourth in the Preseason National Coaches’ Poll and it returns two of its top-3 runners from last year, namely Sean McGorty (7th in 2015) and Grant Fisher (17th).

The 2016 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will be held November 19 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana.