2019 NCAA DI Men’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll – Preseason
NEW ORLEANS – A wise sage once eloquently stated that, “To be The Man, you got to beat The Man. And I’m saying (Woooo!) – ‘Right here in Nashville, Tennessee, pal – I’m The Man.’”
Replace Nashville, Tennessee in 1989 right before a world title match in World Championship Wrestling with any of these three locations that hosted the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in the past three years – Terre Haute, Indiana in 2016, Louisville, Kentucky in 2017 or Madison, Wisconsin in 2018 – and “The Man” doing the talking is Northern Arizona.
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It’s safe to say that over the past three years, the Lumberjacks have left no doubt as to their status as the head honcho in NCAA Division I Men’s Cross Country. No one in their right mind could doubt three consecutive NCAA team titles and a modern-era record 21 consecutive weeks atop the National Coaches’ Poll.
Well, one of those numbers is now 22. The other could be four, if the cards fall NAU’s way during the 2019 NCAA DI Cross Country Championships on November 23 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana.
The Lumberjacks are the near-unanimous No. 1 team in the first National Coaches’ Poll of the 2019 season, which was released on Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). NAU, which has topped each iteration of the index since Week 3 of 2016, earned 10 of 11 possible first-place votes (No. 10 Stanford received the other).
For the Lumberjacks to join Arkansas (1990-1993) and UTEP (1978-1981) as the only programs in NCAA DI history to win four consecutive NCAA team titles, it would take a Herculean effort. NAU lost its top-2 runners from NCAAs last year – Tyler Day (6th) and Matthew Baxter (15th) – as well as Peter Lomong, who finished 29th overall. Don’t fret too much, though, as the Lumberjacks will have three other All-Americans on their roster from 2018 (Luis Grijalva, Blaise Ferro and Geordie Beamish) and welcome a host of talented athletes who redshirted in 2018 to the mix.
For the second year in a row and the 12th consecutive week overall, the coaches feel as if BYU is the top threat to NAU’s dynasty. After all, the Cougars did finish runner-up in Madison last year.
BYU returns a number of athletes from last year’s team, including Conner Mantz (10th) and Clayson Shumway (32nd). The Cougars also welcome back Casey Clinger, who finished 24th at NCAAs as a freshman in 2017 and spent the last year serving on a mission (UPDATE: Clinger won’t be home from his mission until December, so he will not be competing in cross country). When you add in the fact that BYU established itself as a dominant force at the 10,000-meter distance over the past few years – The Cougars did send six men to the NCAA final in that event this past outdoor season – it’s hard to doubt Ed Eyestone’s team.
Washington is ranked third to begin the season, which is the best ranking it has received in the National Coaches’ Poll dating back to 1995 (That’s as far as our records go back).
Very few teams have had as much of a meteoric rise as the Huskies, who finished 20th in 2014, eighth in 2015, missed the meet entirely in 2016, 22nd in 2017 and sixth last year. Well, you can credit the improvement to the hiring of a seasoned coach like Andy Powell, as well as the addition and maturation of a number of talented athletes like Tanner Anderson and Tibebu Proctor. Anderson finished 19th at NCAAs last year, while Proctor was 38th. Washington will be without the services of Anderson, who is out of eligibility on the grass, but return Proctor and several athletes who starred on the track circuit this past outdoor season.
No team features a better 1-2 punch at the top of its lineup than No. 4 Colorado. The Buffaloes, who are ranked in the preseason top-5 for the 17th time in the past 21 years, will be led by John Dressel and Joe Klecker. Dressel and Klecker worked together to finish ninth and eighth last year at NCAAs, respectively. Eduardo Herrera just missed All-America status when he finished 43rd overall.
Fifth-ranked Iowa State has one of the most dangerous team nicknames in the nation and could be one of the most dangerous teams in the nation, period. The Cyclones will be paced by individual title contender Edwin Kurgat, who finished third last year. Iowa State also pulled 2018 All-American Addison DeHaven from Boise State and returns Thomas Pollard from an injury-plagued 2018 season. Festus Lagat and David Too are expected to continue the progress they made during the outdoor season.
Portland, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and the aforementioned Cardinal round out the preseason top-10 at No. 6, No. 7, No. 8, No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.
Look out for the Irish, as this is its best ranking since Week 3 of the 2007 season when it was No. 7. Notre Dame returns each of its top-5 runners from last year, including Danny Kilrea and Yared Nuguse. Kilrea was the fourth-best finishing freshman at NCAAs in 2018 (33rd) and Nuguse showed his range with a 59th place finish on the grass, a thrilling victorious anchor leg on the indoor DMR and a national title in the outdoor 1500.
We’ll release the next NCAA DI Men’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll on September 17.