2018 NCAA DI Men’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll – Preseason
NEW ORLEANS – Twenty-two different men’s programs have stood atop the podium at the conclusion of the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships since its inception in 1938.
Northern Arizona became the 17th program to win multiple crowns last year when it ran roughshod over the field at E.P. Tom “Sawyer” Park in Louisville, Kentucky. The Lumberjacks won by 53 points as they put three in the top-10 and their entire scoring lineup in the top-40.
If NAU captures a third consecutive title this year – like all of the coaches queried in the preseason version of the National Coaches Poll believe – it would be just the fifth to do so in NCAA DI history. Then you could call what the Lumberjacks have going a dynasty.
NAU is the unanimous top pick in the first poll of the 2018 season. The Lumberjacks have been ranked No. 1 since Week 3 of 2016, a 14-week stay atop the mountain (Only Colorado from 2014-15 and Oregon from 2006-08 had longer streaks than NAU in the past 11 years).
BYU, Portland, Stanford and Iowa State come in at No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, behind the Lumberjacks.
One look at NAU’s roster in 2018 reveals why the coaches feel Michael Smith’s team should be No. 1. The Lumberjacks return five of the seven runners they featured last year at NCAAs, which includes Matthew Baxter, Tyler Day and Peter Lomong, all who finished in the top-10. Don’t forget about Geordie Beamish and Luis Grijalva, either – not to mention a host of prized recruits who starred on the prep circuit.
The Cougars, who match their best ranking in program history, are the biggest threat to NAU’s three-peat, according to the poll. BYU welcomes back six of the seven runners it brought to Louisville last year, including Rory Linkletter, Connor McMillan and Clayton Young. A number of talented athletes who didn’t run for the Cougars at NCAAs will be in the mix this year, namely Dallin Farnsworth and Matt Owens.
Few teams flew higher than the Pilots last year. Portland, which matches their best ranking in program history, emerged with the coveted crown in the West Region and then finished runner-up at NCAAs. Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse and Nick Hauger both captured All-America honors last year, while Riley Osen and Noah Shutte hope to ride a wave of momentum from the outdoor track circuit.
The Cardinal, ranked in the preseason top-5 for the 17th time in the past 21 years, will be led by Grant Fisher, who won’t be alone at the front of the pack. The three-time All-American in cross country and two-time top-5 finisher in the same sport will be joined by the likes of Alex Ostberg and Steven Fahy, who finished 16th and 17th last year. It is expected that Stanford will let Thomas Ratcliffe run free. The last time Ratcliffe competed for the Cardinal in cross country, he was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
Seven is lucky for the Cyclones, who return all seven runners from last year’s seventh-place team at NCAAs. Iowa State only had one All-American (Andrew Jordan – 15th), yet packed up well behind him to move up the standings. Edwin Kurgat could be in store for a breakout year for the Cyclones after finishing seventh in the 5000 at the NCAA Championships this past June. This is only the second time in program history that Iowa State has been ranked in the top-5 in the National Coaches Poll (Week 3 of 1994).
Alabama comes in at No. 6, its highest billing since Week 3 of 2010 when it was fifth. The Crimson Tide returns the talented trio of Alfred Chelanga, Gilbert Kigen and Vincent Kiprop and adds newcomers Kwemoi Ndiwa and Noel Rotich, among others, to give it a formidable scoring lineup.
Colorado sits seventh in the preseason, its lowest billing in the opening poll since 2011 when it was also seventh. Fret not, Buffs, because that same year they ended up on the podium. Eduardo Herrera is the top returning athlete for Colorado, as he finished 33rd at the NCAA meet in 2017. He is one of four athletes from the Buffs scoring lineup in Louisville to come back.
Oregon is hoping a young roster gels sooner rather than later. The Ducks, who come in ranked No. 8, will be led by seniors Blake Haney and Matthew Maton, while they also have six men who are either freshmen or sophomores.
Colorado State cracks the top-10 for the seventh time in program history. The Rams, who finished ninth at NCAAs in 2017, settle into that spot to begin the 2018 season. Colorado State welcomes back Cole Rockhold (32nd in 2017), but will need to find more depth as its next top returning finisher in 2017 was Eric Hamer in 90th place.
Syracuse rounds out the top-10 at No. 10. It’s going to be a new era for the Orange as it will be getting along without 2017 NCAA individual champ Justyn Knight and Colin Bennie – not to mention Chris Fox. Noah Affolder hopes to ride the momentum from a strong season on the outdoor track into cross country and he’ll be joined by Aidan Tooker, who is the top returner on the team from NCAAs last year.
The biggest note outside of the top-10 is the rise of Campbell. The 12th-ranked Camels make just their second appearance in the national poll in program history. Campbell returns every runner from last year, including 2017 All-Americans Lawrence Kipkoech (ninth) and Amon Kemboi (29th). A number of other talented athletes joined the Camels’ roster this offseason, including 2017 NCAA DII South Region Athlete of the Year Ronald Cheserek.
Make sure to check back in throughout the season as a lot will change leading up to the 2018 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships on Saturday, November 17 at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course in Madison, Wisconsin.