MEET PREVIEW: 2017 Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational

Feast your eyes on the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational.

The ninth installment of the meet might be the biggest yet.

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Out of the 68 combined teams entered in the men’s and women’s races, 36 were ranked in the most recent NCAA Division I Cross Country National Coaches’ Polls. That includes 20 teams in the top-30 of the men’s index and 16 from the women’s.

The women’s 6K goes off first at 12:20 pm CT, followed by the men’s 8K 40 minutes later.

Men’s Race

Past Men’s Team Champions: Northern Arizona (2016), Syracuse (2015), Syracuse (2014).

Past Men’s Individual Champions: Syracuse’s Justyn Knight (2016), Tulsa’s Marc Scott (2015), Stanford’s Maxim Korolev (2014).

Get your popcorn ready.

The battle for the individual title might overshadow the fight for the team crown.

Grant Fisher, Justyn Knight and Morgan McDonald will most likely make their debuts and be at the front of the pack (UPDATE: McDonald will not run). All three of those men finished in the top-7 at NCAAs last year, while Fisher and Knight continued their rivalry on the track and waged an epic encounter over 5,000 meters at Hayward Field this past June (Fisher ended up winning his first NCAA title).

Top-ranked Northern Arizona will likely have a few of its runners up with Fisher, Knight and McDonald, namely Matthew Baxter and Tyler Day. Baxter and Day were both All Americans last year and look to be in postseason form already as they cruised to a 1-2 finish at the Louisville Cross Country Classic two weeks ago and gapped the field by 16 seconds.

There are a number of intriguing storylines in the team battle as well.

Northern Arizona could go back to back and win its third team title at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational in the past five years. If the Lumberjacks do so, there would be little reason to doubt their claim to the top spot in the National Coaches’ Poll.

We’ll have a better idea of how strong No. 3 Syracuse and No. 4 Stanford will be with both teams likely at full strength. Knight will run alongside Colin Bennie and Philo Germano, while Fisher teams up with Steven Fahy and Sam Wharton for the first time this season.

Southern Utah, Furman and Colorado State hope to build upon remarkable efforts from recent outings. The sixth-ranked Thunderbirds won the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational and upset then-No. 4 Colorado in the process. The 10th-ranked Paladins finished a game runner-up to NAU in Louisville and the 11th-ranked Rams captured the team title at the Roy Griak Invitational.

Women’s Race

Past Women’s Team Champions: Washington (2016), New Mexico (2015), Michigan State (2014).

Past Women’s Individual Champions: Boise State’s Brenna Peloquin (2016), Boise State’s Allie Ostrander (2015), Iowa State’s Crystal Nelson (2014).

Take your pick between Allie Ostrander, Charlotte Taylor and the New Mexico duo of Ednah Kurgat and Alice Wright, because one of them is likely going to win the individual title. All of those women but Wright have tasted victory so far this season as Ostrander won the Louisville Cross Country Classic, Taylor won the Roy Griak Invitational and Kurgat beat Wright and others to the finish line at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational.

When it comes to the race for the team title, New Mexico is the top-ranked team in the mix at No. 3. The Lady Lobos are one of eight teams in the field that were ranked in the top-15 of the most recent National Coaches’ Poll: No. 5 Stanford, No. 6 San Francisco, No. 7 NC State, No. 8 Providence, No. 11 Washington, No. 13 Boise State and No. 14 Indiana are the others.

Just two weeks ago at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational, New Mexico showed its top-end strength as its top-4 runners finished 1-2-6-8. Depth undid the Lady Lobos as their fifth runner finished 34th, but if that runner moves up in the pack here, chances are they’ll win the team title. If not New Mexico, look out for the Dons, fresh off a statement win at the Roy Griak Invitational.