One Burning Question (For Each Division & Each Race) At The NCAA Cross Country Championships

Welcome to Championships Weekend in NCAA Cross Country!

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Tomorrow, we’ll find out which teams and individuals top their respective podiums.

Today, we have One Burning Question for each race at each of the NCAA Championships.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

NCAA DI Cross Country Championships

Location: Tallahassee, Florida (Apalachee Regional Park)
CLICK HERE FOR LIVE RESULTS FROM THE MEET

Be sure to watch the meet on ESPNU, beginning at 10 am ET!

Men’s 10k Championship Race

Burning Question: How fast will the race be?

Eight.

That’s the number of men who clocked sub-29 minute marks in a winning effort at the NCAA DI Cross Country Championships since the distance increased from 6 miles to 10k in 1976.

Henry Rono of Washington State was first – and still-fastest – at 28:06.6, a time that he used to win the 1976 NCAA meet in Denton, Texas (Rono, a three-time NCAA Cross Country champion, also has two other sub-29 efforts on his legendary resume). Edward Cheserek of Oregon was the last in 2015 at 28:45.8 when he won his third consecutive crown in Louisville, Kentucky.

All signs point toward a historically fast race on Saturday when the gun goes off at 11:10 am ET.

How could it NOT be with the field assembled? Seven of the top-10 finishers from this past spring return, including each of the top-4: national champion Conner Mantz of BYU, Adriaan Wildschutt of Florida State, Wesley Kiptoo of Iowa State and Nico Young of Northern Arizona. Mantz, Wildschutt and Kiptoo are fearless racers who aren’t afraid to push a brisk pace. Just last month at the FSU Invite/Pre-National, Mantz and Wildschutt recorded two of the fastest marks on the Apalachee Regional Park 8k course: Mantz set the course record at 22:47.0; Wildschutt ended up No. 3 at 22:49.4, right behind Kiptoo’s former course record of 22:48.8; Young cracked the top-10, too.

We’re not even going to talk about track PRs, either.

Plus, the course runs fast and will be in top shape come Saturday.

Weather won’t be a factor: actually, it might be near perfect for Florida in November. Right now, the forecast calls for a temperature of 59 degrees (42 degree dew point), 53 percent humidity and a 10 mph wind out of the northeast.

We can’t wait to see what happens.

Women’s 6k Championship

Burning Question: How close will the team race be?

Three different teams received first-place votes in the Pre-Championships Edition of the NCAA DI Women’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll: No. 1 NC State hauled in six of the 10; No. 2 New Mexico grabbed four of its own; and No. 3 Colorado snagged the straggler. This has been the case pretty much all season, as no team has been unanimous, not even defending champion BYU when it sat at the top earlier this season (That’s saying something, too: the Cougars return just about everybody from a team that beat the Wolfpack by 65 points in Stillwater).

We saw three of those teams square off last month at the Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational, although two weren’t at full strength. The Lobos won the team title with 93 points, nine fewer than runner-up NC State (102) and 59 fewer than third-place BYU (152). The Buffaloes decided to trample the field at the FSU Invite/Pre-National, instead, where they won by 95 points over conference foe No. 10 Utah, among others.

Three of those four title contenders have athletes who will be in contention for the individual title on Saturday: NC State features ACC champion and Southeast Region champion Kelsey Chmiel and Katelyn Tuohy at the top of its lineup; Colorado is led by Abby Nichols, who won the FSU Invite/Pre-National and two weeks later, took top honors at the Pac-12 Championships; Whittni Orton only raced twice for BYU this season, but won by four or more seconds each time. New Mexico might not have that potential low stick that those other teams do, yet it will run as a pack and gobble up points (When the Lobos won in Wisconsin on October 15, they went 12-15-16-24-26 with an 18-second spread).

Ultimately, the race for the team title will be won by the third, fourth and fifth runners. Will we get another exciting finish like 2016, when Oregon edged Michigan by just one point? We can only hope.

NCAA DII Cross Country Championships

Location: Abbey Golf Course (Saint Leo, Florida)
CLICK HERE FOR LIVE RESULTS FROM THE MEET

Men’s 10k Championship

Burning Question: Will it be as easy as 1-2-3?

Colorado School of Mines and Grand Valley State have been the clear favorites to contend for the men’s team title at the 2021 NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships ever since we released the first National Coaches’ Poll back in September. The Orediggers and the Lakers have sat 1-2, in some order – or even tied at the top – in each of the polls this season (Colo. School of Mines and GVSU shared the No. 1 ranking in four consecutive weeks from Week 2 to Week 5).

While it takes five to score, it might be a race to three based on the front-end depth both the currently top-ranked Orediggers and second-ranked Lakers have assembled on their rosters.

Colo. School of Mines packed the top-10 with multiple athletes in each of its three major competitions this fall: Dillon Powell, Dylan Ko and Loic Scomparin went 3-4-7 at the Chile Pepper Festival; Powell, Kyle Moran and Ko went 1-3-4 at the RMAC Championships; Powell and Moran went 1-3 at the South Central Region Championships with teammates in spots Nos. 11, 13, 14 and 15 with a 12-second spread between them. Needless to say, the Orediggers won each time out by an average of 56 points.

GVSU is relentless in its pursuit as well: the Lakers went 2-3-8-9 to beat NCAA DI Michigan State at the MSU Spartan Invitational; Isaac Harding and Tanner Chada finished first and fourth in the Men’s 8k Gold race at the Live in the Lou Cross Country Classic; GVSU saw Harding and Chada lead the way at the GLIAC Championships as it went 1-2-6-7-9-10-11; and while Harding didn’t race at the Midwest Region Championships, the Lakers took spots 2-6-10.

We’ll see how many of these athletes pack the top-10.

Women’s 6k Championship

Burning Question: Adams State or Grand Valley State?

Odds, Adams State.

Evens, Grand Valley State.

The Grizzlies and the Lakers have combined to win each of the past eight team titles at the NCAA DII Cross Country Championships with the former reigning in 2019, 2017 and 2015, while the latter topped the podium in 2018, 2016, 2014 as well as 2013 and 2012.

Will this year belong to Adams State? Well, if the National Coaches’ Poll has any say in the matter, the Grizzlies are odds-on favorites (pardon the pun) to capture yet another crown.

Adams State hauled in all eight first-place votes in the final National Coaches’ Poll – and for good reason. After all, the Grizzlies dominated the proceedings at both the South Central Region Championships (30 points) and the RMAC Championships (40 points), while faring admirably in the Women’s Gold 6k at the Paul Short Run against several NCAA DI ranked programs (The Grizzlies moved into a tie with GVSU after that performance and took the top spot soon after).

The Lakes are undefeated against NCAA DII competition this season with its smallest margin of victory of 48 points coming at the GLIAC Championships in October, where they notched just the second perfect score in meet history. Otherwise, GVSU has obliterated everybody in its path, winning by 55 points in the Women’s 6k Gold race at the Live in the Lou Cross Country Classic and 70 points at both the Lewis Crossover and the Midwest Region Championships. The Lakers’ only loss came back in September at the MSU Spartan Invitational to NCAA DI Michigan State.

An unstoppable force meets an immovable object at the Abbey Golf Course on Saturday.

NCAA DIII Cross Country Championships

Location: E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park (Louisville, Kentucky)
CLICK HERE FOR LIVE RESULTS FROM THE MEET

Men’s 8k Championship

Burning Question: Did we get a preview back in October?

If the Augustana (Ill.) Interregional Invitational was any indication, we’re in for a treat come Saturday when the gun goes off at 11 am ET for the men’s race at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park.

Back on October 16, top-ranked Wartburg and second-ranked Pomona-Pitzer traded haymakers over the 8k distance as 10 nationally-ranked programs clashes on Saukie Golf Course. When the dust settled, the Knights reigned as they rode to a seven-point victory, large in part due to a 1-2 finish by Joe Freiburger and Christopher Collet. That was the closest any team got to Wartburg this season, as its other victories were by an average of 36 points against other strong fields.

The Knights and the defending champion Sagehens remain No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the National Coaches’ Polls leading up to the NCAA Championships with nine first-place votes dispersed among themselves. Wartburg is undefeated, while we just discussed Pomona-Pitzer’s only blemish (The Sagehens won several other close contests, including a two-point win over NCAA DII Chico State at the Cougar Challenge as well as an eight point win over rival Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at the SCIAC Championships, among others).

Don’t forget amount MIT, either. The Enginees hit their stride recently and hold one first-place vote in the National Coaches’ Poll.

Outside of 2016 to 2018 when North Central (Ill.) went on an absolute rampage and won three consecutive NCAA titles by an average margin of 117(!) points, each of the past 10 editions of this meet have been decided by fewer than 20. Expect that to be the case on Saturday in Louisville.

Women’s 6k Championship

Burning Question: Who will end the season undefeated?

Evie Butlemeyer of Trine.

Isabel Cardi of Dickinson.

Ari Marks of Wellesley.

Kassie Parker of Loras.

What do all four of these women have in common?

They’re undefeated against NCAA DIII competition this season and among the favorites to win the individual title come Saturday at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park in Louisville, Kentucky. But here’s the thing: only one of those women can emerge victorious after they traverse the 6k course once goes off at 12 pm ET.

Butlemeyer, Cardi, Marks and Parker also all have some notable wins on their ledger: Butlemeyer won at both the Live in the Lou Cross Country Classic and the Oberlin Inter-Regional Rumble, among others; Cardi captured individual titles at the Paul Short Run and the Centennial Conference Championships, among others; Marks cruised to victory at the NEWMAC Championships and the East Region Championships, among others; and Parker recently dominated both the A-R-C Championships and the Midwest Region Championships and won all of her races by an average of 45 seconds (Parker has two, one-minute-plus victories to her credit).

You love to see high-stakes competition.