MEET PREVIEW: Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational

MEET PREVIEW: Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational

NEW ORLEANS — Feast your eyes on the 61st annual Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational this weekend if you want to see the largest gathering of teams involved in the NCAA Division I Cross Country National Coaches’ Polls so far this season.

When the Women’s Blue Division Race gets underway at 2 p.m. ET on Friday afternoon, there will be six teams ranked in Week 3’s top-30 and six more that received votes.

Forty-five minutes later, six men’s teams that were ranked in the most recent poll as well as five unranked teams toe the line the Men’s Blue Division Race.

Let’s take a deeper look at each of these races, starting with the women’s version.

Who Wants That No. 1 Ranking More?

It’s current No. 1 versus former No. 1.

Entered Teams

#1 Providence
#2 New Mexico
#5 NC State
#16 Notre Dame
#24 Vanderbilt
#28 Utah
RV California
RV Eastern Michigan
RV Minnesota
RV Mississippi
RV Texas
RV Weber State

This week saw the rise of the Providence Friars at the expense of the New Mexico Lady Lobos. Providence was ranked No. 1 by the coaches for the first time since 2013, a spot previously held by New Mexico since Week 1 of the 2015 season. The Lady Lobos still have the most first-place votes (five), but fell into a second-place tie with Colorado.

As we mentioned in the poll recap, it’s as if the voting coaches wanted to see what New Mexico’s roster looked like this year before continuing to bestow Joe Franklin’s team a No. 1 billing. After all, the Friars showed their hand earlier this season at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown a few weeks ago.

Well, we could get a good look at what both New Mexico and Providence have to offer in South Bend, Indiana.

Starting with the top-ranked Friars, they’ll bring all of the athletes that helped them romp to a title in Boston. That means cross country fans should see Sarah Collins, Brianna Ilarda, Millie Paladino, Abbey Wheeler and Katie Lembo. Those five women went 3-4-5-6-7 two weeks ago as Providence scored 25 points. That quintet will be joined by Lauren Mullins, who is making her season debut. Mullins finished 62nd at NCAAs last year. Popular thought is that Catarina Rocha and Samantha Jones will debut at the Wisconsin Invitational later this month.

And what about those Lady Lobos? Who will don the turquoise at the same meet where they began to steamroll over the competition leading to their dominant win at NCAAs?

New Mexico should run two athletes from its championship lineup in 2015: Alice Wright (5th) and Calli Thackery (15th). The Lady Lobos will also debut graduate transfer Kathryn Fluehr, who finished 81st at NCAAs last year while running for Princeton. Sophie Connor could also give New Mexico some additional firepower as she hopes to parlay a big track season (11th in the outdoor 1500, 5th in the indoor mile) to the grass.

One team hoping to crash that top-ranked party is NC State. The Wolfpack are currently ranked 5th in the nation and will rely heavily on the trio of Erika Kemp, Rachel Koon and Megan Moye. Ryen Frazier, who won this meet last year, is not expected to run for NC State.

Outside of those teams, a few individuals to look out for are North Carolina’s Caroline Alcorta, Texas A&M’s Karis Jochen, Boston College’s Isabelle Kennedy, California’s Bethan Knights, Utah’s Hannah McInturff and Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer. Alcorta won the individual title at the Wolfpack Invitational earlier this year. Jochen, a 2015 XC All-American, already has two wins under her belt. Knights captured the Griak individual title last year. McInturff finished highly at both Pre-Nats (5th) and Mountain Region Championships (4th) in 2015. Rohrer took sixth place at NCAAs last year and was fourth in the indoor 5000.

Battleground For Untested Men’s Teams

Eastern Kentucky and UTEP are unproven for different reasons this year.

Entered Teams

#9 Eastern Kentucky
#18 UTEP
#20 Mississippi
#23 NC State
#24 Washington State
#30 Florida State
#30 Texas
RV Illinois
RV Providence
RV Southern Utah
RV Texas A&M

The 9th-ranked Colonels haven’t showed their full hand yet, but have run against notable regional competition. EKU beat Illinois and Kentucky by a considerable margin at the Bluegrass Invitational earlier this month.

The 18th-ranked Miners don’t have a choice but to run everybody with such a small roster (6 or 7 guys depending on the meet), yet haven’t toed the line against noteworthy foes.

This Friday, both EKU and UTEP have a chance to prove themselves on the national stage. The Colonels and Miners will be two of six ranked teams sprinting off the starting line when the 5-mile race gets underway at 2:45 p.m. CT.

EKU appears to be fielding a full roster for the first time this season. The Colonels could run Jakob Abrahamsen (debut), Amos Kosgey, Luis Luna, Ambrose Maritim, Jaime Perales (debut) and Erick Rotich, among others. Perales was EKU’s top finisher at NCAAs last year and the program’s lone All American (37th). Rotich won the individual title at the aforementioned Bluegrass Invitational.

UTEP returns to the site of a breakthrough win for its program last year. The Miners edged NC State 89-97 in 2015 and were led by Anthony Rotich and Jonah Koech. Only Koech returns to South Bend, Indiana this year. Koech will be joined this year by Daniel Cheruiyot, Evans Kiprono, Emmanuel Korir and Antony Kosgei, among others.

Mississippi comes into this meet hoping to finally make its mark on the XC landscape. The 20th-ranked Rebels are led by track standout Craig Engels and he’ll be flanked by Robert Domanic, MJ Erb, Wes Gallagher and Sean Tobin.

NC State was runner-up here last year and two of their top runners from 2015 return in 2016: Sebastian Hanson (8th) and George Parsons (9th). Parsons was the team’s top finisher at NCAAs last year (63rd).

Much like unranked and unheralded UTEP last year, Illinois, Minnesota, Providence, Southern Utah and Texas A&M would vault themselves into the national poll with a victory here. The Miners went from receiving votes to 13th after winning the 2015 edition of this meet.

Pick a runner, any runner, off the roster of EKU and UTEP and chances are they’ll be among the leaders Friday. Here are a few others to keep an eye on: Alabama’s Antibahs Kosgei (South Region champ in 2015), Air Force’s Kyle Eller (28th at NCAAs last year), Florida State’s Harry Mulenga (former National Athlete of the Week), Illinois’ Dylan Lafond (29th at NCAAs last year), Providence’s Julian Oakley and Washington State’s John Whelan (West Region runner-up last year).