Road to the NCAA DI Men’s National Title Runs Through the Mountains
NEW ORLEANS – Whether NCAA Division I Men’s Cross Country national team title contenders arrive in Terre Haute, Indiana, on November 19 from the East, West, North, South or anywhere in between, one reality was made abundantly clear this past conference championships weekend.
Any road to the 2016 national title will run directly through the mountains.
Led by unanimous No. 1 Northern Arizona, the Mountain Region accounted for each of the top-three teams in the penultimate edition of the National Coaches’ Poll announced Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
The Big Sky champion Lumberjacks were joined at the top of the poll by Pac-12 champion No. 2 Colorado and WCC winner No. 3 BYU, marking the first time in the USTFCCCA archives (dating back to 1998) three teams from the same region occupied the top three spots in the men’s poll.
Pac-12 runner-up Stanford fell two spots to No. 4, while ACC champion Syracuse –the defending national champion – improved a slot to No. 5.
Tuesday’s poll sets up a dramatic next 18 days as those top-three squads will meet in Logan, Utah, on November 11 for the Mountain Regional and then again, presumably, eight days later at NCAAs.
Recent history shows that the winner of the Mountain Region doesn’t necessarily always win the NCAA title in these types of situations; Northern Arizona beat Colorado at the 2013 Mountain Regional before the order was flipped at NCAAs the next weekend.
This year’s Lumberjacks were dominant at the Big Sky Championships, with individual champ Futsum Zienasellassie leading a sweep of the top six individual finishers.
Running against much tougher competition at Friday’s Pac-12 Championships – a conference represented by four top-10 teams this week – the Buffaloes put four in the top-10 to top Stanford, 41-47. Ben Saarel, Zach Perrin and John Dressel were third, fourth and sixth, respectively.
Finishing third and fourth in that meet, respectively, were UCLA and Oregon, with 58 and 94 points. The Bruins moved up to No. 8 as a result – its highest rank in the USTFCCCA archives – while Oregon fell seven spots to No. 10 for its lowest rank since early 2013.
Later that afternoon, BYU made its WCC title over No. 12 Portland look easy, 24-45. Making their move late, the Cougars had five men across the line in the top seven before Portland could muster its second finisher. Jonathan Harper was the conference runner-up to lead the way for BYU.
Stanford showed top end speed and depth of its own, with Pac-12 runner-up Grant Fisher leading three top-eight finishers and a scoring lineup that was the first to get five across the line in Tucson.
Syracuse was similarly strong at the ACC Championships, with winner Justyn Knight leading a pack of five Orange across the line in the top-10 to top No. 16 Virginia, 29-72.
That trend continued for the next two teams in the poll, No. 6 Arkansas and No. 7 Iona. Led by SEC winner Alex George, the Razorbacks had five top-10 finishers to beat No. 11 Ole Miss, 25-38, while the Gaels posted a perfect score of 15 to win the MAAC title as seven runners crossed the line within a second of one another.
No. 9 Oklahoma State won the Big 12 with five runners in the top-11, led by third-place Hassan Abdi. The Cowboys topped No. 13 Iowa State, 36-49.
For some teams beyond the top-10, conference championships weekend provided an opportunity to bounce back from disappointing regular-season finales at either Wisconsin or Pre-Nationals.
After a shaky performance at home, the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers reclaimed the Big Ten title over No. 18 Michigan State, 63-66, to move up four spots.
No. 15 UTEP came back from a sixth-place effort at Pre-Nationals to top No. 26 Middle Tennessee for the Conference-USA title, 24-36. The Miners were rewarded with a six-spot improvement from two weeks ago.
Neither of those runner-up squads were worse for their efforts, either. The Spartans parlayed their second-place finish in the Big Ten into an 11-spot jump from last time – the biggest in the men’s or women’s poll – while MTSU moved up three to an all-time program best No. 26.
While Michigan State was rising in the poll, it saw in-state rival No. 29 Michigan heading the opposite direction the Wolverines, just fifth at the Big Ten Championships, fell 15 spots for the biggest drop of any team of either gender.
Returning to the poll were No. 27 NC State, Ivy League champ No. 28 Penn and No. 30 Providence.
Vacating their positions in the top-30 were Washington, Virginia Tech and Air Force.
See the full poll below.
Men’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll
2016 Week #6 — November 1
|next poll: Monday, November 14|
|Rank||Institution (FPV)||Points||Record^||Region (CR)||Cross Country Coach (Yr*)||
|1||Northern Arizona (12)||360||43-0 (21-0)||Mountain (1)||Eric Heins (10th)||
|2||Colorado||343||45-2 (7-2)||Mountain (3)||Mark Wetmore (22nd)||
|3||BYU||327||49-2 (21-2)||Mountain (2)||Ed Eyestone (17th)||
|4||Stanford||326||47-10 (21-5)||West (1)||Chris Miltenberg (5th)||
|5||Syracuse||314||57-4 (20-4)||Northeast (1)||Chris Fox (12th)||
|6||Arkansas||303||64-1 (5-1)||South Central (1)||Chris Bucknam (9th)||
|7||Iona||276||61-4 (17-4)||Northeast (2)||Ricardo Santos (9th)||
|8||UCLA||267||53-12 (18-12)||West (2)||Mike Maynard (8th)||
|9||Oklahoma State||264||27-0 (4-0)||Midwest (1)||Dave Smith (11th)||
|10||Oregon||261||51-3 (8-3)||West (3)||Robert Johnson (5th)||
|11||Mississippi||246||47-2 (7-2)||South (1)||Ryan Vanhoy (4th)||
|12||Portland||226||63-8 (20-8)||West (4)||Rob Conner (27th)||
|13||Iowa State||214||56-9 (18-9)||Midwest (2)||Martin Smith (4th)||
|14||Wisconsin||198||30-10 (12-10)||Great Lakes (1)||Mick Byrne (9th)||
|15||UTEP||179||66-6 (6-6)||Mountain (4)||Paul Ereng (14th)||
|16||Virginia||173||36-5 (2-5)||Southeast (1)||Peter Watson (5th)||
|17||Washington State||164||47-18 (13-16)||West (5)||Wayne Phipps (3rd)||
|18||Michigan State||159||50-22 (9-21)||Great Lakes (2)||Walt Drenth (13th)||
|19||Colorado State||129||52-17 (11-17)||Mountain (5)||Art Siemers (5th)||
|20||Boise State||120||48-16 (11-16)||West (6)||Corey Ihmels (4th)||
|21||Indiana||107||50-6 (2-6)||Great Lakes (3)||Ron Helmer (10th)||
|22||Georgetown||101||49-14 (8-14)||Mid-Atlantic (1)||Brandon Bonsey (1st)||
|23||Tulsa||98||29-13 (7-13)||Midwest (3)||Steve Gulley (15th)||
|24||Southern Utah||95||68-24 (11-22)||Mountain (6)||Eric Houle (25th)||
|25||Eastern Michigan||59||37-28 (4-22)||Great Lakes (4)||John Goodridge (16th)||
|26||Middle Tennessee||53||51-2 (0-1)||South (2)||Dean Hayes (53rd)||
|27||NC State||46||32-35 (1-26)||Southeast (2)||Rollie Geiger (39th)||
|28||Penn||36||41-21 (1-20)||Mid-Atlantic (2)||Steve Dolan (5th)||
|29||Michigan||29||69-11 (6-10)||Great Lakes (5)||Kevin Sullivan (3rd)||
|30||Providence||28||50-23 (6-20)||Northeast (3)||Ray Treacy (33rd)||
|Others Receiving Votes: Air Force 25, Virginia Tech 17, Bradley 11, Washington 11, Minnesota 6, Texas 4, Butler 2, Kentucky 2, Florida State 1|
|Dropped out: No. 25 Washington, No. 26 Virginia Tech, No. 28 Air Force|
|^ Win-loss record reflective of results in varsity competition of races 7500 meters or longer versus DI opponents starting September 9; records in () are results against ranked teams.|
|(* year as effective coach of that team in men’s cross country), CR – Coaches’ Regional Ranking|